Timed Writing vs. Word Count Goals: Which Is Better?

Not too long ago, I came across some interesting trivia about the late great author Terry Pratchett. He would try to write at least 400 words each day: on that simple schedule, he wrote dozens of highly acclaimed novels across his lifetime. Hearing about this inspired me to attempt a little more experimentation with my own elaborate writing schedule. For the past few months, I’ve been working on my various projects through timed sessions, getting as much done as I can within a pre-defined space. But recently I’ve been trying out daily word count goals for projects like my short stories and this very blog. The difference is striking, and it’s got me thinking about the different ways a writer can use to measure progress and success.

So this is going to be another writing process article, one with a pretty simple focus: what are the pros and cons of timed writing sessions versus daily word count goals?

Timed Writing Sessions

If you need a sense of structure to your day and want to focus on getting out as many words as possible, timed writing sessions might be a better option for you. Block out a certain period of time in which you’re going to sit down and write, whether that’s just a few minutes or a couple of hours. For extra effectiveness, aim for starting at the same time each day. This will help establish writing as part of your daily routine and make forming a habit around it easier. Timed sessions also make it easier to keep track of your daily progress. Say you’re shooting for two hours of writing time daily, divided into four half-hour sessions. That’s a simple number to remember!

On the other hand, timed writing sessions can be a challenge for those who have attention problems. It’s tempting to get up from your desk or click away from your word processor before your time is actually finished. If you get distracted, you can end up with a completed writing session where you didn’t really accomplish much. If your plan is to sit down and force yourself to concentrate for an extended period of time, even if you don’t feel like it, your writing sessions can start to feel like a chore and become counter-productive.

Word Count Goals

Perhaps you need a way to develop writing into a daily habit, or you have a busy schedule and need to separate your writing sessions into manageable chunks. A daily word count goal could be helpful in this instance. You can set a blanket goal for how many words to write across all your projects, or you can set individual goals for each one. If you’re just starting out, it’s better to begin with a small number like 100 or 200. Once you’re consistently meeting those goals each day, you can increase that number.

Why have I begun using word count goals? The biggest reason is that they give me more flexibility with my writing day. Unlike with timed sessions, you don’t have to plot out an hour or more of time for working. You can just sit down and write a little bit at a time because you have the whole day to meet your goal. And when you’re in the middle of writing, you’re not on a timer. You can set your work aside or just let your mind wander for a few minutes if you need to, which is great for me.

Another positive about using the word count goals is that they encourage you to exceed them. Say you’re shooting for 300 words on a project for the time being. You work for a while and end up going a little over that goal. Might as well keep going for a while to finish that paragraph or scene, or just to round up that final word count. Using that logic, you can end up getting a lot more done than you had originally planned.

But word count goals have their potential pitfalls as well. If you’re more comfortable working with a structured schedule, then you might be intimidated by the idea of taking a whole day to reach one goal. You could end up getting focused on one project when you should be spreading out your attention more evenly. It’s also a little more difficult to track the number of words you’ve written each day, especially if you’re working across multiple projects. A WordPress post, for example, doesn’t include the word count at the bottom of the page anymore. So I have to remember where I started and then paste my progress into some word count software to get an idea of how much I’ve done.

Combining Methods

Of course, the best plan is to experiment with different methods and figure out which one works best for you. Both the timed sessions and the word count goals have benefits when writing, so I’ve been trying to form something that puts them together. Like giving yourself a limited amount of time to write a certain number of words, for example. It gives your day more structure because you’re working in a clearly defined timeframe. Not only that, it can encourage you to get more words on the page in less time. After all, you can’t make your story better if you don’t have a story written down. With the goals and strategies appropriate for you, you can push yourself to go way further than you thought you could. Then you can see for yourself how something as simple as 400 words a day can lead to something a whole lot bigger.

That’s all for now! How do you like to keep track of your daily writing progress?

— Dana

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