Do you remember how much fun it was to get a pretty sticker on a paper when you were in the second grade? Well, yeah, stickers still feel good as grown-ups, too, which is why we like a certificate at work or a Mother’s Day card scribbled in crayon.
But writing is lonely business. Even if you’re a working (read: selling) author, a whole lot of the time you work there is no one around to give you a sticker. The “sticker,” in the form of a book deal, may come months and probably even years after you’ve sat down to churn out the work. So… how to keep motivated?
That’s why I love tracking tools. There’s something wonderful about watching word count creep up as you work. With my first novel, I tracked my word count on small post-it notes by my computer. Then I discovered MyWriteClub, where you can share growing word count with friends. (I first found it because NaNoWriMo was over one year and I was lamenting that I liked their word count-tracking tool and I’d be sorry to be without it. A friend tipped me off to MyWriteClub).
Now, the one down side to MyWriteClub is that you get notifications when friends update their word counts. Which can be awesome and kind of motivating. But when you’re not writing, it can be a bummer. I recommend turning off notifications if you feel like it does more harm than good. Then, once you’re writing again, you can turn them back on if you’d like.
For some, just watching word count creep up isn’t enough (I find it totally thrilling, and I’ll routinely write a few more paragraphs just to get to the number I was hoping to hit. See above? I’m 2% away from 30% done, and that alone will bug me enough to get me writing again later today). But if it’s not enough for you, then go ahead and devise a reward for yourself at small intervals. I’d say no more than 5,000 words, and even less if you tend to be more of a methodical, slower writer. What the reward is is up to you, but it should be something you really look forward to, like a walk in a local art museum or a chocolatey treat (watch the chocolatey treat frequency, lest you kill your heart health just to keep your word count up). Whatever makes you happy and is easily attainable. New car for 5,000 words? No. But new scarf? Sure.
What should your word count goals be? This is a very individual decision. For now, mine is 1,000 words a day (which is why 5,000 is a nice, round number for reward time, after a week’s worth of consistent production). I hate setting it that low, because I can easily hit 2,000 or 3,000 words in a day. But the danger in setting it that high is that when you don’t hit the number, the next day you feel like you have to “make up” for the lost word count and do twice as much. So, while 3,000 in a day may be doable, 6,000 on a make-up day is paralyzing. I have psyched myself out more than once by fooling myself into thinking that my top production potential should be my daily production. It pains the hare in me to admit it, but slow and steady really does win the race, particularly when the race involves creating something as complex as a novel. Novels are marathons, not sprints. You can always exceed your word count goal if you’re feeling “on,” but your goal should feel attainable and kind of effortless, not another excuse to beat yourself up. Don’t set word count too high, and don’t set up an expectation that you’ll make up word count for days you missed. It is a recipe for overwhelm.
As one of my writing teachers used to say, “A page a day is a book a year.” A page is 250 words. Watching words stack up can have a magical effect on your motivation. So try it and see if it works for you. Check out MyWriteClub today: click here.