My friend asks:

How many words do you write a day? For how long do you write? How many days a week?

In other words, what’s the production schedule?

This may strike some as a mechanical approach to a somewhat mystical process, but for me and many other writers, it’s key.

Daily goals

The more you write, the better you get. It’s that simple.

The aim of the first draft is to get from the beginning to the end.

Keep in mind Anne Lamott‘s mantra: “I am responsible for quantity. God is responsible for quality.”

Many writers set daily goals. Mine are usually 1000 to 1500 words on work days, 100 words on “off” days (sick days, travel, family, and commotion days).

At the challenging beginning of a project, or after a time away, I will start with modest goals: 100, 200, 300 words a day, building up to 1000 or 1500. Be gentle with yourself, but persevering.

I clock in first thing, using “word count” to record the number of words in the manuscript file. I write this number on a calendar (a small Levenger notebook I buy for this purpose), write down my assigned allotment for the day and record the sum. Circle it. That’s the word count I must meet.

When I’ve met or exceeded that word count, I calculate how many words I’ve added to the manuscript. Write that down. Put an exclamation mark or smiley face beside it if I’ve done well. All those grade-school things.

This method encourages me to write new material every day, move the manuscript forward. Once my daily goal is met, I may go back and edit, fuss, cut, rewrite to my heart’s content.

Some days I’m like a tired factory worker and stop the instant I hit my goal. On other days I will write hundreds of words more without even noticing.

What about burn-out?

My friends also asks:

Are there times when you have burnt out on writing?  If so, how hard were you pushing and what did you learn from that experience?

Getting to the end of a draft, getting a novel ready to send out, is completely exhausting. Crossing that finish line! (Some have asked, “How do you know when you are finished?” Exhaustion is the clue.)

It’s okay to exhaust yourself at the end—but it can derail you in earlier stages. Pacing is important. You are an athlete.

In setting your daily writing goals, it’s important to under-estimate what you can do in a day. It has to be achievable.

And, as I will say over and over: writing daily is key.

Not all stages of  writing can be measured by word count. Working on a plot counts as “writing”; so does dreaming scenes, research and revision.

I like to keep the pressure on (I am my own task-master), so I will devise some appropriate daily goal or deadline—i.e., so many pages revised a day, an outline of two chapters, one character sketch—in order to keep moving forward.

Pushing through resistance

It’s important to realize that the first stage of writing is resistance to writing. Stage two is finding a way to push through that resistance.


For overcoming resistance, I recommend Walking on Alligators, a book of meditations for writers, by Susan Shaughnessy.

Still having trouble? I’ve become a fan of Jerry Seinfeld‘s “Don’t break the chain” method for motivating myself to do something daily. (It has succeeded in getting me to exercise daily, a small miracle.) For a year-at-a-glance continuous calendar, click here, or click here to download my own.

Websites on this very effective system:

Don’t Break the Chain

Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret

Ready to rocket? How I Wrote 400K Words in a Year.

From my own post on the blog “Advice To Writers”:

I am fairly mechanical in my method: I keep a small diary in which I write down the time, and the number of words in the manuscript. Then I commit to a certain number of words for that day. I do not permit myself to call it a day until I’ve reached my goal. Usually I will fly over, and award myself with silly stars.

Other posts in the “writer’s routine” series so far:

A writer’s routine: how to get into a creative headspace

A writer’s routine: evolving what works

{Illustration at the top is from BibliOdyessy.}