Posted by on Jan 9, 2014 in On Writing: Craft and Commiseration, Word Count Updates and Writing Goals | 0 comments

Write every day.

That’s the mantra you hear from just about every writing adviser online and off. And I agree that writing every day can be incredibly helpful to your productivity and creativity. It would be ideal if we could all write every day… but it’s not always possible.

For years I beat myself up because, working several jobs with a long commute, I often didn’t get the chance to write every day. Or, if I did manage the daily words, it was at the expense of sleep, something I was getting precious little of to begin with. Trying to write daily was killing me with stress and I feared that meant I’d never be a “real” writer. Isn’t that what all the advice says you HAVE to do?

Look, you should be aiming to write as often as possible. That goes without saying. But everyone who’s telling you that you must write every day doesn’t know you. They don’t know your life or how you work. Maybe a daily writing goal isn’t for you.

May I recommend the flexibility of a yearly writing goal instead?

Regular readers know that I set a single word count goal every year. If this is your first time setting one I’d recommend something like 100,000 words for the year which works out to just over 250 words a day… a common daily writing goal. (You can always adjust it mid-year if it isn’t working out.) Then I use a simple spreadsheet to keep track of how many words I should be writing a day to keep on pace with the goal.

But while I keep my daily word count goal in the back of my mind, I mostly ignore it and focus on staying on track to hit the larger goal by the end of the year. I write as often as I can and I keep pushing my total word count higher, logging my daily word counts in my spreadsheet.

Some days I’ll fall short of the target word count. Some days I’ll triple it. Some days I won’t write a single word. But I always make sure I stay roughly on pace to cross the finish line on time. In other words, I write as much as someone who writes every day would write… but I do it in a way that fits my schedule and how I work.

You have to fight to make time to write every day but a yearly goal makes it easier to worry less about the individual battles and focus more on the war. With a daily goal, if you miss a day writing, well, you missed a day and that makes you feel like slime. But with a yearly goal, missing a day isn’t that big a setback.

Know you’ve got some busy days coming up? You can write a little bit extra for a couple of days to get ahead. Fell behind? You can catch up. As long as you keep an eye on your spreadsheet and make sure you stay on pace, you’ll have the flexibility to fit writing into your life and not how someone else thinks you should be writing.

The biggest mental hurdle to setting a yearly goal over a daily one is that size of the number. Saying “I’m going to write 100,000 words” just sounds so much more intimidating than just saying you’ll write 250 a day. But, in reality, not only will it help you increase the amount you write over the long term and make writing a lasting habit, you’ll also realize that those big numbers aren’t as scary as they first seem.

If you’ve struggled to meet a daily word count goal in the past or have never tried setting a writing goal at all, why not give a yearly goal a try this year? I think you’ll find it’s just the thing to get your writing regularly without stressing over whether you got to write every single day. For me, it not only greatly increased the amount of writing I did over the course of the whole year and made writing regularly a lasting habit, it also helped me to focus on the big picture when planning bigger projects.

What about you? Do you prefer a daily word count goal or a yearly one?