The case against word count goals

Last week, I wrote about developing a writing routine and how that helps increase both the speed at which a story is written and the number of stories written.  A very natural companion topic to this is word count goals.

In any career, it is important to be able to measure progress.  This helps with a feeling of accomplishment, accountability, and lets one know when one as strayed from one’s goals.  Many writers use word count goals in this capacity.  They often come in the form of yearly goals that are then broken down into smaller units, finally ending up at a word count goal per writing session.
I tried this, this past year and ultimately decided such an approach was bad for me.  I know many writers where this strategy works, which is why I tried it.  But I found it sucked all the fun out of writing for me.  I was more consumed with the word count, then the story.  And if I didn’t meet the word count goal, I felt bad and if I did, I felt like: “Great, I have to go through this again tomorrow.”  Then I noticed a curious effect: I would subconsciously use the word count goal as a reason to notwrite.  As soon as I hit the goal, more often than naught, I’d stop writing, using it as an excuse to stop.
I recently wrote a novella using this word count approach, but the process just wasn’t fun for me (I love the story though, now that it’s done).  I’ve hit writing funks before, so I thought it might just be that one story.  I dutifully finished it and started a project I had been really excited about.  Again, I used word count goals.  I wrote the opening (usually my favorite part to write) and it still wasn’t fun.  I began to get seriously concerned that writing had run its course in my life.
Worried that I might stop writing, I went back to the stories that I loved to write and tried to think through why I loved to write them and the process involved in their creation.  I’m sure you can guess at this point what they all had in common.  Yup, no word count goals.  Instead, my goals were by scenes or plot points.  This allowed me to have writing sessions where I didn’t actually write any prose, but flushed out an outline, did research, wrote character profiles and still felt like I made progress.
I’ve definitely thrown out using word counts per writing session.  I haven’t yet decided on whether a yearly goal would be good thing for me or not.  I think I’m leaning toward a goal of number of new stories written over a word count goal.  Either way, writing is fun again.  I’m glad I tried using word counts, but ultimately it’s not for me.
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