How to tip the word count scales in your favor

Like so many things, the writing life is easier if you celebrate the small victories along the way. Example: If I hit 1,000 words in my  work in progress – Yay! Although, if you’re like me, it’s more like: I hit 1,000 words – gosh, only 79,000 more to go.

It’s that feeling of stepping on the scales at Weight Watchers after being really, really strict on your diet all week. You expect (fantasize) that that you’ve lost at least five pounds, only to see that you’ve lost one pound, maybe. And that’s after skipping lunch in anticipation of the weigh-in. You think: Big whoop. I passed up eating that cookie I really, really wanted for this?

You’ve probably guessed by now that I need to up my game when it comes to mental toughness and discipline. I admit it. But, I have found a great trick, if you will, to help me out in this department. And I’m going to share it with you. (This probably won’t help those of you who never skip going to the gym or always hit your 3,000-a-day word count. But if you tend toward being a whiny slacker like me, who knows?)

By the way, this is a writing tip. When it comes to weight loss, I got nothing.

Ready for it?

Not all words count equally.

Tipping the Scales
source: pixabay

We can give ourselves extra credit for some words. For instance, when you finally work out the first paragraph in the novel, and you know you’ve nailed it. Bam! That’s worth a whole day’s word count. Seriously. You can take the rest of the day off!

Why? Because that’s the most important passage in the whole book. When someone’s browsing through the bookstore, trying to decide which book to buy (assuming it’s by an author they’re not already familiar with), they first notice the title and cover art. Then they flip the book over and scan the teaser on the back cover. Then, if they’re intrigued thus far, they open up to the first page and read the first paragraph. That first paragraph, or two if you’re lucky, determines whether they buy the book or stick it back on the shelf. So, go ahead and give yourself extra credit for nailing the first paragraph! Yay, you!

It’s like final exams where some questions are worth more points than others. Here’s my scale, you can adjust to suit yourself. First paragraph: full day’s word count. Wrap up (ending): full day’s word count. Big reveal scene (unmasking the killer): Full day’s word count. Figuring out who the killer is and the pivotal clue to his identity and how to make that work: TWO full day’s word count, and a cookie.

Allowing myself to celebrate these successes motivates me. I work super hard to hit these milestones. And the truth is, if I have the first paragraph, the ending, the big reveal, and the killer/pivotal clue worked out, then the hardest parts of the book are already written! That’s reason to celebrate.

Readers, do you have special ways of celebrating your small (or big) successes along the way? Any tips for how you stay motivated on projects? Share in comments.

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34 thoughts on “How to tip the word count scales in your favor

  1. Great approach! I’m going to “borrow” it. I’m usually Miss Discipline, but things are too crazy at my house right now. Thank you for giving me a good idea for motivation!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Too many writers obsess over word counts. Want to write faster? Do your plotting and research! I have no problem hitting 3, 4, 5,000 words if I know precisely where I’m going. Conversely, if I’m unsure about what happens next, or I have to stop writing every few minutes to look up some obscure fact, I’m lucky to make 500 words. Word counts can also be false productivity, because I may have written a lot of dreck that I have to cut later if I’m inadequately prepared.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great tip, Vickie. Scrivener tells me how many words I have to write to stay on track for my scheduled completion date. If I hit it, I usually reward myself with extra reading time after work. If not, well…bring the laptop back out!

    Of course I received my developmental edits for this summer’s book over the weekend, so now I have to write the words AND get the edits done. Let the fun begin!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Gosh, Vickie, did you write this just for me? I am literally sitting here with my coffee, negotiating with myself as to how many words I absolutely must get in today. I thought I was done with the WIP, but…I wasn’t. I managed to assemble plenty of words, but now I have to subtract some and write new ones. Whyyyyyy? But thanks for this, because I no longer feel alone in my pain.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Great advice, Vickie. I look at it this way. If story reigns, then word counts are the servants. But who advises the ruler? Structure serves as the ruler’s key advisor, working equally well for pantsers, plotters, and tweeners.

    Structure is my road map. Whether I take the back roads or the freeway, the map still shows where I’m heading, despite life’s many detours.

    For plotters, structure is what you need to outline. For pantsers, you can use it to make sense of all that free-writing with high word counts. And for tweeners, use it when you want, but use it! Story is what readers want, and structure helps you satisfy expectations while upping your productivity.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Grant, it sounds like you’ve got a road that’s getting you there! The only thing that keeps me on track (more or less) besides cookies and such as rewards is a firm deadline from the publisher! So it’s a combo of the carrot — and the stick!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Years ago in the corporate world, I worked with diverse teams. To encourage the best, one of my first tasks was understanding whether someone preferred the carrot or stick. Like you, I respond to both, and some of my best work comes when I sense the stick about to rearrange my tail feathers!


  6. I’m sorry. You mentioned cookies several times, and I didn’t get one. No bonus word counts for you. Back to the salt mines. Or the bakery to get me a cookie. Your choice.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I like your accounting sense, Vickie! At the rate I’m going, I need to recalculate my word count using this new math.

    Also, I’m Team Tea & Chocolate to celebrate successes (cake if it’s a really big milestone!). Although I’ve never had one of those cool cakes with my book cover on it like I’ve seen other authors get…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Jen! And don’t be stingy with yourself on the tea and chocolate!
      I think those book cover cakes are a bit pricey and most authors buy them for book signings. But as long as you post a pic of it on social media it still counts as promotional, even if you eat it all yourself! (You can let the kids have a slice!)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This post came at the perfect time for me, too, Vickie, as I’m currently at that dreaded mid-point of my WIP for Sally Solari number six. Oy. If I get 1,000 done a day, I feel like Wonder Woman. But I also give myself cookie credits for coming up with new plot points on my dog walks or bike rides, because they’re just as important, if not more so (as are the bike rides for negating those cookie-count-calories…). Okay everybody, back to work now!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I like your way of thinking, Vickie! I aim for 1,000 words per day but realistically if I hit 500 then I console myself that at least I made progress taking the story forward. I also found that for anything that I need to stop to research or double check from a previous book in the series (is his eyes green or gray?), then I highlight that section and move on. Then in my first rewrite, I take the time to follow up on the highlighted info I need. On the rare occasion when I have an entire day with nothing on my calendar and no looming deadlines, I aim to write 5,000 words and reward myself with a half bottle of champagne. With the chilled bubbly in the fridge, I have yet to miss my goal on those days, lol!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I really admire this, Vickie. I’m sure you know by now that I’m big into outlining so my words come a bit easier than those of a pantser. But I rarely celebrate any milestone or writing victory. And that’s just wrong! It IS hard work and I DO deserve cookies, so you’ve inspired me to take a breath every so often and pay tribute to those hard-fought paragraphs and chapters. Huzzah for all of our successes, big and small!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Every time Nala and I discuss cookies, I lament there are none for me. And perish the thought that Nala would eat off the floor! What is she, a dog???


  11. For me it’s constancy that counts. I aim for 1,000 words per day, but if it’s 500 today and 1250 tomorrow–hey, I’m making progress. And when I have a good idea and am running with it–maybe 2500 words. Bragging to my daughter is my reward–she’s awesome! A great encourager!!


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