Why 2,000 Words Works For Me
I’ve noted that I’m doing a thing where I don’t check into the Internet until I write 2,000 words on my current book project or until noon. People have asked me why the stated quota is 2,000 words. Why not some other number? Why not some specific amount of time? I’ve answered this question before briefly, but I’m happy to expand on it a little.
1. First, because generally speaking, I’m easily able to write 2,000 words a day. Years of banging out copy, first at a newspaper, later for online sites and magazines (and also here) help with that; the other part is simply that my writing brain seems to have a wide throughput.
2. It’s an amount that makes me feel like I’m making real and substantive progress every time I write that amount. At 2,000 words a day, you could have a 100k-word novel in done in 50 days — not a land speed record for a novel, to be sure, but not a horrifying slog with no end in sight ever, either.
Now, the Reality Police compel me to warn you that out in the real world even at a 2k clip, you’ll still probably spend more than 50 days writing a novel, because not every word you write will be gold. I threw out about 500 words I wrote the other day, for example, because it turned out I was just faffing about in them. Even so, you’re still moving at a nice clip, and for people like me, knowing you’re making solid progress on a daily basis helps.
3. 2,000 words is also not so many that the creative part of my brain gets tired. I can and do write more than 2,000 words at a time, often when I’m near the end of a novel and just want to be done, already. But I do find that, especially after 5,000 words or so of creative writing in a single day, what my brain really wants to do is nothing — which means three to four days of killing zombies. Which is fun, but which isn’t finishing the novel, or getting the mortgage paid. Alas.
With 2,000 words, I get enough writing done that I’m happy, and my creative brain doesn’t feel pummeled afterward, so it can problem solve regarding where the story needs to go to next. Which means when I sit down to write the next morning, I spend less time figuring out plot, and more time writing up where my brain’s figured out the story needs to go next.
4. 2,000 words is enough that even if I can’t or don’t make the writing quota, I’ll probably still have cranked out a decent amount of wordage. The other day, for example, I hit 1,800 words rather than 2,000, and that included those 500 faff-tastic words I mentioned earlier. But even having missed the quota and tossing out 500 words, I still had a net of 1,300 words on the book. That’s not my quota, but it also doesn’t suck.
5. It’s also a large enough sum of words that if I do have a day where I do no writing on the book — as I did yesterday, thanks to the daughter’s second snow day in a row plus other things that required attention — I don’t feel like missing that day means I’m spinning my wheels overall, because overall for the week I’ve had a decent number of words pile up.
For example, in the two weeks that I’ve been on the quota train, I’ve written 15,000 words in the book. That’s less than the 20,000 that was the goal, but it also incorporates two snow days and an additional sick day for my kid, who, while I enjoy having her at home, also likes to have attention when she’s about, plus those words I threw out. That’s good progress for two weeks, or is for me, at least.
6. On the flip side of that, the 2,000 word amount is not gospel if I want to write more; I don’t compel myself to stop the instant I cross the 2k line. Today I wrote 2,900 words, because I was in a groove and also because I wanted to get to where would be a natural stopping point in the writing, and also because my wife, who gets to read my stuff first, was saying to me “I want the new chapter. Finish it up OR DIE.” But phrased more lovingly, of course.
That said, the nice thing about that 2k mark even when I blow past it is that it means I can relax; I’ve done what I set out to do for the day and everything I write past that point is gravy. And it’s nice to be able to say to one’s self, “I’m writing more because I want to, not because I’m in a blind panic on a deadline.”
So those are the reasons why 2,000 words is a good daily quote for me. I don’t want to suggest it’s the right quota for everyone, but for most writers I think it’s worth looking at the possibility of incorporating a daily writing quota and seeing if it works for you.
Independently, here’s why I have the noon deadline as well:
1. Because I usually have other work I want and/or need to do with my day;
2. Because on the days where it’s just not happening, it’s nice to have a point in time after which you can say to yourself dude, let it go, we’ll pick this up tomorrow.
The noon deadline does assume I’m up and writing by about nine am at the latest, but since I often take my daughter to school before 8am and the dog whines like a siren if I won’t take her outside by 8:30, this really isn’t a problem. This may be a reason to consider getting a dog. Or, alternately, if you prefer to write at night, not.