5 Easy Ways to Boost Your Word Count

The adage goes, “if you write, then you’re a writer.” A seemingly simple message with a profound undercurrent. You don’t have to do anything special to be a writer, but you do have to write, and sometimes that can be the hardest part.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, life isn’t going to get any less hectic. The chances of our generation getting to retire at all, let alone at 55 or even younger, are whittling away to nearly no chance at all. Our kids are growing, but so are our bills, and we’ll likely be in debt until we die. I’m not trying to be downer; I’m just making the point that we can’t put off writing. We must write now or we never will.

So how do we carve out the time?

For me, I can only get through the first draft of a manuscript by focusing on the word count. If I think about climbing 24 flights of stairs, I’ll quail and never get there. If I count each stair as I go, I’ll get to the top without even realizing it. Same goes for word count (for me at least).

In the last year alone, I’ve had a baby, increased my day-job workload, dealt with various injuries, started a blog, and taken on a little light home remodeling—none of which is conducive to writing. So I figured out a few quick ways I could boost my word count while juggling my other responsibilities as well.

Schedule writing in your calendar

This is the number-one way I’ve found to actually get words on the page. If I don’t physically (or virtually) block out a chunk of time—small though it may be—for writing, then I fill that time with errands or cleaning or calling my mom. Scheduling time for writing can be a powerful tool, especially if you put it into the family calendar so everyone can see it and hold you to it.

Write first, plan/research/platform later

When I first got into the social media game, I would use Twitter and blog-reading to “warm-up” my writing muscles before writing. Well, it wasn’t long before I started using up all my writing time catching up with my writing Tweeps and what they’d been blogging about. I discovered that if I set a small word-count goal and met it before hopping into the Interwebs to splash around, then I’d actually move my story forward. Same goes for outlining and researching. Write first, even if you have to put in a highlighted note to yourself to research that ray-gun technology in more detail later.

Use writing as your procrastination

This one takes a little bit of brain re-wiring. If you’re anything like me, you dabble online, do a sudoku puzzle, or check your blog stats to procrastinate doing something you don’t want to do, like go to work. I’ll even procrastinate doing something I do want to do, like writing, because I don’t believe I have enough quality time to do it well. But when the urge to procrastinate strikes, it’s the perfect opportunity to get a few hundred words in.

Force yourself to start thinking about writing as a procrastination tool rather than something that can or should be put off. It helps to keep your novel document open on your computer at all times to make it easy to find and add to. For times when you’re away from your computer, carry a small notebook with pen attached in your pocket or bag, and start scribbling as close to where you left off as you can remember. A digital voice recorder will work, too, if you’re comfortable talking out your story. If you have a smart phone, you can use a writing app like My Writing Spot to tap out a few words while on the bus.

Word sprint

Word sprints are a marvelous invention. You’d be surprised how much good stuff you can end up with at the end of a word sprint. Maybe you won’t keep all of it in the edit, but I’ve found that more often than not, I actually like what I’ve written when I switch my internal editor off. Word sprints work best for me when I do them as a game, either with writing peeps (generally through the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter) or with word-sprint software (I like Write or Die).

Take a staycation

Mental-health days were my secret to getting through National Novel Writing Month. Imagine eight glorious hours to write in complete peace and quiet. Yes, it is possible. I suggest using the migraine excuse if you need to use a sick day (as opposed to a personal or vacation day).  Migraines are mysterious and scary sounding but can conceivably clear up in a matter of hours. If you’re a stay-at-home mom or dad, especially to toddlers, staycations can be trickier to make happen, but maybe a significant other or relative can take over for a day.

Here are a couple other blog posts on the subject:
Ready? Set? WRITE!
Nine Productivity Tips for Writers

About Mary Elizabeth Summer

Mary Elizabeth Summer is an instructional designer, a mom, a champion of the serial comma, and a pie junkie. Oh, and she sometimes writes books about teenage delinquents saving the day. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her daughter, her partner, and her evil overlor--er, cat. TRUST ME, I'M LYING, a YA mystery, will be released by Delacorte in Fall 2014.
Posted in writing life, writing process Tagged , ,

7 Responses to 5 Easy Ways to Boost Your Word Count

  1. Great ideas! I especially like the “put it on the calendar” thing. I have MUCH more scheduling flexibility than others, but I also will clean the house, bake something, read a book, watch t.v., or call my mother instead of write. Thanks for the tips!

  2. thegracefuldoe says:

    Write or Die was a lifesaver during my first NaNoWriMo. My biggest problem is procrastination. I like your idea of writing a certain amount of words before hopping on the internet. It’s so easy to get distracted by Twitter and reading blogs that no writing gets done at all in that block of free time.

  3. Rachel says:

    I just tried using writing as procrastination, and it worked like a charm! Today, instead of doing random things while waiting for the washer and dryer to run their cycle, I used that hour and a half to write. And having to get up in the middle to move the laundry to the dryer kept me from sitting down for too long without a break, too. The best of both worlds! :) Thanks for the great idea, M.E.

  4. Pingback: Mixed Emotions: College Life and A Surprise « Natasha McNeely's Guide to The Beyond

  5. coffeebeans says:

    Blocking out a chunk of time for writing isn’t something that I’ve really done before– but now that you mention it, it seems kind of obvious >.<
    Great article(:

    • mesummer says:

      Thank you! Glad you liked it. Yes, sometimes the best solutions are the ones that are too obvious or simple to think of as “solutions.” I’ve learned this time and again in my day job. Makes sense, I guess, that it would be true in writing as well. :-) Thanks for stopping by!

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