Thursday, November 3, 2016

Word Quota Magic

Zestful Blog Post #183

When you’re writing original material—fiction or nonfiction—setting a word-count goal for your writing session is rewarding on a surface level, but also on a deeper, magical level you don’t understand until you do it.

Surface level is obvious: If you get words down, you’re writing; you’re making measurable progress. Whether your product is good or bad is, at this point, irrelevant.

Now for the deeper reward of chasing your word quota.

As you write, somewhere in the back of your mind is ‘Gotta make word count.’ That alone makes you really not want to cross stuff out, hesitate, choose one way to say something over another, cut off that rabbit trail you’ve been following because, enough.

You’re more likely to write deep into something, to not ‘keep moving forward’ but to linger on something you thought might be minor. Since I’m here and I really have to make word count before I can stop writing, I might as well keep going on this, drill down, because I’m already ON this vein of ore.

You’re more likely to experience flow.

Only when you’re sure you’ve exhausted that vein must you come up and figure out what might be next, or what could be next. And shift to that and write.

When you go back over that material, you might decide to keep or throw, but material written under word-quota pressure will have the greatest chance of containing something wonderful, surprising, totally cool: something you had no idea was going to appear, something you wouldn’t have wanted to miss for the world.

When you choose quantity over quality in the early going, you’re giving yourself WAY more chances to come up with something brilliant. It’s one of the great paradoxes of creativity! It’s Zen, it’s magic, it’s art!

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  1. Wow...this is exactly why I work best under a quota of some sort year round, but I had never articulated it this way, even inside my own head. Thanks for teasing out the idea and making sense out of what was just experiential to me. Now I can explain it in shorter form to my non-writing friends! Hope things are going well with your writing.

  2. Sorry about this, but I'm going to leave a second comment here. This is as good an apologetic for events such as Nanowrimo as I have heard. The obvious benefit of Nano is the attention it focuses on books and writing. The major criticism it gets is that it isn't "real" writing, it's not "crafted." It's "fast and forced and sloppy." But here is an argument for writing to the full extent of one line of thought before going on to exhaust the next one, as forced by a daily word count. Are there problems with the model? Of course, name one model that doesn't have problems. But Nano gets the world (seriously) writing and thinking about writing seriously. It also forces you to use a daily word count for a short time. Jodi Picoult said, "You can always edit a bad page, but you can't edit a blank page." This is what you are talking about and Nano is doing. (For more info go to Thanks for articulating this again and getting me busy with neurons a firin'.

  3. Ona Marae, yes, you're totally right. I was thinking of NaNoWriMo when writing this, but I haven't actually 'done' NaNoWriMo. Anyway, yeah, any method can be criticized, but anybody with any sense knows that you don't publish a first draft, or send it to agents and editors. I think the criticism of NaNoWriMo is based on laziness and envy, frankly. As always, thanks for stopping in to share your thoughts.


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