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Count Your Way to a New Novel
by Jeff Heisler

What's your plan for completing your writing project? Try this novel idea.
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How do you get your novel finished? A lot of writers struggle with this problem. Fortunately there's a tool you can use to keep you on track. What you need is a quota.

Some writers are lucky that they don't have to push themselves to finish. They enjoy sitting at the keyboard so much- it's easy for them to finish novel after novel. Stephen King once described his writing output as "diarrhea of the keyboard." What? Were you expecting something rosy from the king of horror?

For the rest of us- and it does include some major literary talents- we need a system to keep us on track. That's where the quota comes in. I highly suggest using word count for a quota. Set a number of words for the day and be sure to meet it. Find a comfortable daily output. Many bestselling authors have 1,000 or 2,000 word daily quotas. Others have less.

Earnest Hemingway- the writer, used a quota. People tell stories of Papa Hemingway sitting at the corner of the bar, hovered over his hand written pages. He mumbled to himself as he counted each and every word. Others use a page quota. BAD IDEA.

Look, your brain doesn't like to work any harder than it has too. If you give your creative mind an assignment to write 2 pages of manuscript, you'll end up with a lot of this:

"Hey Sam?"
"Yeah, over here."
"How are ya Sam."
yada yada yada. . .

Word count quotas prevent you from typing pages of empty fluff. How do you set your quota? If you have a deadline, divide the number of words you need by the number of days you have to write. If you're aiming to complete a 75,000 word novel in 3 months then you figure:

3 months X 30 days a month= 90 days.
75,000 words/90 days=833 words a day (say 900 for the sake of simplicity.)

So that's your quota. If you plan on taking weekends off, or if there are any days when you know you will be unable to write- subtract those days from your calculation. Even a small quota can make a big difference. A 250 word per day quota averages about 1 page a day. You have a nice sized novel in a year.

Whatever your quota is- stick to it. If you go over your quota- fine, but that doesn't mean you can write less tomorrow, or take the day off. Most of your creativity happens when you're away from the keyboard. While you're off doing other things your brain, an excellent multitasking device, looks at its list of things to do. If you hold yourself to a steady schedule, your brain will make sure it's prepared.

"I've got that writing assignment coming up," it says to itself. "Lets see, how can I put that scene together?"

By the time you sit down to type, the hard part's already done. Your brain just pours out the text and your time at the keyboard is simply dictation. When that happens your pages fly, and the writing get less tedious and can actually be fun!

Treat meeting your quota like any other daily chore. You brush your teeth every day, shower every day, and write your quota every day. Think in those terms and you'll finish your novel in no time at all.
(c) Jeff Heisler, 2002

Jeff Heisler is a freelance writer with a wide range of talents. He writes marketing copy for major corporations. He's also the author the popular "Was That Out Loud?" humor column, appearing in print and web format across the country. Jeff writes novels, essays, short stories and anything else you can think of. You can visit his site at to learn more about Jeff's writing and marketing services.
Get more of Jeff's writing tips from his low-cost, quality e-docs from the Writing It Down Collection. _____