Quota me this…

Word Count Quotas

Setting Word and Time Quotas for writing.

“Quota” = a requirement of completed work within a specified period of time.

When I was a young writer in Junior High, my English teacher had a quota for her students.  She started everyone out with a very quick writing assignment and put us into groups according to our writing abilities and how many words we were comfortable writing.

She didn’t tell us this was what she was doing because I’m sure if the students had known her objective they would have started out with fewer words.  The assignment provided a starting point for a projected quota in notebook writing.

I have always been “wordy” and thus I began with a quota closer to 250 words a day and for a 13 year old that was a lot of words.  The truth is that it didn’t take me long to get to that quota and throughout the year I expanded that to 500 words a day.

I kept that habit for a little while but let it go and didn’t think about it for years until I started to write again as an adult.  I was reading one of Lillian Jackson Braun’s books in The Cat Who... series with the main character Jim Quilleran.  Jim is a former reporter who inherited the Klingenschoen estate and established a fund to benefit a small town and even though he could afford to quit working, he decided to continue writing as a journalist.  His daily habit of writing 1,000 words a day (established by his former teacher) was an easy task at his age and served him well throughout his career.

This made me decide to do the same.  1,000 words a day writing fiction to get me going toward that goal of becoming a published writer.  It worked…for a while and then as all things, it went forgotten for years until I read an interesting article by James Scott Bell on the authorkillzone website titled: How to Make Money Self-Publishing Fiction.  Click through on the link to read the article.

James Scott Bell provides some great information about Erle Stanley Gardner the lawyer/author and creator of the Perry Mason series back in the 1930’s.  Gardner was an all or nothing kind of guy so between “lawyering” he set a goal of 5,000 words a day which means he was writing roughly 150,000 words a month and over a million a year.  That’s dedication and passion beyond what many could achieve in their lifetime.

The idea of creating a quota helps set goals designed to get you to the finished product.  I find creating a word count goal is helpful so I’m working on finding the right balance for my life.  I know I am a task oriented person so seeing the numbers is important for me but if I get too stressed about not meeting a goal then eventually I’ll quit.  This is the danger of setting a word count goal that is too much too soon.

Keeping Track

There are so many different ways to keep track of your writing goals.  You can make it as simple or as complicated as you’d like (as a writer I tend to do the over-complicated thing too much).  I’ve tried  several ways to keep track such as using a calendar and doing a diagonal slash – use one side of the slash for the goal and the other side for actual.  You can keep a planner and just keep a running total, or you can do the complicated thing l like to do which is to create a spreadsheet that keeps a running number and adds to a total.

I have to brush up on my excel spreadsheet formulas because I know it’s just a matter of a click or two and the daily numbers you add in one colum will total with all previous numbers in another box making it easy to keep track of the big numbers without screwing it up like I tend to do. (Seriously! Look at this sentence…is this a run-on?)

Task vs. Goal Oriented

Setting a quota and sticking to it can be affected by your own style of accomplishing things.  There are two types (and maybe more or a combo of the two) of people – Task and Goal Oriented.  Depending on which you are, the way you set up your quota can make a difference in success and failure so it’s best to know the difference and create something that works for you.

Goal Oriented – these people often start different projects and begin with great enthusiasm.  It doesn’t phase them if they have to do several things at once to get to their goal.  If a task of writing is set then it is the final number that speaks to this person.

Deciding on a goal of 30,000 words a week means there is no thoughts of failure on day 3 when you haven’t written a word – instead it is ok to cram 10,000 words a day for the last 3 days as long as they hit 30,000 before midnight on the final day. Some goal oriented people can actually be labeled as Procrastinators and often work well under stress.

Task Oriented – often these people are list makers and marking off a task on a “To-Do” list provides a sense of accomplishment.  If a final goal of 30,000 words is needed then these people will often divide that by 5 and get a daily word count number then allow for an additional day or two to make sure they meet the number on day 7 and (if possible) before midnight.

This is me – I love lists so watching the numbers climb, making checkmarks, or seeing pages of written word pile up is a happy thing.  It also means that I stress when I’m not meeting my numbers and I obsess about being “ahead” so when I do get ahead I increase my daily goal then stress again as I try or fail to get those new numbers.

Goal Oriented people might do better with a weekly goal and a final tally like using the excell spreadsheet so they can track their progress, while Task Oriented people may prefer to have a specific daily goal and try to achieve that.

Knowing which you are can help you come up with a battle plan but there are always those out there that prefer to do nothing routine and will write when they want and how they want – this can either be extremely awesome – or a dismal failure.

Words or Time

Overall I think the idea of setting a quota for a daily or weekly word count is smart but for some people it might be better to do a block of time instead.

If you find yourself pressed for time between work, family, and all the other tasks you have to do, then maybe it’s better to carve out a half  hour or hour to write.  I’ve read many different blogs talking about how people have decided to get up an hour or two early or go to bed a little later just so they have a specific time to write.

Finding ways to “integrate” writing into your life can help you get to that finished product and I wanted to share an article I found a few weeks back by Moria Allen titled: Finding Time to Write.  I recommend you click through and read it when you get a chance.  It sounds like common sense, but reading it can make more of an impact. (Also – read through to the bottom of her post and you’ll find a freebie in there!)

There are a number of authors that talk about their “early life” and how waking up early and writing for those two hours is the reason for their success.  It’s difficult to do this and it’s easier to quit, but these people didn’t and if you want it bad enough, neither will you.

The difficult part of waking up is the initial week or two until you get used to it.  Having gone through Basic Training 20 years ago I can attest that you can get used to anything.  I distinctly remember looking in the mirror one morning and thinking “when have I ever “not” been here?”  Getting yourself into the habit of getting up early and writing can be the thing that gets you to that goal of published author.

Each step we take on the path to becoming a published author is different for everyone, but hopefully this post has provided some food for thought and offered some additional resources that will help in your quest.  Thanks for taking the time to read and if you have any comments – please leave them below.

P.S. My wordcount for this article is 1449 – not bad!



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