So, the 2020s have been… less than optimal so far, really. (As a dystopian sci-fi author who released a pandemic novel in April 2020, it’s been quite the ride.) I’m going to start with my usual injunction to please be kind to yourself, first and foremost, in 2022, as I hope you’ve been kind to yourself throughout the past number of years, whether or not you’ve emerged from lockdown having completed all those writing projects you’ve been planning. Remember that the world is suffering a collective trauma right now, which doesn’t play well with creativity. So whether you’ve a brace of novels under your belt or you’ve been stuck on page 2 for the past eighteen months, please remember to celebrate any and all writing that you’ve achieved — because look at the circumstances under which that writing has been done.
With that said, if you’re looking for ways to encourage your word count to soar this year, here are a few things you could try.
1. Lower Your Goals
It sounds basic. It sounds counterintuitive, to be honest. But there’s a danger inherent in telling yourself that you’re going to write 1000 words per day, and that’s the fact that 1000 words per day takes a chunk of dedicated writing time — and where that chunk of dedicated writing time is not available (which, let’s face it, is often), then the tendency is to just not do any writing at all that day. Get enough of those days lined up, and suddenly it’s three weeks since you did any work on your novel and it’s getting tough to dive back in, because you need to refamiliarise yourself with what you’ve already written, so three weeks becomes four… becomes a month… becomes two months...
And so on.
So set yourself up for success. Ten minutes a day, two days a week, might sound like it’s going to take forever to get anything done, but here are two counterpoints to that complaint. First, it may be slower than 1000 words a day, but if you’re not writing 1000 words a day for half the year, then it’s going to take you even longer to get anything done. And second, you’re almost certainly going to write for more than ten minutes a day when you get started. If you don’t, fine. No problem. Some days are like that. But those ten minutes got you closer to your goal, regardless, than if you hadn’t done any writing at all.
2. Join A Writing Group
Writing is a predominantly solitary endeavour, which, for the introverts among us (hi there; that’s me), is one of its great attractions, but this can also be a drawback when you’re having a hard time making progress. I always find that, in my writing classes, there are usually at least a couple of people who are there because it’s time when they know they are going to be writing. No excuses. No I’ll-just-get-these-dishes-done. No “But I don’t really feel like it tonight.” They’re in a room with other people writing, with exercises and prompts to get them writing, and so they spend that time writing, and that’s the primary use of the class for them. A class is one way to do it — and you’ll be developing your writing skills at the same time, too, of course — but a writer’s group is just as good in terms of making that regular space for writing in your busy life.
3. Sign Up For A Deadline Or Two
I’ve written elsewhere about the time I made myself edit a 160,000 word novel in a weekend because I’d won the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair and I needed to deliver a complete MS the Monday after the Friday afternoon when I got the call. There’s nothing like a deadline to make you show up at the computer. It’s a high-stress game to play with your creative muscles, but I’ve seen it work wonders for word counts. If your name is down for an open mic in a fortnight, you’ve just got to write the flash fiction that you’re going to read that night. If you’ve paid the money for a competition that needs your full MS in December, you need to bring that full MS to life. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend putting this one in play too often, but if you’re looking for some motivation to kick-start you out of a rut, this is a very effective way to go about it. I can personally vouch for that.
4. Find Yourself An Accountability Buddy
In my classes, I run a programme called Writing Conscience, where students can sign up for a writing goal they’d like to meet over the course of the sessions and I check in with them every week to see how they’ve got on. Because it’s tough, sometimes, to make progress when we’re accountable only to ourselves. Accountability buddies can be one-on-one, they can be a WhatsApp group where everyone checks in once a fortnight, they can be Facebook friends with a shared writing goal in mind — the details are up to the participants to work out. But what it boils down to is this: you’ve set yourself a target, and you’re reporting back to others on how you’re progressing against that target. Simple as that. No tears and recriminations if you don’t meet your goal every time — sometimes life just gets in the way — but knowing that you’ve got other writers on the road with you at the same time, and you’re all invested in mapping each other’s progress, can be incredibly encouraging when that road feels long.
5. Tell People What You're Writing. And Tell Them What You're Writing
This is a Big Deal for many writers; I know that. We don’t want to let anyone know that we’re writing. We have a hard time even calling ourselves writers, creating arbitrary goalposts we’d have to meet in order to be considered a Real Writer, when in fact — by the very definition of the word — a writer is quite simply somebody who writes. But have you ever considered why you’re reluctant to tell people you’re working on a novel? Or a screenplay? Or a short story, or poem, or whatever it is you’re writing? Is it because — hear me out here — you’re afraid that you won’t write it and you’ll look like a fraud? Turn that around and see how it looks. Because if you’re afraid that you won’t finish it after people know you’re writing it… wouldn’t that mean that you’re more likely to finish it if people know you’re writing? A bit like the Accountability Buddy system, having friends and family ask about your work in progress can function as a motivator to actually have something to report next time you see them. After all, Auntie Sue is seriously invested in the idea of having an author in the family. You can’t let her down, now, can you?
(HUGE caveat: do not feel any pressure to tell people who are going to make you feel less-than for your creative endeavours. That’s going to have the opposite effect. But if it helps you write to spite those potential naysayers, go ahead and do that instead. Just don’t tell them first.)
Wildcard: Write A Bit Of Fanfiction
No, I haven’t taken leave of my senses, and no, I know this option won’t be for everyone. That’s why it’s a wildcard. But I learned writing discipline writing fanfiction and, if it’s a medium that interests you, I bet you could too.
The thing about longform fanfic readers is this: they’re voracious. In a good way, because they devour the words you write and wax lyrical to you about them in the comment section, but — and this is also good, though it might not feel like it in the moment — they are not afraid to tell you when you’re slacking with your updates. I was posting updates generally on a monthly basis, but God forbid I should fall behind: I would get emails. So I kept my nose to the grindstone and kept on chugging out those chapters until it was done, and I definitely learned a lesson about showing up to the keyboard and mashing out some words whether I felt like it or not. I’m making it sound far less enjoyable than it was: really, the best and most important reason to write fanfiction is because it’s wonderful fun, so you should only go down this path if you reckon you’re going to enjoy it. But it’s also the closest relationship you’re ever likely to have with your readership, and it does impart a sense of responsibility to the text. Accountability. When you’re writing for an imagined future audience, there’s no real impetus to hurry. But your audience with longform fanfiction is neither future nor imagined — it’s right here, right now, and they are waiting for you to write, so they will absolutely give you that impetus. They will give it to you in spades, and you won’t unlearn it just because you start to write in worlds of your own again.
So if you’ve been looking for an excuse to dive into a bit of AU Wheel Of Time/The Office crossover (only it’s set in 1960s Paris) then consider this your greenlight. You never know where it might take you.
Blog updates on the first of every month.