Writing by word count or set time?

Write by word count or set time each day??@oldguey

Hey, did you folks all get together and decide you were worried about just one thing this week? This is kind of eerie.

Sure, you can write by word count. Or you can set a minimum time limit. If you’re lucky enough to have a regular time each day that you get to do that. Or if you just like numbers.

I get a huge bang out of word counts. I like to count the words I’ve written, calculate how many more I need to write, and divide that by the number of margaritas I’m going to have to promise myself to sit down for that many words that many times in a row. This, of course, doesn’t take into account revision at all, much less the endless number of hours I’m going to spend staring into space with my mouth open wondering why I sent one character to Australia and another one to Peru when I already knew they were supposed to be having a baby together in nine months.

If you feel good having boundaries on your work day, then I say go for it. Pick whichever one feels best for you. Alternate if you feel different on different days. A lot of writers create a little ceremony for themselves—put on the tea kettle, feed the cat, stack the notes, pour the tea, bring it to the desk, touch the lucky rabbit’s foot, throw out the cat—before they sit down to work. Some writers simply take a notebook or laptop to a cafe. (It’s nice when it’s a sidewalk cafe and you can pretend you’re there for the fresh air.) Some writers exercise until they sweat or do yoga. Some take a nap.

John Steinbeck wrote a letter to his editor every day. Covici had given him an expensive notebook to write in, and Steinbeck wrote the letters on the left-hand pages and East of Eden on the right-hand pages.

All of this, though, is intended for only one purpose: to start the writer sinking into that hypnotic state where imagination lies.

If you’re capable of snapping in and out of that state at will (my aunt used to be able to fall asleep sitting straight up on a footstool, and she frequently did), then you don’t need a quantifier. Stop fiddling around and write.

But if you enjoy being able to sit back, heave a sigh of satisfaction, and say to yourself, “Made it! One more day that I won’t be devoured by poisonous dragons when they come around at midnight to see whether or not I stuck to my intentions,” then that’s a perfectly legitimate sigh of satisfaction to heave.

I feel that sometimes when I am writing I am very near to a kind of unconsciousness. Then time does change its manner and minutes disappear into the cloud of time which is one thing, having only one duration. I have thought that if we could put off our duration-preoccupied minds, it might be that time has no duration at all. Then all history and all pre-history might indeed be one durationless flash like an exploding star, eternal and without duration.
—John Steinbeck, Journal of a Novel