Five Word Count Killers (and How to Avoid Them)

Whenever you go to author blogs or hear interviews from your favorite author, the number one piece of advice is always to write every day. While it is good in theory, for an Indie Author, it doesn’t always work that way. Starting a writing habit is extremely difficult. Life so easily gets in the way. So here are the 5 worst word count killers, and how to avoid them.

The Problem: Writer’s Block

To tell you the honest truth, I’m not convinced that Writer’s Block is actually a real thing. It’s a term we all use, but I’m really only half convinced this might exist. What is this mysterious thing we blame for 90% of our problems not writing? Words are hard, I get that, but I really feel that what most people term “Writer’s Block” they are using interchangeably with words we like a lot less. Words like “Procrastination” “Plot Holes” and “Lack of Motivation”.

Don’t get me wrong. I once put a novel on hold for two years because I didn’t like a plot twist that had come up and couldn’t figure out how to work with it. I woke up from a dead sleep one day, after two whole years not thinking about the novel at all, and voila! I suddenly knew exactly what was wrong and how to fix it, and that novel was back on track. Writer’s block is a thing, and it does happen. However, if it hits you unaware, it’s most likely because you haven’t done enough planning.

The Fix: Brainstorming

First off, you need to come to terms with the fact that it might not be true Writer’s Block that you’re facing. If this is not the case, and there is no other underlying cause, then you could truly have a blockage that you need to work on.

The easiest way to get yourself out of a block is to brainstorm plots and ideas. The reason this works is that it forces you to confront what’s really causing the block and to work out ways around it. There are a lot of different things that could help, no matter the situation.

A mind map is a graphical way to represent ideas and is a visual way to help structure your information. Using your character as the center bubble, branch out things about your character that motivates them, that they like or dislike, main concepts you’re trying to portray, or even situations they might face. If you use the plot as the center bubble, you can line out important plot points that are the crux of your story, and branch out to scenes that you have which move each piece of that plot along.

You can also use writing prompts. There are thousands of prompts for every genre, and even vague ones for every genre. Pick one you like, and write them as if they are taking place with your character, within your story, or inside your world. Use the rules of your world to make it as likely an event as possible, and really explore the character and the situation they find themselves in.

I’ve even had success with rewriting the scene from the perspective of another character who is also in the scene. This forces you to reevaluate the importance of why these things are taking place and helps you to understand how each character is experiencing the same scene.

The Problem: Not Knowing Where to Go Next

Sometimes as authors we get so excited about a story or a scene that we jump straight into writing it, the words flowing freely out of our heads and onto the page, but then your inspiration flags in the middle of the scene. Maybe your characters have gotten themselves arrested without warning, or have taken your story off in an interesting direction that was different than you had thought it would be. No matter the cause, your character is now legitimately dropped into the middle of the ocean, and treading water with no direction or land in sight.

The Fix: Plan Ahead

Planning ahead is a great way of staying on top of your writing habits. If you’re especially pleased with what you’ve written today, at the end of the writing session, scribble in a few more words into the end of the document about what you’re thinking will happen next.

Another option is to spend about 5 minutes before bed writing in a journal or notebook about what you need to accomplish in the next day. Don’t just say that you need to “write 500 words today.” Think a bit about it, and ask yourself what your characters need to accomplish tomorrow. This way, you have something to write about even before you sit down. The main idea is that you are a little bit ahead of the game.

Finally, keep a scene or two in reserve, which are really clear in your head. All of us have pieces of the plot that are really clear, and pieces that are really blurry. You know, even before you write it, what has to happen in certain scenes, so most of the time you want to write them, and get them down on the page as fast as possible. But because these scenes are so clear in your head, it’s unlikely that you’ll forget them. Make a few notes on each scene, so that you don’t lose your vision, but leave these scenes largely untouched. This way, if you are really stuck, or having a rough time putting words on the page, you can pull one of these brilliant scenes out and get to writing something right away with no word counts lost.

The Problem: Time Management

As an Indie Author, I actually have a day job that doesn’t involve my writing. Because I work 40+ hours a week, I used to find it incredibly difficult to write even 300 words a day after I got home. I would get off work, sit at my desk, and the internet would immediately turn my brains to mush until I went to bed. Because I was exhausted and couldn’t brain any longer, no words would get written.

I tried waking up an hour early like some writers do, getting some words in before I started my day. While this might work for some, I’m not a morning person, and I spend the first two hours of my day, going largely by autopilot until I have enough tea and moving around that I can finally wake up. This utterly failed for me.

The trouble was, I was thinking that in order to write anything at all, I’d have to sit down at my desk at home for an hour or two every day and work at writing, or spend my whole weekend cramming as many words onto a page as I could possibly manage. I mean, how could I call myself a writer if I wasn’t as serious about writing as I was about my day job?

I’ve read tons of blogs that say you have to structure your writing time in some rigid, grid-like way. They say you have to pencil in appointments for your writing and then keep them. Well, that’s a lovely sentiment, but again, that was something that sounded great to me on paper, but just didn’t work in practice. One thing I came to understand was that it wasn’t about me not being serious about writing. It wasn’t about not having the time or not making time. For me, it was not utilizing the time that I already had.

I’m an afternoon writer. Finding that out about myself really clued me into what I should be doing. I really encourage you to figure out when you naturally like to write, because that information is the single best piece of information for you to know about yourself as a writer. No matter what anyone says, for an Indie, I find that you can’t force your writing into these neat little packets of time. Life happens. You’re already busy enough. If you schedule these time packets, it just doesn’t seem to always work out. So you miss more days with a rigid schedule than anything else.

The Fix: Restructure Your Writing Time

So what do you do? You do what you have to do. It’s that simple. You write whenever you can. I can get in 600 words or so on my hour lunch break. Only have half an hour? Take ten minutes to scarf down some dinner leftovers and then get in as many words as you can.

I write on notebooks when I am waiting for a movie to start, or for a friend to meet me at a restaurant.

Do you have a commute to or from work? Use the time in commute. Instead of listening to the radio or something, I typically dictate my novels using apps on my phone when I am driving or can’t otherwise use my hands.

I will even admit to putting my tablet in a plastic baggie so that I could take it with me into the shower and finish my word counts while I’m rinsing my hair one-handed. Let’s be totally honest. You get a ton of good ideas while you’re in the shower anyway, so why not?

The main point is that I identified all the tiny bits of downtime that I possibly could have during the day, and with the help of my handy-dandy notebook, or cell phone, or tablet, or whatever, I get words in every single day. And you have no idea how nice it is to come home from work and have my word count done, or nearly there already because I worked on it while I was on lunch at work. It’s like finishing your homework while you’re still at school.

The Problem: Motivation

For writers, doing the thing is so very hard. You’re sitting there staring at your Work In Progress like “Wut R Werds!” Some days, you literally can’t even. And you know what? That’s okay. I’d venture to say that most people who become writers do so because we’re introverts. And this is important to our writing life. I’ll tell you why.

You may think that as an introvert, sitting in a room by yourself, pouring your heart and soul out into your story, is the best thing ever. I mean, why would we give up our lives like that to be by ourselves and in our own heads if not? But you are actually pouring your soul into your novel when you give it some of your precious time. Unlike an extrovert, who absorbs energy by being around other people, introverts make their own energy inside themselves. We give to others, and we put our energy into everything we do, totally exhausting ourselves in the process.

The Fix: Recharge Your Batteries

Recharging is an essential part of being not only an introvert but a writer. Sometimes, you really have to allow yourself some grace and take a few days off the writing gig. You can’t give if your well is dry. This one is harder to give a definitive answer for since so much of how you recharge depends on you. Let me attempt at least to give you a few examples, and maybe you can think of some of your own as well.

One of the biggest things to recharge is to clear out anything that is causing a backlog in your life. Finish a book or a video game that you’ve been putting off. Clean the house. Give the dog a bath. Weed out the lawn and mow the grass. Whatever is bothering you, take a day or two off from writing to fix it.

Another idea involves exercising. Get yourself out of the chair, or out of the house and go do something active, whether it be hitting the gym, pounding the pavement, meditating, stretching, doing some yoga. Go to the park and take a turn on the swings. Go to the beach or the pool. Get up and dance. The main thing if this is your way to recharge is to move.

Sleep is also an obvious choice. Being exhausted and trying to force your way through a scene, a page, an outline, is never going to work. Get to sleep, even if it means going to bed an hour or two early for a few nights. Sleep is a super recuperative method for recharging, and it can help you out in other areas of your life too, so this is a must.

None of those things work for you? Listen to loud music. Take a long bubble bath. Hang out with friends once in a while. Take the time for you, and make sure that you are making recharging a high priority in your life so that you can always be in top form when you come to the page.

I can guarantee that the time spent away is not wasted. When I’m hanging out with friends, I’m thinking of my characters that I made based on these people right in front of me. When I’m out at the park, I’m thinking of how I would describe this place in my novel. I think about how this grove of trees in my world could be a secret hidden entrance to meeting fairies or mermaids at the beach. So much of my away time is spent thinking about my novels that by the time I come back to them I’m positively itching to write. Getting away from it all can bring you back to it in the best way.

The Problem: Procrastination

It’s said that for a lot of us writers, you can always tell how well the writing is going by looking at the state of their house. While this is a funny statement, you can immediately see why it is so relevant. At the heart of this statement is the idea that when the writing isn’t going well, you end up doing other things, namely, cleaning the house.

Here’s an example. I’ve been off all day today, and it’s taken me till nearly 3 PM to write this part of the post when I got out of bed before 10 AM with the set intention to finish it. What did I do instead? Ate breakfast, opened up the post, got on Facebook, looked at my word count spreadsheets, cleaned the kitchen, ate lunch, finished reading a book, looked at the post again, organized my desktop, threw out my broken printer, cleaned my office, did some research. I even considered building a bookshelf for my manga collection from scratch before sitting down to write this part of the post. Procrastination is honestly more detrimental to my word counts than any other reason.

The Fix: Figure Out the Why

There are tons of reasons we procrastinate, so the main thing to understand is that you need to identify the why behind it. Are you unsure how to proceed from where you are? Maybe you need to do some thinking and brainstorm more ideas. Have you lost steam? Go back to your earliest notes on the book, and see if your current writing matched the vision you had for it when you were truly inspired by the idea.

Figure out why you’re procrastinating. There’s always an underlying reason and address it directly. Why didn’t I want to write this post today? Because writing prose is super easy, and I hit my word counts and then some each day I write a blog post. I knew that I would likely be finishing this post today, and didn’t want to let it go because, if I’m being honest, I’m stuck in my current WIP and didn’t want to go back to struggling to make my word counts.

Once you have the why of it figured out, you can begin to make your writing a priority again. I understand that I don’t want to go back to being stuck in a fictional world, but I can also see that it is incredibly important to get my characters unstuck again. Only I can do that.

You can think of your task list as a number of rocks, in many shapes and sizes. The biggest rocks are your most important or closest deadline tasks, whereas the smaller rocks represent the lesser tasks that aren’t due for a while or aren’t as important. Sure, you can fill a jar with small rocks, but there will be no room for big rocks if you do. You need to put the big rocks, the important rocks, in first, and then fill the rest of the day with little rocks in between. Make it a priority to work on your writing every day, and you will feel way better about your writing career.

What do you think? What’s the worst word count killer for you, and how do you get back to writing? Let me know in the comments!

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