Working From Home – Hitting Word Counts

As a freelance writer, most of my work revolves around hitting word counts. This was a difficult transition to make, mostly because I only had a very shaky concept of what 10,000 words looked like, or 30,000 or 70,000… they were all just numbers that felt too big to tackle. But I figured it out, so I’m going to try to help you get a feel for what word counts really are and give some advice for making sure that you hit those word counts without running yourself into the ground at the last minute.

How I approach 10k words

I think of 10k words as about 25 pages of straight text (I usually submit Word documents, so the number might change according to the word processor you use and how you format line spacing, this is just a general reference number). No page breaks, and headers don’t count, just 25 pages of writing.

This means that you can break it down in a number of ways. Let’s say you wanted to break this into fifths, that’s five sets of five pages each, or about 2k words at a time. Since I’ve been writing for a while, I know that I can write 1k words in about 40 minutes but I always round up to an hour in case I get stuck. This model means that I need about ten hours of writing to hit 10k words. Or five sets of two hours each. By breaking it down into pieces, 10k words become manageable and tangible blocks of time that I can schedule into my work day.

How I approach 30k words

30k words of creative writing qualifies as a novella, and is about 75 pages of straight writing in a Word document. Using the metrics for 10k listed above, there are a few ways I can look at this.

  • Three installments of 10k words (ten hours) each
  • Six installments of 5k words (five hours) each
  • Fifteen installments of 2k words (two hours) each
  • 30 hours of writing

I tailor my view according to project and associated deadlines, but it’s much easier to schedule two hours of writing time in a day than saying you have to write 2k words by the end of the day. At least for me.

How I approach 70k words

70k words is a novel, which can be daunting. We see novels in stores and think of them as massive undertakings, and they are, but not impossible ones. Here’s how I would break down the writing process to hit a word count of 70k words.

  • Seven installments of 10k words (ten hours) each
  • 15 installments of 5k words (five hours) each
  • 35 installments of 2k words (two hours) each
  • 70 hours of writing

So basically…

Find a writing interval that makes sense for you, and then use multiples of that interval to conceptualize the scope of a project instead of letting high word counts stall the project with panic. Still panicking with intervals? Here’s the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever gotten:

The only thing a first draft has to do is exist.

Read that again. You’re not writing some grand masterpiece on the first try, everything needs editing at least once, so just let the words flow and take comfort in the fact that they don’t have to be perfect. They just have to exist.


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