What James Scott Bell Taught Me About Daily Word Quotas

James Scott Bell is one of my all-time writing heroes. Along with Donald Maass, and Christopher Vogler. The trio of them make up the Story Masters. Oh, if I could only get the Story Masters Workshop to come to Los Angeles. I know we could fill every seat. Anyone else with me?

But back to James Scott Bell. Of course I follow him on Twitter and he often tweets about meeting or exceeding his daily word count goals. I’ve never had a daily word count goal, but after seeing his tweets month after month, I thought maybe I should give it a try.

So last week I decided my daily word quota would be 500 words a day on my rewrite. 500 words. Isn’t that a ridiculously low number, you ask? Well, maybe, but I am a wife and a mother of young children, and I know I can’t write thousands of words consistently each day. So I picked 500. And you know how rewrites are – write 500 words and delete 1200. That’s just the way it works.

But anyway, something interesting happened. Instead of wasting time staring at my manuscript wondering what to do with a scene, I immediately started writing because I had a daily goal to meet. I actually used time more efficiently. I knew when I reached 500 words, I could stop. I ended up writing over 700 words before I knew it.

You know endorphins are released when you check off an item on a to-do list? Same thing happens when you reach your daily writing goal. I felt wonderful! Accomplished. I’d done it. I’d moved forward in my rewrite. I could do this. If I did this every day, I’d finish my rewrite sooner rather than later.

Now, I reserve the right to write more than 500 words a day if I want to – and hopefully I will. But how freeing and wonderful it feels on those tough or busy days to meet my goal and then move on to other tasks, knowing I’ve already met my writing goal.

Lessons Learned:

  1. A daily writing goal sharpens my focus
  2. A daily writing goal saves me time (or keeps me from wasting time)
  3. A daily writing goal will get my draft or rewrite accomplished faster (one step at a time, one daily word quota met at a time)

So a huge THANK YOU goes out to James Scott Bell for tweeting about his daily word count goals. I have a feeling it’s going to make a huge difference in my writing life.

Do you have writing heroes who’ve inspired you in a special way? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.

Happy Writing!


9 thoughts on “What James Scott Bell Taught Me About Daily Word Quotas

    • Thank you so much for stopping by, that’s awesome! As for Mr. Bell, I found his site but it doesn’t list his daily word count. How do you find that?

      • Hi Neeks, you might want to follow him on Twitter, @jamesscottbell, because he tweets about his word counts. I think he goes for at least 1000 a day, but it might be more.

      • So I’ve been reading James Scott Bell’s ‘The Art of War for Writers’ and he actually has ‘weekly’ writing quotas. That way, if you don’t get as much done one day because it’s very busy, you can make it up during the other days of the week. I still don’t know what his weekly quota is, but I’m sure it’s a lot. I’m still going to try to keep up my 500 words/day, but use that as a weekly tally, too. Happy Writing!

  1. I learned the joy of daily word counts while doing NaNoWriMo for the first time this past November. It’s been a gift to me as a writer, and a lesson I’m intently continuing as this year is closing and will embrace further in the new year.

      • I didn’t try NaNo for years for the same reasons, fear of all those words. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, partly because I took it day by day. They even do the math for you. 50,000 words in 30 days comes out to 1667 words per day, which automatically sounds more manageable to me (maybe less so for someone with commitments on their time that I don’t have, like kids and spouse). It still seemed like a lot, but with an outline and taking time to do it every day, I thought I could do it.

        To your question about goals, my real goals for NaNo were to write every day (check) and to hit the 50k in the allotted 30 days(check). There was an overall goal of finishing a manuscript, but I didn’t think I had a hope of doing that in 30 days, so it was more like a December goal. I surprised myself though. I wrote a LOT more than I expected, partly aided by a long weekend and two extra days off on top of that from work (I almost never take time off, so I have a lot of vacation days banked). I found that, as November wore on, I was exceeding even my personal daily goal of 2k every day, and often by 500-1000 words. It was like hitting the pace number gave me the boost I needed to just keep running on ahead. It was fabulous. I ended November with 96,165 words, and finished my first draft of the novel (a first ever for me) on December 3rd with a total of 106.5k. Man, I feel accomplished all over again every time I get to tell the story 😀

        After giving myself a couple weeks off, I missed it so much that, with a fresh perspective on that story and a lot of changes to it (therefor a new outline), I’m diving back in for another 30 days of writing. I meant it when I used the word Joy. I think I’m an addict now. Do they have a 12-step program for that?

  2. Incredible story, Julie. You should be proud every time you tell it! Congrats on meeting and exceeding your writing goals. And you’re right, the 1667 words per day for NaNoWriMo doesn’t sound too terribly horrible. Maybe I’ll give it a try next year. Yikes!

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