Starting the New Year 60,000 Words Ahead

Posted on 02 January 2013

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. This year, while I stuck to my resolution-less guns as usual and made zero plans to change my life on Jan. 1, I did set a big goal to meet before the end of 2012: complete 60,000 words of my new novel in progress. And I’m happy to report that I met that goal.

This is the novel that grew out of an idea I came up with at Bread Loaf. I wrote the first chapter in September and wrote another 30,000 words during my Writers in the Heartland residency. But then life and work got in the way, and I didn’t work on the book for well over a month, even when a man in a turban warned me to stay focused. Finally, in the last week of November, I decided I’d write an additional 28,000 words by Dec. 31 to bring the book to 60,000.

I started slowly by writing only 500 words a day until December, when I upped my daily word count to 1,000 words. At first I was strict with this word count, but after a few weeks I loosened up. Some days I wouldn’t work on the novel at all, and at other times I’d write 2,000 or 3,000 words a day. It all came together perfectly on the afternoon of Dec. 31, when I finished a chapter and brought the book to 60,009 words.

A few years ago I set a goal of writing 2,000 words a day every day, no excuses, for a month, but that schedule (at least while also working full time) was overwhelming and didn’t allow any time for reflection. My goal this time around was much more reasonable, and it was also more fluid. If I worked hard for a few weeks but then needed five days off to give myself some breathing room, I did just that. I kept a running tab of my word count, which you can see pictured above. This kept me motivated and was a nice visual reminder of my progress.

Right now I need to slow down and figure out what happens next, so I’m taking at least a few days off before I get back to work. I hope to have a draft of this novel done by April. I do think that’s possible, but I also don’t want to rush it. This is not a race.

For more on resolutions and writing goals, see Nova’s post “In Which I Fail (Most of) My Resolutions… But End 2012 on a Good Note (Really)” for an honest look at her own writing goals for 2012 and how she feels about not meeting all of them. And if you’re into resolutions, hers are worth stealing.

What did you accomplish in 2012?

14 responses to Starting the New Year 60,000 Words Ahead

  • Sarah W says:


    I think 500 words is a good daily goal . . . I may steal that.

    The scariest thing I did in 2012 was send queries out for my novel (which was also completed that year, come to think). But I did, no one died, and I’ll repeat the process (many, many times) this year.

    • 500 words a day for a book-length project is a really great start. It’s not intimidating and it’s a great way to sit down and get into the work. And at the end of the week, you have 3,500 words — not too bad. I’d definitely recommend this. Any time I get off track, I’m going to return to my daily goal of 500 words.

      Good luck on those queries!

  • Averil says:

    I got a lot of shit done in 2012, but listing it out is exhausting. Like you, I have become a kinder, gentler taskmaster. I only want to make a little progress every day, whether through adding new words, revising the old ones, reading my pages or outlining or daydreaming or whatever. I know when I’m on track or have wandered off. I only adhere to the hard deadlines, like the one looming at mid-January, when I need to have a revision back to my editor. I know I’ll get there.

    Having said that, 500 words a day has always been my fallback when I’m starting something new. It’s a gentle number. A couple of pages, no big deal. 1,000 words or more can intimidate the hell out of me, god knows why.

  • Lyra says:

    Yay 60,009! Now, not to be a stickler but are we going to find out that the last ten words have something to do with a couple of cats walking around an apartment staring out a window as a mysterious person writes? Ah well, 60k is 60k!
    I like the 500 word goal, but the amount of words hasn’t been the problem so much as finding the morning time when my brain is working (and let’s not get into the idea of me getting up earlier than I do at 5am, because I am not entertaining that under any circumstances). The new laptop has totally freed me up as today was my first trip into the city with it and I found a way to balance it on my lap as I wedge my book just so in my bag and voila! I can type and edit on the train! Will the wonders of computer science never cease?
    The only downside, and I consider it a huge one, is that now I have no reading time, but maybe I’ll figure a way to get that in somewhere else. I feel so disheveled when I’m not reading…

    • In all honesty, I didn’t really reach 60,000 words on that last chapter. It’s much less interesting — I finished the chapter, it *felt* like I’d reached 60,000 words, but when I checked I only had about 59,800. I wasn’t entirely sure what would happen next, so I didn’t want to start a new chapter and type 200 words of nonsense, so I went back and filled in information about a character’s career (which I had only recently puzzled out). It felt fairly anti-climactic to end my goal on that note, but it I’ll take it.

      I’m so happy about your laptop and your new train writing abilities. (But I would never, EVER suggest that any human being should wake up before 5am. I am not a monster.)

  • Elissa Field says:

    Congratulations to you, Laura! 60k words since September is an accomplishment. I loved Nova Ren Suma’s reflection on last year’s resolutions (and her follow up, about this year), too. She is so authentic in her posts, I was laughing along with her. I posted my 2012 reflections and 2013 goals, along with my challenge for January here, if anyone wants to join in:

    I’ve really loved trading goals with everyone — it’s really inspiring. Good luck as you move forward with the novel draft!

  • Amy Mescia says:

    Congrats Laura! Question though: Do you sit and actually count the words? whoa. Or maybe there is a computer program that does that…ha! (probably). You’ve inspired me to sit tonight and jot down my New Years Resolution. I had the stomach flu so my NYR (so far) was to be able to eat more than a cracker…and I think I am there already! Regardless, I feel very good about 2013!

    • Thanks for the laugh! My version of Word keeps the running word count visible at all times at the bottom of the screen, so sometimes, if I don’t want to know, I put a little piece of a post-it note there to cover it up. (Surely there is a way to turn off the always-visible word count feature, but I actually like my post-it solution.)

      Happy New Year and feel better soon. If you can eat more than a cracker today, then you have already blown all your resolutions out of the water. For the entire year. Success!

  • Downith says:

    Laura, you are an inspiration. And, as Sarah said, 500 words a day does seem do-able.

    And thanks for the link to Nova’s blog. I liked her resolutions and her analysis after the fact.

  • Teri says:

    You, my dear, are an inspiration ….

  • Catherine says:

    Great work but as you say daily writing needs a breather sometimes, while at other times you can afford to jog along with the momentum. I think it’s important to understand pace. Rewriting jarring text is awful – I’d prefer the empty page or a long drive.

    Good luck with rest of your novel. I’m itching to throw myself into something new after so much time spent revising my story collection this year, but I’ve promised myself I’d haul out the Big Novel for a rework. I’m still not sure if it stands on it’s own two feet so I’ll be evaluating until my edits come back. Tricky!

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