Building up our writing muscles and endurance

photo by K.B. Owen, WANA Commons
photo by K.B. Owen, WANA Commons

If writing is a marathon, we need to train, to build our writing muscles so that we can write faster and more efficiently. After all, we only have so much time and energy.

What if we want to increase our daily or weekly word counts? I think the best answer lies in this analogy: It’s a lot like fitness. We start small and work our way up to our goal.

Since I’ve been writing full time, I’ve wanted to increase my daily word counts while avoiding burnout at the same time. Every writer works at a different pace and has his/her own process. I’m a big believer in doing what works for you and avoiding one-size-fits-all advice. But I suspect the concept of endurance works for us all.

Think back to when you started writing. I don’t mean novels. I mean when you first had to write a report or an essay. I bet writing 500 words, three pages, whatever the assignment length was, seemed daunting. Today, I can write 500 words pretty quickly because I’ve trained myself to do so. I can even write 1K pretty quickly.

It’s sort of like training for marathon: We don’t start out running five miles. We start out running one mile, and we’re about to collapse after the first quarter-mile, depending on the shape we’re in. We work up to five miles or whatever distance we want to run.

Writing is the same way. If we want to write 10K/week—or whatever number suits you—we have to build up our writing muscles. For me, my natural pace is about 1,000 to 1,500/day. I can write that pretty easily. But I’m thinking of challenging myself to write 2K/day in two writing sprints. That sounds reasonable with my schedule as it is.

If you’re trying to write more, my suggestion is not to do it all at once. Set your goal and gradually increase to that number. Figure out your natural writing pace and work from there. Maybe try to reach your new goal one or two days per week at first, or break it into writing sprints instead of doing it all in one sitting. Give yourself time to reach that goal. If it’s too much, don’t feel guilty about scaling back. Just don’t stop. Only you know what goals work best for you.

ROW80 midweek check-in

1.) Writing: Wrote 1,310 words in WIP, currently untitled. I’m tentatively calling it Goblins and Glamours. It’s a short work, one that I’m hoping to finish before May 1 so I can move on to editing and revising Good, Old-Fashioned Magic.

2.) Read four books on writing. Still reading Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Favorite quotes so far:

“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. … When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the parts that are not the story.”

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

3.) Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter daily. On track so far.
  • Comment on 3-5 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On track so far.
  • Blog 2 times per week. On track so far.

What about you? What’s your daily or weekly writing goal? How did you choose this number? What’s your natural writing pace or schedule?

And how are your goals for the week coming along?

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

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Fantasy & paranormal romance author. Witch. Tarot reader. Possibly a woodland sprite. Debut release TANGLED ROOTS now available. Magic awaits at

19 thoughts on “Building up our writing muscles and endurance

  1. Weekly word count goals are so hard for me – the only reason I have difficulty with them is I have so many nonfiction projects. The ones that pay me. And it’s hard, I guess, to dedicate a significant amount of my day (and weekly word count) to writing fiction when it does not yet pay. Though I keep telling myself – maybe it will someday! 🙂

    1. You could try including your nonfiction projects in your word counts. I’ve found that when it comes to nonfiction, my pace is slower than my pace for fiction writing. Not sure of the specific number, though.

      Chuck Wendig recently wrote a post that was all about finishing a novel by writing 350 words per day. Here’s the link (be warned: contains some colorful language):

      Happy writing!

  2. Great job, Denise. To use your example, I must be couch potato. I’d get winded at just opening the word processor! My natural pace is about 300-400 words an hour. As you can imagine, when doing NaNoWriMo, it took me 3+ hours a day to get that 1,667 in. Crazy! I’m jealous. But you’re right. It takes practice and pushing beyond our comfort zones.

    1. It took me a long time to get there. Going to grad school helped because we had to turn in so many new pages of writing every week–I think it was 20 pages/week. That forced me to learn to write fast!

      Thanks for stopping by, Ryan!

  3. While I definitely agree with you regarding “building writing muscle” I also see huge differences in my own production between research intensive projects and those that are less so. And even though I’ve been working on the writing muscles a couple of decades now, I still find it hard to break 1K a day on the research-heavy stuff — which tends to be the vast majority of what I write, sigh.

    Congrats on your progress!

    1. 1K a day is still a great pace. And I agree with you on the research-intensive writing pace. When I write nonfiction, my pace is slower because I’m digging through my notes, sifting through quotes, etc. Writing in general is very individual, so I say do what works for you.

      Thanks for stopping by, Ruth!

  4. As a general rule (and excluding non-NaNo or other challenges that depend upon word count), I don’t set daily word count goals. I tend to work best with a rotating cast of projects, and goals that allow for the myriad other things in my life. Unschooling is a very flexible lifestyle…but, as it’s been expressed, it can take “all or none” of my time. Things can change fast, and I’m not willing to put word counts ahead of Real Live People Who Call Me Mom (RLPWCMM).

    Instead, I’ve gradually come to the place where my default is writing. If I’m not actively engaged with something or someone else, I’m usually doing something writing related. And, as those RLPWCMM are growing up, they will sometimes come sit with me while I’m writing, more content to do their own thing, in my company, rather than needing my full attention on them.

    My word counts vary. A couple of times, I’ve come close to 10K in a day; I once managed to complete NaNo in 10 days flat, because I knew I would need to do homeschooling reports by the end of the month.

    Last November, I wrote a 122K word, complete draft during NaNo. I did extensive character and story development for the month ahead of it, and it’s my best WIP rough draft yet – by far.

    I’m currently NaNoing and doing the A-Z challenge. I’ve set my NaNo goal low: 33,333 words (I like threes!). I’m intentionally staying close to my target word count because of the A-Z stories, and the plotting I’m doing for next month’s Story-a-Day. I really don’t know how many words I’m getting in each day, but I am pleasantly challenged. I feel those muscles becoming more limber and stronger.

    More importantly, though, I’m having fun – and that’s the bottom line I care most about…because these RLPWCMM (and that guy they call Dad) deserve to live with a happy me.

    And so do I.

    (Wow, I think you just gave me a blogpost of my own, Denise! Thanks! Off to copy, paste, and save!)

    1. Don’t you love that feeling of stretching and strengthening your writing muscles? As long as you can feel yourself growing, regardless of word count, that’s the most important part.

      I’d be curious to hear more about “unschooling.” I recently remarked to my parents that I don’t have any pleasant memories of elementary school–all my good memories from my younger years took place outside of the classroom and the schoolyard. It wasn’t until middle and high school that I really began to enjoy the school environment. (And I was the kid who read our encyclopedia set, so it wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy learning.)

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Shan Jeniah! 🙂

  5. Avoiding burn out is a major thing for me, as it can happen easily. I tend to write 5 days a week doing about 3000 words, and then take the weekend off. This really helps 🙂

    Great post, and very good analogy!

    1. I take weekends off, too, except for posting my Sunday ROW80 check-in. Besides that, my computer stays off. I feel like I need weekend adventures–or simply a “Stargate” marathon–to fill the writing well. Burnout is a real hazard in this profession, so it’s good to give ourselves a rest on a regular basis.


  6. Finding our stride…. Yeah, it does matter how we approach the use of our skill. Are we going for the quick sprints in highschool track, or are we going for the long haul…

    I think that’s probably my favorite quote from On Writing too, Denise, and there are several. Thanks for bringing it out again.

    1. I think it’s important for us as writers to understand our process–as mysterious as the creative process can sometimes be.

      I’m still reading it and dogearing pages as I go.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  7. I find if I focus on getting to the next point in the story, rather than a certain word count, that I stay more motivated. That being said, there is something satisfying when looking at word count over the course of a week. It’s like looking back half-way up a mountain and enjoying the view before getting ready for the next leg of the climb.

    1. Great analogy–thanks for the image. Writing a story is a lot like climbing a mountain. I’d never thought of it that way before.

      I try not to look at my word count while I’m writing, although Word puts it right there in the corner, tempting my gaze. But, after a writing sprint, it does feel satisfying to see how far I’ve come with a story.

      Thanks for stopping by and for your thoughtful comments! 🙂

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