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As a parent with a full-time job, I usually have a limited amount of time to write each day. What are some tricks I can try to reach a specific word count in a specific time (e.g. 500 words in an hour).

I know I've seen some things like this posted on NaNoWriMo forums, but it seems like those folks tend to offer ideas that increase word count at the expense of quality, like writing out your character's grocery list or having characters mishear one another, requiring them to repeat themselves.

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While I don't think those NanoWriMo tricks are good -- just trying to increase word counts -- I think there is something you can take away from NaNoWriMo: just write. Don't stop to edit yourself. Sit down with a kitchen timer, or the timer on your iPhone and set it for say, 20 minutes. Start writing and don't stop until that timer dings. Will this first draft be Pulitzer Prize material? Probably not. But good writing comes from rewriting anyway. Getting that first draft down is half of that battle.

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  • A slight alternative is to set a daily goal for word count. Whether you are using time or word count as your daily goal, just focus on keeping up with that. If you get to where you can easily maintain that goal, then try bumping it up slightly the following week. Jul 25 '11 at 0:52
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Your best bet is going to be to try and improve your typing speed. The fast you can type, the more you can write in a short amount of time. Also, you can try carrying a small notebook and pen with you during the day. Then you can write a bit during small bouts of free time - waiting in line at the grocery store, stuck in traffic, etc. Another way to get more "written" might be to carry a voice recorder or a voice recording app on a smart phone and dictate writing when your hands are busy and transcribe the recordings in your free time.

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  • Even better, there are iPhone apps that will both record and transcribe your notes for you. Just think: you could write a book during your daily commute, without ever touching a keyboard! ;-)
    – Dori
    Jan 18 '11 at 10:44
  • @Dori - Do you know of a particular app that does the transcription well? In most cases, I've found that computer language recognition is iffy at best.
    – sjohnston
    Jan 18 '11 at 15:30
  • @sjohnston - I was thinking of Dragon Dictation (free) when I wrote that. Yes, it has a time limit on each recording, but I expect that a paid version will be coming along without that limit. It's from the same company that sells Dragon NaturallySpeaking, so they know their stuff when it comes to speech rec.
    – Dori
    Jan 19 '11 at 0:17
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Have you tried tracking your progress? Setting up a spreadsheet that graphs how many words you do each day, shows you averages, etc.? It's an awesome way to motivate yourself, as you see those numbers and totals going up.

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One of the things I had to do was to start scheduling time to write. It sounds a bit extreme, but it really started to work for me. My problem was figuring when I could realistically make time to write. I ended up getting up an hour earlier each day and using that time. If I wasn't able to do that, then I would try to add an hour at night after everyone else went to bed. Make a date with yourself, and eventually you'll find that you don't want to miss those dates!

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So as someone who did NANOWRIMO twice and made it a goal to get about 1500 words a day, this is easy, but the Nano forums won't be the place to look.

The reason why is NaNo is set up to write 50,000 words in 30 days as a goal, so their tips and tricks work for increasing a word count above all else. The trick you need to do is two fold:

First Budget:

So you're lucky in wanting only 500 words per day... that's easy. I did 1500, and that's rougher. For me, I had to chunk it up into three chunks of writing per day: first was 500 during my lunch break. Second was 500 when I got home. Third was 500 after dinner. If you know what you're writing about, 500 words is about 30 minutes... which was my lunch break time. I ate a lot of lonely meals at my desk instead of the cafeteria.

The second trick is a bit backwards but...

Fudge It (I'm a Poet and didn't know it):

Essentially, a set word count per day is not a hard requirement. You will never get it right on the money. Instead, try to write as close to 500 words as you can while keeping within the scene, or complete thought. Always aim to finish the scene, even if you write 627 words to do it... or 482 words.... and if the scene needs to be broken up, at least go to the major change in the scene tempo (since mine were action heavy, I always would break right as the speed of the scene was about to shift... either the dramatic bit of witty dialog was dropped just before the melee was about to happen, or the last punch was thrown and the baddie falls to the floor). This way you're ready to break having concluded the story and ready to move on and use your break time to plot out the next scene. Don't worry about making exact word counts when you get into writing... worry about adding the next full set of details to your work you need.

Just to prove a point, this answer is 459 words long (including numbers) and took me less than 20 minutes to write most of it. I could easlily ad a little more to bring it over the limit, but that might just as easily prove my point wrong.

The final guide line actually comes from NANO. Don't look back. Do your editing when you have a finished product, not mid writing. Keep moving forward, then the writing is done, set it aside and look at the things you need to add or omit from the document to make it work.

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  • One addition? Think about what you want to write when you have your mind free for it, like when commuting or cooking dinner/doing the dishes.
    – Willeke
    Jan 27 at 19:29
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One of the tools that I have used for NaNoWriMo is Write or Die. Read about it here. It motivates you to keep writing at a steady pace by turning red, playing an obnoxious noise, or even starting to delete your words if you stop writing for a certain amount of time.

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    Starting to delete sounds to much like punishment. It takes the fun out of it if the tool starts to sabotage me. Jan 18 '11 at 20:52
  • @jae - It's only an option. You can choose to make it severe or very easygoing.
    – sjohnston
    Jan 18 '11 at 21:02
  • Yeah, I found that out when I checked the site; have to try it out, although I have no idea how. Maybe blocked by NoScript... Jan 18 '11 at 21:49
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    @jae - The layout of the site is a little busy. You can try the online version by going to the "Write or Die Online" sidebar on the right side of the page, entering in a wordcount or time goal, selecting the Consequence and Grace Period, and clicking "Write -->". The page loads for me in Firefox with NoScript, but I did have to enable javascript for writeordie.com.
    – sjohnston
    Jan 18 '11 at 22:17
  • My main problem was that you linked to the "about" page... took me a bit til I noticed that. ;-) Jan 18 '11 at 22:20

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