In Defense of the Bare Minimum (Word Count)


I have to admit, I feel a little hypocritical writing this post. For years and years, I prided myself on being able to type faster than the average person, to churn out a thousand words easily in an hour-long writing session, sometimes even in only a half hour. I was focused on massive word counts, of meeting yearly word count goals in the hundreds of thousands of words. It felt like any day where I “only” wrote a hundred words or so was a cop out. A waste of time and effort. What was a hundred words even going to get me? Nothing, I told myself, nothing and nowhere. One hundred words wasn’t even a paragraph, let alone a page.

It was just one hundred words.

It was minimal.

Then came this past year (or probably several years honestly) of a massive swing for me into anxiety and depression. Forget a thousand word writing session: I had months of less than a thousand words total the entire month. NaNoWriMo – a challenge I’ve won more than once – seemed an impossible feat. I missed self-imposed deadlines and goals (anyone else remember that I was hoping to write a blog a month this year and only managed that through March which oops?). For more than a year, each and every word felt like a struggle, like pulling teeth with a rusty set of pliers.

For the first time in my memory, writing hurt. Hell, just thinking about writing hurt. For the first time, I felt like I was failing at one of the few activities that normally gave me nothing but joy and success. It was my way of relaxing, of hanging out with friends, all of us sharing stories we were excited about and being excited for each other. It was just joy and minimal pain. (Admittedly publishing and the attempt thereof has brought me tears more than once, but writing on the other hand was sheer love.)

I miss that love, that joy. There are days I have a hard time even remembering how it felt to be that joyful.

(In case you wondered, depression and anxiety suck, y’all. They suck a lot.)

It’s taken me longer than I like to realize that during a depressive period like that – and even after as I’m starting to ease out of the spiral – I’ve needed to shift my mindset with regards to my writing and word counts. When I step back and am honest with myself, the fact is that for the past year with the way I didn’t write much at all, one hundred words a day would have been a huge triumph. Huge. If I’d manage to write just a hundred words a day, I’d have finished off the year with 36,500 words.

In my old mind set, that number would feel like next to nothing, like a month’s worth of words at minimum. But 36,500 words is a completed novella. And 36,500 more words would finish this rough draft I’m working on and have been working on for a year. It would be progress, is the point. Even an amount I scoff at as “small” is more than I had without it. It’s certainly more words than I’ve written so far this year, which is something I am honestly cringing about. I look back at my writing tracker and see massive empty stretches of days on the calendar with no writing at all. Days that lead to a terrible writing session when I do finally sit down, because I’ve lost the habit of getting into that flow state, that place where my words not only come most easily, but also are words that I appreciate and am proud of.

A complete lack of writing is far worse than writing “only” one hundred words. I can, and in fact should, be proud of writing that much.

That shifting of my mindset reminds me there is a workable goal, and that tiny steps add up to big distances eventually.

Now would I love it if I managed more words a session? Sure, but I only have to write that hundred. That bare minimum is a goal that encourages me forward, as opposed to the previous thousand word one that seems so often painfully impossible to reach of late.

It may seem like barely enough, but it is still enough.

That’s the part I have to remember.

That’s the part I want to help y’all remember, too, if you need it.

Edit to add before posting this morning: Just to prove my own point to myself, I settled down to write this Saturday night and was sure that I’d only manage to write one hundred words or so and trying desperately to convince myself that just that small amount would be enough. After a couple hours (no really), I realized I’d managed to hit that minimum mark, and then to my happy surprise, realized I was still going, still had words coming out of my keyboard a few at a time. By the time I was done, I had had this blog post, a whole 750 words or so. Is that as many words as I might have managed in an hour a couple years ago – no. Is it more than I have managed in many writing sessions this year? Damn right it is.

Start small and see what happens. At the very least, you’ll have more than you had yesterday. And that’s all you need to start making progress again.