With creativity, less is more
The case for setting small, actionable goals
I write no more than 500 words per day.
Now, some writers might hear this and say, “Well, that’s actually great. I could never do that with my schedule!”
And that’s fair. I get it, family and other responsibilities might get in the way of even 500 words. But I’m betting the vast majority of writers consider this to be an easy target. Something they can achieve in the hour. Besides, this goal is metaphorical. It’s meant to embody a goal you know you can hit, but won’t necessarily stretch you.
Regardless, I am one of those writers who consider 500 words daily to be on the lighter side. Can I write more? Yes, but I still choose not to.
Hot take alert…a truth I believe wholeheartedly is that with creativity, less is more. This extends beyond writing to other mediums of art, even exercise. Overdoing anything will only lead to burn-out, sloppy work, or the end of a rewarding passion.
This is the reason you don’t see me tweeting about my 2,000 word days. Why I don’t do Nanowrimo or writing sprints. Creating art isn’t about being the fastest or even the best, it’s about doing what you love for a long time. To pace yourself for longevity.
For me, that means writing just 500 words a day. Here are the reasons why…
Setting an easier word count goal empowers me to take my time with my work. I can write a couple hundred in a short burst or continuously come back to the novel several times throughout the day.
Even more important than schedule flexibility, not having to worry about wasting my time provides room to experiment and rewrite without the worry of wasting efforts. Previously, I stuck to my strengths when it came to writing, never trying new genres or age groups because I was determined to develop my children’s fantasy skills and get published. Even before I achieved that goal and snagged an agent and book deal, I’d begun to play around with older characters and many different storylines.
Writing just 500 words gives me the freedom to work on side projects as well. Many of these, whether short stories or TikToks, feed my writing career anyways. I certainly wouldn’t have time for any of that if I was trying to churn out 2,000 words a day!
When the word count is reduced, the quality of those words will be noticeably better than the same number of words as part of a much larger goal. That’s because I’m not rushing myself, but instead taking my time. I’m considering my words, sentences, paragraphs, and the output is often a lot clearer and requires less revision.
A counterpoint may be that it’s hard to string a whole story together cohesively at a slower pace, but I disagree. There’s been no issue following this approach with my writing, and in doing less work and removing stress from my routine, I actually come into the process with a clearer mind.
For me, and I hope for you, writing should always be quality over quantity!
It gets the job done
Small word count goals may seem like nothing, but compounding day after day, they form a full-length novel before we know it.
The beauty of baby steps is in the way it allows us to accomplish goals without burning out. To give a non-writing example, I practice the yoga asanas every day. If you were to have told me last year that, at any given moment, I’d be able to stand on my head for five minutes with ease, I would have laughed at you. But I can! And it’s only because of the daily practice I’ve kept.
If you dream of finishing a project, but are struggling with motivation, or don’t have much time, then try setting a smaller goal for each day. Remember, the key is consistency. You must be able to come back time and time again in order for those smaller goals to build into something worthwhile!
All of this was to say that I prefer setting small goals I can achieve every day. The serotonin rush of typing my 500th word is not something I take for granted, and I’m sure this strategy can help many other creatives too.
Now, I’m not saying to set your count at 500 or to limit work to a specific amount of time. Do what works for you.
This could mean 1,000 words if you’re a writer, or three drawings if you’re an illustrator, etc. Whatever your medium of choice is, determine what you can do on a consistent basis without feeling overworked. Nothing is more important than the rest you get while not working.
At the end of the day, friends, there is no need to heed this advice. Of course, as someone who’s been doing this a while and achieved some measure of success, I’d say it can’t hurt to try!