Just back from a rapid-fire set of trips, including one to a neat little literary conference in Fort Walton Beach, Florida: Emerald Coast Writer's Conference. Toni and I did some paired presentations, which was fun. In one, we discussed the "science and art of writing." Toni talked about her process when she started writing, from beginning the novel to getting an agent, and I talked about the principles under what she did, and why it worked, and how you could alter it for yourself. I thought it was a nice blend: a real person coupled with the theoretical principles. We talked about goal-setting, changing goals, shifting approaches, etc.
But then one person (a writer) asked: "doesn't this kind of mechanical, time-and-motion-study approach to writing inhibit your creativity?" Good question. The short answer: no. But the real answer is to explain why not. See past the cut!
I realized that talking about goals, like Toni's first set (600 words per day, four days a week, fall-back goal of 2400 words for the week), sounds very mechanical and arithmetical--two things that hardly appeal to the creative writer (and isn't that term redundant?). I realized I hadn't made it clear how it actually worked to do this.
Toni doesn't keep some kind of counter going, watching it as she types. She just writes. When her energy flags, she might check her word count. If she is at her goal, she can knock off, feeling a satisfaction in a job well done. If she isn't all the way there yet, it can energize her to push on to her goal. And sometimes, when I am on a roll, I will check just to gloat a bit on how much I've written so far!
It's not the numbers that matter--it's the feedback. You don't have to use numbers of any kind. One writer I know counted scene cards: she wrote each scene on an index card, then when she had her complete stack, she would take one scene card and write it, and then set the card aside. She didn't count them, but she knew she had done a scene, and she liked seeing the pile shrink on one side of her desk, and grow on the other. (On my desk, the cards would be totally lost. She was rather more organized than I.)
The point is to reinforce yourself for your work, but also to hold yourself to a minimum level for satisfaction. However you do that, it works! It's not at all mechanical--it's just a way to reinforce what you already do: write.