At various points and in various places I have extolled the value of setting goals, and in fact consistent, measurable, reliable goals that allow you to know you are making progress. A few examples:
1. Word counts, x times per week
2. Scene counts
4. Height of the stack of manuscript pages (make sure you get the same weight of paper every time!)
...and so forth. I've been accused of being too "mechanistic" with this, that somehow it sucks the art out of the process, like Michelangelo measuring his progress on the Sistine Chapel in terms of square footage covered. Au contraire! The point of this is not the number itself, but the feeling it evokes in you, so you can feel gratified with your progress. All I suggest is that it is a measure linked to writing progress, and that it is, in fact, measurable!
Evidence of my belief in this after the cut...
Case in point is in this current book (yeah, it's definitely a book at this point) I am writing. I set some rules for myself, including writing every day I'm in town, but I didn't set specific goals for wordlength. Instead, I am allowing myself to "feel" the goal, as long as I am making real progress--and I won't feel that if I don't. In practice, that works out to about 700 words a session on average--a bit less than three manuscript pages, or around two paperback pages.
Here's what I've really been doing:
1. On some nights, I shoot for at least 600, because I'm comfortable with it.
2. When I'm really tired, I have to write at least a few coherent sentences--no nonsense allowed--but I find myself restless if I don't do at least 150 words.
3. One night I knew I wasn't going to make it to 600, but somewhere around 350 I realized my total word count was approaching a thousand-mark. I think it was 40,000--a nice neat number. So I wrote to get to 40,000, even though my actual count for the night was sort of weird. ("Yay! I've reached 379!")
4. One night I was going to finish a fight scene.
5. Another night I carefully set up the fight scene and stopped, saving the whole scene for the next night, and letting my subconscious work on it. (It's an occult mystery--my hero's been shot at by two people so far, and he's a vampire!)
6. Another night I decided to go until I felt the chapter was finished.
There were (and are) really only two criteria:
1. I had to feel a sense of accomplishment (even if it was dragging out three sentences when exhausted)
2. I had to feel stretched to get there--not worn out, but that I had to work at least a bit to get there--producing a certain degree of useful tension.
Because as long as I was doing both, I was making clear progress. A word or two wouldn't have done that for me, frankly; I know myself. If I couldn't get out 100 words, I'd be very unhappy with myself. (Heck, I routinely write emails twice that length.)
And that's the key. If I required myself to write 600 words every night, I couldn't do it. I knew had to feel I was still moving significantly, even if the exact amount varied from night to night, and I knew I couldn't do the same maximum every night. When I feel less tired, it tends to encourage me to write more--and I'm a "burst" writer anyway, so when I'm alert I can sustain a longer burst. So on average, I'm hitting about what I would hope, because if I do two in a row that are short, I feel anxious to write more on night three.
To steal a term from Charles Atlas--it's dynamic tension!