Getting Your Word Count… and Making Your Words Count

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by Brandy Heineman @brandyhei

Today I’m celebrating the release of my newest novel, Like Honey for the Bones. The title inspiration came from the Proverbs.

Pleasant words are a honeycomb,
Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
  -Proverbs 16:24 (NASB)

This lovely verse gives us an important truth: words matter. Though they can be weapons, they can also be, like honey, nourishing and restorative. The circumstances will differ, but as Christian writers, we’re called to use our words for God’s glory.

Words are unquestionably powerful.

However, one of the proverbial keys to the writing castle is to have a daily word count goal. I often struggle to balance the practicality of getting my word count with the gravity of making my words count. If you’re like me, let’s look at some strategies for getting the right words on the page.

Getting Word Count

Set the right goal. Daily word count goals are a hallmark of professional writers. Start by gauging what you can do. Track your word count across timed writing sessions to get an average, and decide when you will write and for how long. Will you set a “stretch” goal, or one you can comfortably attain? This lets you set the bar at the right level.

Write in sprints. This tactic is useful for getting words written. Set a timer and write without stopping. If you get stuck, add an asterisk and keep moving. When the buzzer goes off, record your word count and try to beat that number with your next sprint. I prefer repeated short bursts, but the Pomodoro method or a daily log may work better for you. For extra accountability, open a chat window with a writing friend and compete!

Try dictation. Both iPhones and Androids come with voice-to-text apps that allow you to speak your stories. I like to open a Google Doc, tap the microphone icon, and start talking. Dictating punctuation takes practice, but it saves some trouble with revising. For me, this method is most useful for capturing the general direction of my ideas. Polishing comes later.

Struggling to balance getting #wordcount with making your words count? Here are practical tips from @brandyhei for doing both. Click To Tweet

Making Words Count

Know your weaknesses. There’s an admonition in Stephen King’s memoir On Writing that no word chosen from a thesaurus is ever the right word. I respectfully disagree. Grabbing random synonyms does make for clunky prose, but the thesaurus is a great tool for those of us who struggle with word retrieval. If the almost-right word is a doorway, the thesaurus is the key to unlock the nuance that resonates. Likewise, if you know your weak areas, you can bookmark the writing resources that help you combat them.

Edit for subtext. In my early drafts, I’m telling myself what it is I’m trying to say. Much of this overexplaining can be slashed or communicated instead through subtext. Where an editor marks “RUE” (Resist the Urge to Explain), consider a less-is-more approach using imagery, action beats, or oblique dialogue. The point lands powerfully when readers discern it for themselves.

Master the art of the call-back. Set-ups and payoffs are fiction-writing essentials, and they aren’t limited to plot points. Circling back to a one-liner, image, or event seeded into your earlier pages gives it extra significance and can be a useful way to bring the theme forward. For bonus points, call-backs delight readers by delivering on promises they didn’t know you made.

Your Turn

Productive writing isn’t simply hitting a number on a word counter, but also crafting work that serves its purpose. What tips do you have to share for reaching both quantity and quality targets? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Brandy Heineman is a book hoarder, cat herder, and Christian novelist. She loves digital newspaper archives and fuels her day job in marketing with endless cups of tea. Brandy has served as president of the North Georgia chapter of ACFW and lives in Metro Atlanta with her husband, Michael.






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