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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Word Counts Work – In 1 Out of 6 Stages

Setting a goal to write so many words a day (as Stephen King and many other writers do) can work for you, but only when you’re generating new material. That might seem obvious, but keep in mind, there are six stages in the creative process and in only one of those six stages do you have your fingers on the keyboard or pen on the page.

Trying to hit a word-count goal when in you’re in any of the other five stages will be an exercise in frustration. This is one of the reasons I use the term “Product Time” instead of “writing time” and why I recommend you make commitments to show up for a specified amount of time, not a certain number of words.

What you should do during your Product Time depends on which of those six stages you’re in. I explain the stages of the Creative Process, how they differ and how you can move through them more effectively in Chapter 4 of Around the Writer’s Block.

I can’t give you that much detail in a blog post, but I can give you the highlights in this and my next post.

Stage 1: First Insight

In this stage, you’re looking for your next writing project or the next phase of a larger project. You wonder “what if, how about, why not…” You may be reading widely to see what grabs your attention, completing an Interest Inventory (available in the Writing Habit class or by emailing me), freewriting, clustering, mind mapping, and using other brainstorming methods.

Notice that even when you’re freewriting, you’re not drafting the actual piece yet and not likely to produce significant word counts, so this is not that one stage in six to use word counts.

Stage 2: Saturation

In this research stage you seek as much information as you can about the topic, characters, setting, etc. You read, interview people and use search engines, questionnaires, surveys, field research, etc. This stage is much more about input than output, so word counts aren’t much use here.

Stage 3: Incubation

After you’ve gathered so much information, your conscious mind won’t be able to make sense of it for awhile. Your main job is to keep your conscious mind occupied with some small thing so your unconscious is free to search for new associations and connections. You might take a walk or a nap, freewrite questions and answers, try to explain the problem to someone else, cluster, brainstorm, doodle, or get your body busy.

Hazards of Incubation

If you don’t understand what Incubation is and what to do to move through it, this stage can be very frustrating. You might think you’re blocked, even though this is a natural part of the creative process. Unfortunately, if you don’t know how to get through this stage, you might create a block. There isn’t much point in taking in any more information and you won’t be ready to write until you move through the next stage, Illumination, which we’ll review in the next post.

Patience is essential during Incubation; cracking the egg open early to see what’s happening inside only kills the chick.

Part 2 of Word Counts Work…

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47 Comments on “Word Counts Work – In 1 Out of 6 Stages”

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    • rosannebane November 3, 2016 at 2:19 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback, Harga. I’ll keep your ideas in mind the next time I modify the template (much of the formatting is controlled by the template and I’m not skilled enough to modify the code). I agree that images are important and I spend as much time finding and formatting images as I do with the text. Like most writers, my time is limited and I need to reserve time for my fiction and my next nonfiction book.


  2. Jan July 21, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

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    • rosannebane August 26, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

      Start by answering these questions: What do I want to write about? What’s the theme or major focus of my blog? Who would benefit from reading this blog?


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      Thanks Debra, I’m delighted to hear you’re finding valuable information here. And thanks for sharing my blog with your followers.


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    • rosannebane April 23, 2014 at 8:17 am #

      Ouch! I understand the urge to share that story.
      If the urge persists with other situations, however, I must recommend you create opportunities to share your writing on a regular basis, perhaps by writing guest posts or even your own blog… 😉


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  11. Gregory May 25, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    Excellent post however , I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic?

    I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Kudos!


    • rosannebane May 26, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

      Thanks Gregory! I’ll put that on the list of future blog topics — and I do love getting suggestions for what readers want more of. If you have any specific questions or specific areas you’d like more exploration/elaboration on, please let me know. Thanks again!


  12. Bernard May 24, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    These are really great ideas in concerning blogging.

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  13. Kathleen May 18, 2013 at 6:45 am #

    Thanks , I’ve just been looking for info approximately this subject for a long time and yours is the greatest I have found out till now. However, what about the bottom line? Are you sure concerning the supply?


    • rosannebane May 23, 2013 at 10:44 am #

      Great question, Kathleen! What I’ve found for myself, my students and coaching clients, and colleagues is that when we consistently show up for what I call Product Time (aka “writing time”) and focus our attention on the project at hand, great progress can be made in as little as 15 minutes a day, 2 or 3 days a week.

      When I finished the manuscript for Around the Writer’s Block (after getting a contract from Tarcher), I set targets for 2 to 7 hours a day, but my commitment never varied from 15 minutes a day, five days a week, M-F. Some days I met my targets, some days I exceed them, some days I didn’t meet my targets. I always honored my commitment. Bottom line: I submitted the completed manuscript to my editor a month BEFORE the contracted due date.

      Consistently honoring the commitment counts far more than the amount of time of the commitment or the target. See my article in the Huffington Post for more about why 15 minutes is so effective (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rosanne-bane/10-reasons-to-invest-in-1_b_1778560.html)



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