Using Word Count Targets in Scrivener Part 1: Project Targets

Screenshot by Lancy McCall

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Let’s talk about word count targets. As a reader, I always thought of books in terms of pages. But once you dive into the world of being an author, you discover everything is described by word count. And, that the expected word count varies by genre. I mean, I always knew my sci-fi books were longer than my romance books, but I honestly never gave it much thought before becoming an author.

>Tip: Here’s a list of suggested word counts by type and genre: 

Tracking word count is important for multiple reasons, some at a macro level (like meeting genre expectations or racing a deadline) and some at a micro level (like checking your pacing throughout the story). And while these are cool tools to have, they don’t do much good if you don’t know how to use them.

Scrivener (my favorite writing app) can track word count at the project level (macro) and at the document level (micro). This article is part one of a two-part series on setting up word count targets in Scrivener. In Part 1, we’ll discuss the big picture and setting up project word count targets. In Part 2, we’ll get into the details and talk about setting up and using document word counts.

>Just a friendly reminder, I use Scrivener 3 for Mac OS, so if you use Windows, your settings may look different or be on a different menu than my screenshots show.

Draft Targets

The Draft target is the word count goal for your manuscript. You can adjust this to show your entire manuscript or selected documents within your manuscript.

To set the Draft Target, go to Project > Show Project Targets (Shift+Cmd+T). The top half shows the Draft Target. (We’ll get to the Session Target in a minute.)

screenshot of Scrivener's targets window
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

Click the field between the words “of” and “words” to enter your draft word count goal. Note: It doesn’t show as a field until you hover over it with your mouse. (I have it highlighted in the image above for you.)

screenshot of Scrivener's targets window
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

Enter your manuscript word count goal and hit Enter.

Draft Target Options

Once you set the goal for your draft, you can configure different options by clicking the Options button.

screenshot of draft target options
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

You can play with these settings to fit how you work, but here’s what they do:

  • Count current compile group only: This only counts only the files designated in the Compile group selection. This defaults to the entire Draft folder unless set up differently in the Compile settings.
  • Only count documents set to be included in Compile (default): This excludes any documents that do not have the “Include in Compile” checkbox set in the Metadata tab.
  • Show overrun: Changes the progress bar to show when you are over your set target. (This helps in the editing process to identify where you may need to trim.)
  • Overrun allowance: Let’s you set how much you can go over your target before the progress bar turns red.
  • Deadline: Scrivener uses this date to calculate the number of days you have left to reach your draft target goal (displayed on the main Project Target window). It’s also used in the session targets for calculating how many words you need to write per session to meet your deadline.
  • Show target notifications: Scrivener can notify you when you reach a draft or session goal. (This annoys me, but I can see how it could motivate others.)

Single Novel versus Series

What if you have your entire series in one Scrivener project file? How do you set up the Draft Target for the book you’re currently working in?

This is where you use the option to count the current compile group only. First, you need to set up the Compile group to point to the current work-in-progress (WIP). 

Here’s how my binder looks in my current WIP series with three books set up:

screenshot of Scrivener binder
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

If I go to my Compile settings (File > Compile), I can see that the Compile selector (top of the far right pane) is pointing to my second book, Moving Forward. You can change this to point to any folder/text within your main Draft folder.

screenshot of compile window for series
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

Now when I go to Project > Show Project Targets > Options, I check the box for Count current compile group only to only see stats for that book.

screenshot of draft target options
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

When I click OK, the name of the folder I’m pointing to shows up as the Draft target and it’s showing the number of words I have written so far in that book.

screenshot of Scrivener's targets window
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

Now, if I decide to focus on a different novel in the series, all I have to do is change my Compile selection and my targets will adjust.

Session Targets

Session Targets measure your writing activity—the text that has been typed or pasted into the main text area—in a single writing session. You can configure Session targets in the same place as the Draft Target (Project > Show Project Targets). Like the Draft target, you can also set up options for measuring your session targets.

On the Target Projects window, click the Options button, then click Session Target at the top.

screenshot of session target options
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

The options available for Session targets include:

  • Reset session count: You can set the session count to reset daily at a specific time OR you can have it reset when you open or close a project. Select the option that works best for your writing habits.
  • Count text written anywhere in the project: If left unchecked, Scrivener only counts documents in the Draft folder marked as “Include in Compile.” If checked, Scrivener counts everything you typed during the session from any document in the project binder. (Note: The report breaks it out between Draft and Other. I like to check this box, so I can see my planning activity as well.)
  • Allow negatives: Checking this box gives a more accurate net total of words written. When checked, it’s possible to show a negative word count if you’ve removed more words than you added.
  • Automatically calculate from draft deadline: This will use the Deadline date set in the Draft Target options to calculate how many words you need per session to meet your goal. (If there’s no Deadline date set, this option is grayed out.)
  • Writing days: This allows you to select which days you are available to write and adjusts your daily goals for meeting your deadline accordingly.
  • Allow writing on day of deadline: The default calculation does not include the Deadline date. Check this box if you intend to write until the last minute.

Viewing Results

There are two different ways to view your writing activity results: Statistics and Writing History.


The Statistics window (Project > Statistics…) gives you basic statistics on your writing. You can view the information by the Compile selection (default is everything in the Draft folder) or by the Selection of documents in the binder (what you’ve highlighted). This allows you to compare a scene, chapter, or part to your overall manuscript.

Choose what to include in each section under the Options tab (far top right).

Word Frequency

This is a handy feature to help you identify words you may use too often. You can see the list for both the Compiled and Selected Documents lists.

(Scrolling through this list is how I found out I used the word “grabbed” way too much in my first book! My characters were always grabbing their purse, phone, shoes, etc.)

And you can tell Scrivener which words to omit from the Word Frequency list on the Options tab by clicking the button labeled Set List of Words to Ignore….

Writing History

The Writing History feature (Project > Writing History) shows your writing activity, both within your Manuscript and other documents. You can show these numbers by words, characters, or pages. And you can summarize them by Month or Day (or show both).

screenshot of Scrivener's writing history window
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

Note in the image above the line for Sep 11, 2023 shows I had negative words in my Other. This could have been me cleaning up something in a planning document or removing duplicate information from a character sketch.

(Also, don’t judge me for not getting much work done on my WIP! It’s been a rough month. <grin>)

I use this report more than I use the Statistics report, but both give you great information about your writing activity.

Wrap Up

So that’s Project Targets at the macro level. The next article in our series covers setting word count targets at the document level and how to use those targets for plotting or editing your book.

Do you use Scrivener’s project target feature? If so, what options do you use and how does it help you write? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Writing!

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