Today’s guest post is by Sarah O’Holla, who has found a simple, effective way to write every day.
We are living in a time when results are expected to happen fast. But what constitutes fast?
Yes, you might be able to write a first draft of a novel in 30 days during NaNoWriMo, but will it be the kind of first draft that respects your writing process? And what if you start and then can’t finish? Will you beat yourself up over the failure?
Recently, I was in a serious writing slump where I could not bring myself to work on any creative writing. The guilt surrounded me every day and yet I could not produce work. Around the middle of October, when NaNoWriMo talk started popping up around the web, I thought this is my chance to get out of the slump! However, I had tried NanoWriMo in the past and knew that over 1600 words a day was not how my own writing process worked.
I decided to try out my own NaNoWriMo by doing 800 words a day. I figured this would be a challenge, but much more doable than 1600. I also decided to start immediately rather than waiting for November. I accomplished two days of 800 words a day, but by day three, 800 words felt just as daunting as 1600.
Remember how I wasn’t writing at all before? Why did I feel this need to challenge myself so brutally? Doing something every single day is really hard. Let’s not forget this. So in the spirit of respecting my own writing process while still trying to write without fear, I decided to change my goal to 500 words a day – who cares if it would take me more than two months to write a first draft?
The result has been not only promising but also doable! 500 words a day is enough of a challenge to feel accomplished, yet not too daunting to achieve every single day. This project is helping me establish a daily writing routine and will give me 50,000 words in 100 days. And while 100 might seem like a big number, how many people have gone 100 days without writing anything because they have set unrealistic goals for themselves? I know I have!
How to Write 500 Words a Day
Here are four steps that you can follow to start your own 500-words-a-day project:
- Make a calendar online that lasts 100 days. Go to the stationary store and buy adorable stickers. I chose doggies and dolphins. At the end of each day write your word count and put a sticker on that day. Not only does this feel satisfying, it also reminds you to not to take yourself so seriously! I have my calendar hanging above the light switch in my bedroom so I see it all the time.
- Download OmmWriter (link no longer active). Plug in your headphones and use this program to get some focused writing done without distractions. I love how this program makes it really hard for me to check my email while I’m writing.
- Don’t worry about what time of day you write. I try and get up an hour early every day to get my writing done, but sometimes I just need more sleep or would rather be updating my blog. This doesn’t mean I won’t get my 500 words done. It’s nice to try to write at the same time every day, but if you can’t, then don’t let that stop you! Write before you go out to a party on Friday night, write after dinner or stay an hour later at work and write there. You don’t really need that much time or special circumstances to get writing done. That’s your mean you-can’t-do-this voice talking. Ignore it!
- Make yourself accountable. My husband knows about my 500-words-a-day goal, and I share my weekly word count on my blog. I also have a NaNoWriMo page even though I’m not participating in the traditional challenge. All of these things keep me going. I know it sounds silly, but when I think about skipping writing for just one day, I immediately think about how I’ll have to explain this to my blog readers, and so far that’s stopped me from skipping. By being an inspiration to other writers, I’m inspiring myself! And isn’t that the best way to learn?
This is what worked for me. Now you can take it and make it your own. Week one is going to be really, really hard. Week two will suddenly get easier. By week three, fitting in writing time will no longer feel like a burden. And while you will always have those days where you stop at word 500 on the dot, you will also have 800-word (or more) days. And just think about what the next 100 days might bring.
About the Author: Sarah O’Holla blogs over at www.desirousofeverything.com where she writes about her life as a young adult writer, school librarian, and creative person. She believes that everyone has their own story to tell. Please stop by and say hello; she’d love to hear your story!
Interesting article, Sarah, this one really resonated with me. There was a time when I put off my novel for months. I had to mentally beat myself up constantly to remind myself how much fun it was to write. Yet that wasn’t enough to cut it. I also had to accept that there were days where I wasn’t feeling it, or days where I was, but I denied myself the pleasure of progressing the story.
All until one week, instead of bombarding myself with expectations and learned that I still had all the time in the world to finish, writing no longer remained a hassle. Instead of worrying when it’ll be finished and published, I remembered what was more important; the rewarding process that leads to that. It no longer became about getting it done, but getting it done on my own terms. Writing was supposed to be fun, yet I made it seem like so much hard work (which is what it is). So who said you can’t play at work?
One way I was maintaining my accountability to write everyday was reporting my page progress to my brother or sister when they spontaneously ask me. They agreed to sneak up on me every here and there so I can show them how much more I’ve added to the novel. Knowing that it could happen any time, it forces me (in a good way) to sit down everyday and write what I can, or I’ll feel like I’m letting down my siblings. They volunteered and if I’m not living up to the bargain with them, I’m not living up to the bargain I made to myself when I decided to write a novel that provides me with endless epiphanies.
Coupling my system with your 500 words a day quota, I thank you for contributing to my ever growing writing habits!
OH! I also would like to thank you for reassuring me that I wasn’t slacking after all. I also remember a time where I used to write so rapidly and let the words flow. Nowadays, it takes me an hour for a page, but that is 500 words anyway and I usually end up going for two more pages once I’m in the groove. So I’m already up to par to this simple standard!
Thanks for your comments Marlon and I love your thoughts on remembering the rewarding process. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do too. It’s also so true about getting in the groove once you’re at 500. I love how your brother and sister check in on you sometimes, they sound pretty great 🙂
Such good advice! Writing is such an individual thing, we need to figure out our own process and what works for us, and not stress to much about what other people are doing or not doing.
I wholeheartedly agree. There’s so much writing advice out there, I think young and new writers can get overwhelmed, feeling like there’s just too much for them to do and too many processes to follow. We all have to try different methods in the search for what works best for us as individuals.
I love the way that you found our own method for writing a novel. I think it is very useful for others to hear your story when they get disheartened when, for example, they can’t live up to the NaNoWriMo word count… I know that I can get pretty paralyzed when I try to fit into someone else’s model for writing. I once heard someone say that you’re not a real writer if you don’t write every day. I was too young and impressionable back when I heard this and I nearly quit because I couldn’t live up to this standard. Luckily I realized that I’m the type to write more like 3x a week (particularly with a full time day job and a family!) but it’s just what works for me right now and that’s that. So I found my own little milestones along the way in order to write a novel. Sure it takes me more than a month — or a year — but it still works for me. Thanks again for the great post…
Yes exactly Yuvi! I feel like I had a real epiphany when I finally admitted to myself that doing something every single day is really hard and just might not fit into your personal writing process!
Great post! Two points stand out to me:
1. Do what you can, and doing it now.
2. Finding the method that works for you.
I love that you’ve found something both consistent and doable while still challenging!
I’ve found that waking up early (4 am) everday to write and do my morning routine is the only way to consistently get things done–especially because I need to get up before my toddler! For me, it’s totally worth it and works for me but definitely would not work for everybody!
I starting my writing habit over the summer and like your first tough week of 500 words, it took awhile to really sink in, but now it’s habitual. I’m actually at the point where, like you, I can start to be flexible and the power of the habit will still carry me through.
Congrats! I love reading your blog and seeing that calendar full of stickers each week! 🙂
Sarah, Thanks for such a great post! I love the 500-words-a-day concept and think it will help a lot of people get more writing done. Your guest post was such a pleasure!
Glad to have guested Melissa! I really enjoyed reading all of these comments too. So much fun to share my writing in a new space.