Since January 1 this year, I’ve become obsessive about tracking my word count and how much I’m producing in any given month.
There have been weeks this year that I haven’t worked at all and weeks in which I’ve pounded out tens of thousands of words (really!) On average, however, I’ve written 1,000+ words a day, five days a week, and the difference in my career is noticeable.
So far this year, I’ve written and launched five e-courses and written 60k words on a novel. That’s 180,000 words for 145 working days and I’m not even counting my journalism work, my blogging, the newsletters, or the fact that I’ve moved an entire household to a different country. Barring the novel, these are all things that have added to my income immediately and will continue to do so over a period of time.
Every single one of you reading this is either a working writer or aspiring to be one. Writers write. Writing 1000 words a day should not only be something we do without question, but something that should come easily to us.
So why doesn’t it?
The answer is complicated and it’s not that you’re a weak-willed person who keeps logging on to Facebook (though seriously, quit doing that!)
It’s that there are a number of invisible hurdles standing in your way when you come to the page in the morning and unless you’ve defeated those hurdles first, before you start your work for the day, you’re going to be battling those demons far too long and hard each day, leaving you with no motivation or energy to finish your writing.
This year, I decided that I didn’t want another year to go by with yet another long list of unfinished personal projects. So I picked them one by one and started working on each one at a rate of 1,000 words a day. And what do you know, two projects completed and another one almost nearing completion.
It’s not complicated and anyone can do it. And to make life just a little bit simpler, I’ve devised a 9-step plan for you.
Step 1: Pick Your Project
With freelancing comes flexibility and it’s so easy to misuse that.
For years, I’d come to work in the morning and think, “Hmm, what would I like to work on today?” While this does work for some people, what inevitably ends up happening on the days when you’re tired and lacking discipline is that you don’t feel like working on anything, so you just end up staring at your to-do list, looking at Twitter, thinking about whether to do this or that and in the end, not doing much of anything.
Picking your project is like setting a task for yourself. On the days when I was writing the e-courses, I didn’t have to wonder about what project I’d be working on that day, I knew. By the time 9am rolled around, I was seated at my desk, files open, ready to pound out my 1,000 words for the day.
I did it by project, but you could easily do this day to day. Just make sure to know what you’re going to be working on before you sit down at your desk in the morning (or the evening, whatever works for you).
For instance, these days I’m juggling a few different things, so I’ll decide the night before what needs to be my focus for the next day in terms of writing. It could be a guest post, it could be the novel, it could be the non-fiction manuscript I’m experimenting with, or it could be something else. But I make it a point to decide one day ahead of time so that when I arrive at my desk the next morning, I have no choice but to work on it.
And work on it, I do. A minimum of 1,000 words each day, every single day.
Step 2: Set a Time and Create a Routine
In this post, I talk about my schedule and how I organize my day and you’ll notice pretty quickly that I have certain periods set out for certain kinds of work.
I’ve basically fixed two hours in my day in which I’ll do nothing but write. Between 9am to 11am every weekday, I’m at my desk, disconnected from the Internet, writing. It doesn’t matter what I write as long as it’s contributing to my word count of the month, which as I mentioned earlier, I’ve become a stickler about.
Projects don’t get finished if you don’t keep adding words to the page, so for two hours, the pressure is on and I don’t allow myself to make excuses. Also, since these are the only two hours in my day that are devoted exclusively to writing, I know that if I waste them on non-writing activities, I will have wasted an entire day of writing. I have wasted them in the past, and it always feels like a huge shame and that feeling acts as a deterrent to doing so again the next day or the day after that.
If you haven’t already, I’d really recommend that you fix a certain time of day to simply write. Take the decision-making out of this one-hour commitment. You’ve already decided what you’re going to write (step 1), now decide on a daily routine of when you’re going to do it. When you take the mystery and angst out of the writing process, there is nothing left for you but to write.
I recommend starting with an hour a day. For most writers, an hour is sufficient time to crank out between 500 and 1,000 words. If you need more time, by all means take it, but I recommend scheduling an hour at first because it’s a small enough period of time to not feel intimidating and long enough to get some substantial writing work done.
Step 3: Write Basic Outlines (If That Works For You)
I move between periods of loving outlining and hating it, but I can’t deny that at least for me, it works.
What I’ve started doing off late is using the batch method to an extreme, especially when it comes to blog posts. So I’ll outline about five to seven blog posts all in one go and then sit and write them all in one go. If I have them outlined and sitting there waiting to be written, it’s actually a lot easier to come to the page and just write them out (as I’m doing with this blog entry). I’ve done the thinking, the structuring, and the formulation of ideas. Now it’s just about explaining them. They’re two different parts of the brain and I find it just easier to do these two things separately.
This, of course, is not how I always work and this technique won’t work for everyone, but if you have trouble getting started, getting that first word, sentence or paragraph out, try outlining beforehand so that when you actually sit down to write, it’s not quite so overwhelming and difficult.
Step 4: Kick Out the Inner Editor
In the coming months, we will talk frequently and in detail about inner editors, but it all boils down to this: Remember that this is a first draft and that you can and will go back to edit. This is about quantity, not quality, so just shut up and write. Okay?
Step 5: Track Your Productivity
I’ve had two fairly unproductive months and I was beginning to feel like I hadn’t achieved anything this year.
That changed, of course, because I looked at the tracking app on my iPhone and realized that I’d actually averaged more than 1,000 words a day. I’m happy with that. Despite the two bad months I’ve had, I had three very good months at the beginning of the year and so it’s averaged out. My intention had been to finish one personal project every two months and so, with only two projects completed so far this year, I’m behind as far as that goes. However, 1,000 words a day in personal projects alone is nothing to sneeze at and I’m quite pleased with that progress.
Yet, I wouldn’t have known or remembered my early months of productivity if I didn’t have some log of how much I’ve produced over a period of these seven months.
I think it’s also important to track your time because it keeps you productive and on target. It’s easy to miss days—and you will—but if you’re tracking how many days you’ve hit your target, you’re going to find more motivation to keep hitting it.
Step 6: Be Ruthless With Yourself
In my book, Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page, I write that if you want to be successful as a writer, it is essential that you be determined and stubborn.
Be hard on yourself. No excuses.
Write your 1,000 words every weekday no matter what. Do it when you’re hung-over. Do it when you’ve fought with your spouse. Do it when you have a migraine. Do it when your child is being difficult. Do it when you don’t feel like it. Do it when you have nothing to write. Do it when you have so much to write your brain might explode.
Just stop making excuses for yourself, hunker down, and DO IT.
Step 7: Give Yourself Small Rewards
Give yourself a reward for meeting your target and punish yourself for not meeting it.
These could be simple things. For instance, you can only log on to Facebook if you’ve done your 1,000 words for the day, otherwise you can’t. Things like that. For the sake of your health, I’d advise you to not reward yourself with chocolate and wine (though those do seem like obvious rewards) but do whatever works for you and helps you stay motivated.
I used to allow myself to buy books but that got very expensive very fast. However, by the time I stopped rewarding myself, I was already in the habit of writing 1,000 words a day and so I no longer needed the motivation of the reward. If chocolate is what helps you to get to that point, then chocolate it is!
Step 8: Use Tools to Get Some Help
I’m conflicted about including this in here because I don’t want you to go running after new and shiny tools at the expense of writing, but there are a few tricks I use to stay on track and I’m certain that for many of you, they can come in handy, too.
If you’re easily distracted by the Internet and other open windows on your computer like I am, open up the “full-screen” option on your word processor (most, including MS Word, have them) and write using that. What this does is that it makes your document take over the whole screen so you can’t see anything except the open document in front of you. Another tool I really like is Write or Die, which while intense, really works for getting you off your arse and just pounding out words.
An app I really like is called “Write Chain” based on the Seinfeld technique of not breaking the chain. I don’t end up using this one much but I like it a lot for habit building. Every day, you enter how many words you wrote and your goal is to keep from breaking the chain. If you miss a day, you break the chain. If you don’t want the app, you can use a simple calendar to do this, too.
Step 9: Don’t Get Up Until the Work is Done
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, get off that chair until you have written those 1,000 words. The first few days will be the hardest, but it will get easier with time. Just put in the time, put in the commitment and soon, 1,000 words a day will seem like the easiest thing in the world to you.
You’re a writer, after all.