The Secret to Developing a Regular Writing Habit: 500 Words Per Day

By Jeff Goins

This is the year you swore you’d become a writer. But maybe you’ve already failed and are left wondering if you have what it takes. Well, it’s simple: what do writers do? They write, of course. So start doing that.

There’s nothing mystical or magical about it. You just have to show up and do the work: place butt in chair, fingers on keys, and start typing. And this is where most people fail. They never actually write a word. They talk about writing, think about writing, even read about writing. But they do not write.

Here’s how you can be different.

How writing really happens

You told yourself last year was going to be different, that you were actually going to do NaNoWriMo this time. That you were going to work on that book or get back into blogging. But none of that happened.

Why? Because you attempted too much. You tried to eat the whole elephant in one big bite. And that never works, when it comes to writing—or elephant eating for that matter.

I don’t know much, but after spending years not writing and then publishing four books in three years, I think I’ve at least learned how to not to do it. So here’s what I know: Writing happens in small bites. Step by step. One word at a time.

Writing happens in small bites. Step by step. One chunk at a time.

Most things happen this way—slowly. You don’t write a whole book. You write sentences that turn into paragraphs. And paragraphs turn into sections that, then, turn into chapters. It all begins with words.

You don’t control the outcome, just the process

I’m about to begin another book project, and it’s scaring me to death. I’ve done this four times already, and it still feels like I’m just getting started. I’m still scared of the blank page.

Of course, I tell myself that this next work is the big on, the book that will make or break my career. It feels so important, so audacious, and no surprise, as a result of this pressure, I’m locking up, paralyzed. I don’t want to mess it up (it’s supposed to be the best thing I’ve written so far, right?).

Because of that fear, I’m having trouble starting.

So what do I do? Do I try to write the whole thing in one sitting or keep fixating over the concept? Do I continue obsessing over getting the table of contents just right or worry about what critics will think of this sentence or that paragraph?

No.

I just get up and write my words. One after the other until I’ve reached 500. Then I get on with the rest of my day and do it again tomorrow.

Turns out, that’s all writing really is — showing up. Not worrying about the outcome, just honoring the process.

Turns out, that’s all writing really is — showing up. Not worrying about the outcome, just honoring the process.

Writing requires a community

So that’s what I do. I write, on average, about 500 words a day, 365 days a year. Sure, there are slumps of inactivity and times when I second-guess myself. I get lazy and defiant, trying too hard to be creative. But in the end, writing is manual labor for me—and I’m okay with that.

A couple of years ago, I invited a community of people to join me in writing 500 words per day for 31 days in a row. We called it “My 500 Words,” because the words we wrote were truly ours. In those sessions, we wrote things that mattered and belonged to us.

Long before we share our words with anyone, they are first and foremost ours. And owning that process is important. But as soon as they are written, the words must be shared. They must be refined by the crucible of community. This is how we grow.

Long before we share our words with anyone, they are first and foremost ours.

Why 500 words?

It’s short enough that you can usually find time to do it daily and long enough that if you stick to a schedule, you’ll have something substantial in no time. It takes me anywhere from 30–60 minutes to write 500 words. And if I keep up with that pace, I’ve got a manuscript in about 90 days.

That’s my plan for finishing my next book: 500 words per day, every day, until it’s done.

Want to join me?

If you’ve ever wanted to develop a daily writing habit, I suggest making writing a regular part of your routine. It needs to be a habit, not a hobby.

Writing is a habit, not a hobby.

My 500 Words is a 31-day challenge designed to help you develop a daily writing habit and become a better writer.

For the next 31 days, a community of people and I will be writing 500 words a day. These won’t be great words, but they will be written. We’re not trying to reach perfection; we’re just trying to get more ideas out of our heads and onto paper.

And if you want to be part of this, we can keep each other company.

Here are the rules:

  • Write 500 words per day, every day for 31 days. This starts when you do.
  • You can write more if you want, but 500 words is the minimum.
  • Don’t edit. Just write.
  • If you miss a day, pick up where you left off. Don’t make up for lost days.
  • Encourage, don’t criticize (unless explicitly invited to do so).
  • Blogging counts, but email does not.
  • All of this is totally free.

If you want to join, you can sign up here to get access to a free Facebook group and to receive daily writing prompts via email. Or you can just start writing. It’s up to you.

Some people started this two years ago and haven’t stopped writing since. Books have been written and published. Communities built. Relationships forged. All thanks to the simple habit of writing 500 words per day.

Join us.

A version of this article originally appeared on goinswriter.com.


Jeff Goins writes at GoinsWriter.com on the creative process. He is also the author of four books, including the national bestseller The Art of Work. To join his free daily writing challenge, click here.