Why you shouldn’t write 500 words a day

How to not be mediocre, shallow, and foolish

I’ve long been against having a quota for publishing blog posts, but for the month of April, I’ve been publishing a 500-word Medium post every weekday.

Now I recognize there are some good reasons to write 500 words a day. But, there are also some reasons not to.

Publishing 500 words a day leads to mediocre blog posts

I’ve written many mediocre blog posts over the past month.

The one benefit I had in my experiment was that I had spent the previous three months writing, researching, and thinking, without publishing any of it. So, I had a sort of backlog of thoughts, and was able to quickly write some posts that had many hours of thought behind them. This is sort of cheating, and would be hard to sustain over a long period of time.

Yes, you do get better at writing 500-word blog posts when you do it every day, but if you have the discipline to instead spend much more time on more in-depth posts, I’m still not convinced daily publishing is a better alternative.

Publishing 500 words a day encourages shallow thoughts

When you publish 500 words a day — considering you have other things going on — there is a depth limit to the thoughts that go into your posts.

I gave myself about 1–1.5 hours to write and publish my posts. This is a huge contrast to how I usually write: taking many iterations, combing through and questioning assumptions, doing foll0w-up research to verify and dispute claims.

When you publish a 500-word post every day, you’re encouraged to make assumptions that you don’t question, and you’re forced to do very shallow research. So, you’re practicing shallow thinking.

I felt my brain was working differently when I was publishing 500 words a day, than when I was thinking, writing, and researching without publishing. My thoughts were more clear, and deeper, and I was able to speak more articulately in conversations.

Publishing 500 words a day fools you into thinking you’re productive

By about 8:30 or 9am every day, I had written and published a whole article. The unintended consequence of this was I had fooled myself into thinking I had done something productive, when it’s likely I had not.

There is a phenomenon in psychology called self-licensing. It describes that when you feel better about yourself, it sometimes leads to worse behavior. Studies have found that people who believed they were taking multivitamins were more likely to later smoke, and less likely to eat healthy food or exercise; people who expressed support for Barack Obama were more likely to support causes that favored Whites over African Americans; and people who shopped for eco-friendly products were more likely to cheat and steal.

So, once my post was published, I felt a tickle of accomplishment in my brain, and I wanted my reward: to check Facebook or email, or eat breakfast before I intended to. This was of course exacerbated by the fact I wanted to see how well my article was doing.

Should YOU publish every day?

Each of these negative consequences are countered by some sort of benefit, and awareness of these consequences may make it possible to ameliorate them. Deciding whether it’s worth it for you to publish 500 words a day is a calculation that depends upon your goals.

My podcast, Love Your Work, publishes every week — which is much more manageable than every day. Listen to Jason Fried describe why Basecamp isn’t “project management” software, or subscribe on iTunes.