The #500Words Project

So, my first 500 words are going to be on #500words itself. I think there are many writers working in all sorts of disciplines and genres who have felt profoundly blocked in the last six months. For me, it has grown into an awful, rancid wound.

I get up in the morning, make coffee, and open up twitter, only to become overwhelmed by what the world seems to be turning into. I’ve felt a pressure to engage, through social media, with every new outrage, eerily convinced at some subconscious level that my 140 character tweets could make a difference. I’m not dismissing the power of social media. I’m not blaming it for my writer’s block. But I suspect that social media has exacerbated my problem.

The idea for #500words came out of a discussion with another writer, who is much more methodical and disciplined than me, but has a similar sense of pointlessness to the act of writing.

As an academic writer, I‘ve been feeling like my intellectual ideas are meaningless and unimportant in the face of rising geopolitical and economic chaos. (I’ll try to keep this post as politically neutral as possible, but I’m not sure I’ll succeed). As a fiction writer, I’ve felt that creating fiction that offers escapism is somehow morally wrong at a time when people need, more than ever, to be more engaged and active in their communities and mindful of a reality that seems to be growing more tenuous by the day. As an avid user of social media, I’ve grown to feel that any writing that doesn’t have an immediate audience is somehow invalid and pointless; it’s as if I must perform writing instead of just writing.

At the same time, I realize that this paralysis that has swallowed me plays into the hands of all the forces I find most dangerous: anti-intellectualism, the rising demand for didactic morality in fictional writing, the valorization of the pithy ‘zinger’ over the substantive paragraph or chapter.

Maybe spending the time it takes to write 500 words alone with yourself, with nothing but language as your companion, is important. Maybe what comes out of the privacy of your head first thing in the morning is just as important as the headlines and news hours and the constant encouragement and compulsion to react rather than to create.

What I know is that writers, playwrights, poets, scholars, essayists, and scientists have experienced darker times than these, and their drive to continue writing, thinking, reasoning independently is what remains now of how they negotiated their dark times. Some survived and some didn’t, but their words, their ideas and their work did survive. And no 140 char tweet could have accommodated what they had to tell us.

The #500Words Challenge

1. Write 500 words of anything before you open up social media for one week.

That’s the only rule. There is no other.

Write anything, on any medium; write more if the spirit moves you, but not less. If you end up feeling so blocked that all you do is rewrite the same sentence 50 times, then do that. But don’t allow yourself to copy and paste. Make yourself write the 500 words of gibberish if that is what you’ve got.

Even if all you have written is repetition, you just had a little meditative time for yourself, with yourself, reacting only to yourself, processing on your own. You’ve spent time with your own language. It matters.

It may not solve our writer’s block, but it absolutely cannot make it worse. And if you feel like it, please let the world know you wrote something with the hashtag #500words to encourage others and give yourself a pat on the back. It’s not silly to feel the need for one. We’re humans, we’re social beings, we need the support of others — maybe now more than ever.

What to do with your 500 words? You can link to it, or keep it entirely private. Save it up and post it in a batch, polish it, publish it, turn it into a journal article or add it to your trash file. Flaunt it or never show it to anyone ever. No pressure.

This is only about the one act — writing 500 words before you use social media. That’s it. Good morning and good luck!

(699 words)