How To Write 1725 Words A Day
(And Conquer The NaNoWriMo Challenge!)
Last year I had a ridiculous goal to write a book in three months. (I’ve had crazier ideas.)
I was working on fleshing out my thoughts on my brand, philosophy, and livelihood. As a coaches’ coach, I had a lot to say. I had this whole system and philosophy in my head that I needed to get down on paper. There were stories, solutions, and techniques I wanted to share with other people, so writing a book was a good way to communicate that. I know that authors that wrote non-fiction were using the NaNoWriMo framework to get their book done. I decided to give it try.
To my surprise, I met my goal and wrote over 90,000 words when I was finished. The reason why it was a crazy idea at the time was that I did this while having a full-time job, a part/time business, and several several side duties. I didn’t think I had the time to write a book, but I found a way to carve out at least an hour a day. Some people write that much in less than two months, but for me this was a lot.
The real shocker was that prior to this challenge, I rarely wrote anything beyond emails. This was ironic since I taught writing in college for years. I spent most my time buried under other student’s writing and model essays. Part of me felt hypocritical, so I had to write something of substance.
Nearly every writing instructor I knew operated this way. They told others how to write well, but have never been published themselves. I decided to stop teaching until I got published, or at least until I achieved a modicum of success beyond just pressing “publish” on a blog.
It was hard, but I figured it out and what I have here are some tips that will save you a lot of time and frustration. Here are a few broad lessons I learned about the writing process that will make anyone who wants to write successful.
Commit to a writing goal with a deadline: With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), this isn’t a problem. You only have the month of November to work with. They suggest 50,000 words (which is a short novel, but a start). Other writers have different schedules for different pieces. Whatever your project, pick a deadline and stick to it. I’ll show you a great tool to map this out.
Make writing a habit, then a ritual. That is, clock in the 30–60+ days in a row of writing to make it a habit and routine. But after that, push on further to make it a sacred act that’s very much a part of you. It should feel wrong when you don’t write. Not because you missed a day, but because a part of you feels unexpressed. I think the best writers treat it like a religion. They keep sacred rituals, commit to something bigger than themselves, and experience moments of the divine when things fall into place (or maybe that’s too much caffeine!). I outline my exact sequence and ritual below.
Start small and scale. This is a preference, of course. Some people who have the gung-ho attitude can ignore this advice. But I think habit creation can’t be too forced. Until you’ve successfully written 2000+ words a day for weeks on end, I wouldn’t start doing that from day one. Write 300 words. Then write 400 words the next day. You’ll be writing 1000 words a day by the following week.
Write ASAP. In the beginning I had so many false starts, it was pathetic. I thought I’d write after work: that didn’t work out. I thought I’d write through lunch: that didn’t work either. To my dismay — because I love my sleep — I started writing at the crack of dawn. Several scientific studies demonstrate that this is the optimal time to do important tasks, so I tested it out.
At 5:30am every morning, I woke up and wrote for at least an hour before work. I got to work early to beat traffic, but in doing so I had extra time before work actually started, so I wrote for another hour at work. That’s over two hours of writing a day minimum. I committed to the first hour religiously. Every minute spent writing after that was like extra credit, and I love extra credit. My secret is that the first three minutes when you wake are usually the most important ones, because it sets the tone of your morning.
Keep Your Audience In Mind: The audience is everything. Who are you writing for? Yourself? A highly specific target audience (that’s usually the case)? Know this audience inside and out, and then write just to them. To get into the mindset, I like to imagine the ideal reader (a real person I’ve met) — in the room with me for a moment. I think to myself, if they were here to listen and absorb this story, would they like it? This little trick saves me a ton of time in the revising phase because it won’t sound like I’m writing to a faceless crowd.
Understand the two dimensions of writing: Think of your writing like a coin with two sides. One side is the Process; the other side is the Product. In the beginning, 80% of your time should be focused on the Process. There are usually several drafts in this process, but the basic ones are: discovery drafts, revised drafts, edited drafts, and publishable drafts. For now, just worry about getting the entire discovery draft down.
As you begin improving your drafts, your focus shifts towards the Product side of the coin. Is your writing clear and relatable? Does it speak to your audience? Is it publishable? By this time you’ve nailed the general process of writing and 80% of your focus is on creating the best end Product. Like a coin, you go back and forth with both dimensions of writing. When you’re ready to spin it off into the publishing world, it appears to be one cohesive unit.
Find your flow. I have lots of tips here, but experiment with others until you find a system that gets you in the state of flow. For example, I always kept a notepad nearby to jot down anything I had to do after I did my daily writing that kept me going.
As many people in the publishing world know, write TK or #TK to note a spot to come back to. This could be something that hit you in the middle of writing, like needing to find a statistic, fact, or correct spelling. Since it’s not crucial at the moment, you just write TK which stands for “to come”. (For example, TK actual title.) Later you can run a search and land on those exact spots to fix. You’ll learn other tricks to keep in the state of flow in your writing.
Don’t overthink writing. If you commit to sitting in the same spot for an hour or two — whether words come to you or not — you’ll make progress in your writing. In fact, I’ve never found it the case that I sit for longer than five bored minutes before I start writing something — often to fight boredom itself. The clock is ticking; you might as well write!
Minimize Distractions: Assuming you’ve made it through at least 7th grade, writing is a lot simpler than people think. (Though great writing will take time.) To write, you simply have to sit down and hammer out the words. However, our mind gets distracted. That’s the real problem here. So use technology to keep from becoming distracted.
The Low-Distraction Writing Sequence
Distractions are often the biggest things you’re fighting when you try to write. There are certainly other things to do, but you have to put in the time writing. Luckily we have technology to tame our distractions.
The first thing is to go online and create a free account on Susanna’s Pacemaker (http://pacemaker.press). You’ll be glad you did. This tool helps you plan your writing schedule and document your progress. There are a variety of routes you can take to get to your goal, and this site gives you lots of options. I like to be consistent, so I opt to write the exact same amount of words every day. Some people choose to build momentum and start small (my official recommendation). Still, others like a random schedule to have variety. It’s all up to you. Create a plan and print it out or update everyday online.
Two Options To Write From here, you’ve got two writing options: Option 1 is for online writing and Option 2 is for offline writing. I’ll outline Option 1 and give you my exact sequence. Before we begin, you’ll need to download the following Chrome Browser Extensions:
Momentum — to keep you from going tab-crazy online. StayFocusd — to keep you from browsing websites (except the few you choose). Stylish — to run the following extension . . . Stylish’s Distraction-Free theme for Google Docs — to give you a simple interface to write. [Update: This extension is no longer maintained and currently renders oddly.]
Install and activate all four. At the end of this section, I’ll give you the Allowed List you can copy/paste into the StayFocusd extension. They are only websites conducive to writing — the rest should be blocked.
Next, download Isolator for Mac (it’s free). This will make it so it blacks out everything on your desktop except one application. In this way, it keeps you focused by limiting your multitasking options.
Finally, if you’re like me, mobile devices can be a real distraction (and not just when working). Find an app that closes you off from using your non-vital phone functions and set it.
(Note: All these technical tools and links are bound to change. Next year there might be something better or perhaps maybe a company fails to update their software. The main point is to find a simple way to keep your focus.)
Now you’re ready. Here is my morning writing sequence with built-in tools to keep you focused:
Option 1 Sequence — Online —
- When you wake up in the morning, within the first three minutes turn on your computer. Do not check your email, do not go to any webpage, and do not open any programs.
- The first thing you do first is fire up your Chrome browser and immediately click the StayFocusd browser button to activate it. Select “Nuclear Option”. Set it for 90 minutes to block “All websites EXCEPT those on the Allowed list.”
- Turn off your computer Notifications (better yet, set the Do Not Disturb times to match your productive writing time).
- Activate the Our Pact app on your mobile devices (I set the Block Access mode to 90 minutes). Put your devices in another room.
- Open your document in Google Docs with your Distraction-free theme on (this should be automatic). (I copy/paste first drafts to Scrivener later.)
- Turn on the Isolator if it’s not already on. (Make this automatic when you log in and you can just skip this step.)
- Write like the wind.
- When your time is up, update your progress on Pacemaker, your physical calendar (stars work!), or an app like Streaks. It’s important to not break the chain of days-in-a-row writing. This was key in building my momentum. After 30 days, there was no way in hell I’d miss a day in the streak from the consequence of having to start the count all over.
Option 2 Sequence — Offline —
The following are a few ideas for writing offline. It’s a lot simpler than the sequence.
- Disconnect and block the internet immediately, first thing!
- Block distractions using some of the techniques above.
- Determine the software writing program you will be using to write with. Scrivener, Omm Writer, MS Word, Google Docs offline, Apple Notes, etc. Stick to one and have it automatically sync to it’s own folder in the cloud (Dropbox or Google Drive). When you turn the Wi-Fi back on, a copy will be on your hard-drive and in the cloud.
- Write like the wind.
- Update your progress.
Write Against The Battery And Time If you have an old laptop, here’s a trick I learned at the beach where I didn’t have wi-fi service. The night before, charge your laptop enough to get two hours’ worth of battery time. Then, first thing in the morning go to a distraction-free place. This could be outside, a library, another quiet room, etc. But don’t bring your charger.
The reason why this works is because being plugged in is a great enabler for stalling. You only have so much battery left and you need to get down enough words to meet or exceed your daily target. I’ve seen this technique work for many writers over the years. Give it a shot.
Writing Is An Experiment
Keep writing and trying different things as you go along. Writing is just like an experiment where you can’t expect your best work right out of the gate. Get it all down on paper and keep coming back to it until you think you have a great draft, then share it because that won’t be your final draft. When you’re truly ready, share your hard work with the world.
I hope these tips help you focus on your writing and help you reach your goals. If you’re motivated to write, they should serve you well. It is my hope that you get addicted to writing like me and learn even more tricks to keep the words flowing. Good luck and keep writing!
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