How Writing 1000 Words a Day Changed my Life
I wrote at least a thousand words a day every day from the age of twelve on. — Ray Bradbury, Zen and the Art of Writing
When I interviewed Julien Smith for the first time in 2012, he had one of the most popular blogs on the internet. Of all the things he shared with me in our conversation, one thing he said stood out to me. I write 1000 words every day.
Shortly after that conversation I started writing 1000 words a day and it’s something I’ve been doing ever since. To say that the habit changed my life would be an understatement.
- It’s served as a form of meditation, therapy, and clarity.
- It led to a 2 book deal with a publisher and helped me to launch a career as an author and speaker
- It’s enabled me to finish a 45,000 word manuscript in 6 months and write 100’s of articles.
This simple daily habit has literally had a six figure ROI. It’s changed my life and my career.
1. A Habit Born out of Necessity
What started first out of curiosity, eventually turned into something that I had to do out of necessity. The demands on my production increased dramatically almost overnight.
- I was writing 2–3 posts a week for my personal blog in addition to a weekly newsletter
- I was being paid $1000 a month to write one piece a week for a client
- I was writing a weekly piece for a blog at a startup that I owned a small equity stake in.
In order to keep up with the demand, I had to develop a system.
If I waited to be inspired I would be screwed
As I’ve said before, systems are essential to increasing your creative output. 1000 words a day became my system. Within a few months it was a habit so deeply ingrained into my life that it was like brushing my teeth. And that’s when things started to get really interesting.
2. The Art of Being Unmistakable
As part of my 1000 words I would publish a really long Facebook status update, what I jokingly referred to as committing career suicide one status update at a time. After a few months my writing started resonating with people like it never had before. In September of 2013, I compiled all of my Facebook status updates into a google doc, had it edited, had Mars Dorian design a book cover, uploaded it to Amazon and called it the Art of Being Unmistakable.
The first week it sold 300 copies and I considered that a success. But about three weeks later, a media circus erupted. When I check the rankings on Amazon, I noticed that my book was #1 in the entrepreneurship category. When I tweeted about it, somebody said “you might want to thank Glenn Beck. He raved about your book on his show today.” When I asked a friend she said “I don’t think you realize how big a deal this is, check your sales.” When I logged into the Amazon dashboard, I noticed that the book had sold 1000 copies in a day. Shortly after that I ended up being on the Glenn Beck show and my self published book became a Wall Street Journal Best Seller.
3. A 2-Book Deal with a Publisher
Between 2013 and 2015, I never stopped writing 1000 words a day. A few months into 2015, I got the following email from an editor at Penguin Portfolio.
I recently rejoined publishing after working at online education startups, having just left Skillshare to join the Penguin Random House team. While it might seem counterintuitive, I came back just for this specific division that works and thinks differently than most of the industry — and is setting out to help entrepreneurs and changemakers with the stories, experiences, and motivation of people who have successfully forged their own path, people like Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Ryan Holiday, Nir Eyal, Nick Bilton, and more. You are one of those people, and are top of my list of who to contact to work on a book together.
Writing in many ways is like planting seeds. You plant seeds today for the person you eventually want to become. After a few conversations, my daily writing habit resulted in a 2 book deal. The first book Unmistakable: Why Only is Better Than Best was released on August 2, 2016. And I’m currently working on my second book.
So how exactly do you incorporate this habit into your life?
4. Design an Environment Conducive to Writing
You have to design an environment that’s conducive to the person you want to become. If you want to become a writer, your environment should reflect that. If you came to my apartment you would notice two things:
1) I read a lot of books
2) I have stacks of Moleskine notebooks
It’s likely that you’d notice something similar in the environment of anybody else who is a writer. When I ate dinner at Tucker Max’s house for the first time, the first thing that caught my attention was the sheer number of books he had. In Ryan Holiday’s post about maintaining a physical library you’ll see that he has multiple bookshelves that are filled from floor to ceiling.
5. Activation Energy and Success Accelerants
In his book The Happiness Advantage, the author Shawn Achor talks about how reducing the amount of energy it takes to do something increases the likelihood you’ll do it. Something as simple as decreasing the number of mouse clicks to do something will increase your odds of doing it.
The simple hack for this is using a distraction free writing tool like Macjournal. Set it up the night before, so when you flip open your laptop in the morning, it’s the first thing you see. Then you just write. If you prefer to write with a paper notebook, put it out with a pen the night before. The simple act of putting your notebook out the night before with a pen increases the likelihood that you’ll actually follow through on writing.
Another variation of this hack is to write one sentence the night before, ideally right before you go to sleep. Write down somebody else’s words. Suddenly the page appears less daunting. This is one of the many reasons I always read before I write. Since your brain makes progress towards a goal based on how close it thinks it is towards that goal, starting with a quote allows you tap into the power of success accelerants.
6. Be Prolific
“All good writing begins with terrible first efforts” — Anne Lammot
It’s likely your early writing efforts will be lousy. Don’t be afraid to write a shitty first sentence. To this day only a small amount of what I produce on a daily basis is actually usable. But when you write 7000 words a week, you don’t need much to be useable. Say you write 1000 words a week that are decent. That’s 52,000 words. That’s one book in a year. Your cumulative output matters more than any individual writing day. If you want to become a better writer, start by becoming a prolific one.
7. Don’t Judge Your Work
It’s possible during the course of 90 minutes of writing that you’ll wander. This happens to me all the time. I’ll get 3–4 paragraphs into a train of thought and suddenly I’m writing stream of consciousness psychobabble. At this point your natural temptation will be to give up or give into a source of distraction. But if you can resist this temptation and just let the verbal vomit show up on the page, you’ll get back to a place of making sense. In that sense it’s a bit like meditation. You simply observe the wandering mind and return to focusing on your breath.
8. Make it a Habit
Inspiration is an unreliable strategy for creative work. The muse is a fickle mistress and she tends to show up on her own schedule. You on the other hand have the option to show up every day. By showing up every day, you tap into the profound power of consistency. Something that starts as an item on your to do list eventually becomes a habit and you start to build momentum.
On a related note- if you struggle with habits, I’ve put a guide together on optimizing productivity & creativity. Sign up for my newsletter here and you’ll receive it shortly.
9. Always Carry a Notebook
Inspiration has a funny way of striking at unusual times. Usually you’re not in front of the computer when this happens. A habit I picked up from my friend AJ Leon is to always carry a notebook. A notebook is like fertile soil where you can plant seeds for your creative ideas.
10. Learn to Recognize Patterns
If you pay attention to how you work, you’ll start to see patterns. These patterns are incredibly useful in helping you to develop systems and mental models for you to get your work done. They give you a personal operating manual for yourself. Recognizing patterns helps you adjust your behavior to reach optimal levels of performance.
- A pattern I saw in my life was that waking up before 6am and meditating led to deeper levels of flow and focus. I also knew that after 10am things seemed to go downhill and after 1pm I’m essentially worthless.
- I tend to experience flow most consistently when I give myself 90 minutes of uninterrupted creation time.
- If I go more than a few days without sweating or exercising, my depression and anxiety tend to be exacerbated.
- I saw that text messages that weren’t responded to after I sent a text were causing me anxiety. I turned of all notifications after this.
These patterns play themselves out throughout our lives. Not just in our work. They occur in nearly every situation. You might notice something as simple as a phrase in an email that always elicits a positive response. If that’s the case it makes no sense to deviate from that pattern.
You might think that adjusting to patterns might make your life repetitive and boring, but the opposite seems to be true. The beauty of recognizing patterns in your life is that it frees up your cognitive bandwidth for much higher value activities than trying to decide how you plan to behave for the day. Recognizing patterns in your life requires you to take actually take time, slow down and reflect on the results that your behavior is producing.
Understanding your own behavioral patterns and the results they produce is the closest thing to a “success” pill you could find.
If x causes y, then it would make sense that you choose the x that causes the y that you want. As you recognize patterns you’ll begin not only work more efficiently but work more effectively. By utilizing the patterns you recognize to develop processes and systems, you free your mind up to think creatively. If your mind is taxed with decisions like how long and how much you’re depleting your willpower.
One of the most valuable sections of the BestSelf journal is Lessons learned for the day. We learn tons of lessons every day, but without the discipline to capture them, it’s no better than if we didn’t learn them at all. In fact this idea of patterns was inspired by a lesson I learned yesterday which was that 90 minutes of deep work was my consistent sweet spot. Once I saw that pattern I started looking for other ones. As you recognize patterns in your life, you’ll go from a frenetic scatterbrained pace to one that is fast paced, focused, sustainable and generates momentum.
There’s a point at which any habit you adopt eventually becomes a part of who you are. You no longer have to think about it. It’s what James Clear refers to as an identity based habit If you see in me in a coffeeshop, at a conference, or anywhere else before 8am, it’s more than likely you’ll find me writing 1000 words. This is no longer something I just do. It’s who I am. In order for a habit to truly change your life, it has to become a practice, likely one that is lifelong.
If you enjoyed this article, you’d love my newsletter. You’ll receive a weekly article like this as well as immediate access to a swipe file, where you’ll get my best tips on honing your productivity & creativity, as well as a guide on finding the courage to carve your own path, rather than following someone else’s footsteps. Sign up here.