by Matthew Howard
This may be the best writing advice I ever received. Yes, we can learn much about the craft of writing, about style and narrative structure and how to research. But to be a writer, you need to write.
One thousand words per day is an easy goal. Professional writers commit to more – even much more. But if you have other commitments in life besides writing, set a goal where you can under-promise and over-deliver. I often start with a daily 1,000-word goal and end up with 2,500 words. I got on a roll one weekend and drafted a 10,000-word story in two days.
The 1,000-word goal keeps the pump primed for great days like those. It may be difficult at first, but it gets easier when you stick with it! How long does it take to reach 1,000 words? If the project requires a lot of planning, plotting, or thinking about complex material, I block off two hours to hit my 1,000 words. Try it yourself and find a reasonable amount of time that works for you.
Schedule this time on your calendar, and plan enough consecutive days to reach your desired word count. If you’re writing a short story, for example, schedule enough days to reach 7,500 to 20,000 words. Include time for any other work your project requires, such as research notes, character bios, or an introduction to your book. Include days off, if you need them. Once you have your schedule, stick to it until you have completed your first draft.
Ideas for Daily Writing
Writing 1,000 words every day would enable you to finish your first draft of a 60,000-word novel in two months. But let’s be realistic. A novel requires planning, plotting, character development, and sometimes world-building.
If you don’t have 1,000 words of story every day, that’s okay. Write about a character’s personality, background, and values. Write a synopsis of a plot point you want to expand. On days when I don’t feel up to writing a scene, I casually describe what happens, as if I were telling a friend about a scene I liked in a film. Later, I come back and nail down the specifics in prose.
Daily writing goals are not only for novelists. In academic and nonfiction writing, 1,000 words could be an outline with a thesis statement and a rough draft of the introduction. You might write 1,000 words of notes on sources you read as summaries to yourself, so you don’t have to keep all the main points of every reference in your head. A 25-page research paper seems like a big project, but its word count is close to the minimum for a short story: 7,500 words.
Free Writing Removes Blocks
Even with plenty of ideas to choose from, you might have days where you don’t know what to write about, or you feel unenthused about a particular subject. On those days, keep the juices flowing with the lost art of free writing. Free writing means a stream of consciousness, without employing any of our natural tendencies to edit or filter our words before committing them to paper. Free writing can clear your mental blocks and spark new ideas.
Write anything that comes to mind! What is the worst that could happen? What if I told you that sometimes, after 900 words of garbage, you might come up with two sentences of pure gold: a great idea for your next chapter, or the solution to the problem that’s had you stumped? Allow your mind to process its obstacles instead of avoiding them. If the mythical beast of writer’s block ever rears its ugly head, chop it off with 1,000 words of free writing.
Plan for Revisions
A writer’s life requires time for more than just writing: editing, revisions, and rewrites. Schedule time to revise your work once your first draft is completed. When I originally planned this blog series as a book for my customers, I scheduled two weeks of writing every day except weekends. For the third week, I scheduled an hour each day to revise the chapters. You may need more or less, depending on how long and complex the project is, but a daily hour or two for each chapter gives you time to really polish your work.
What are you looking for in the revision stage? Maybe you’ve noticed inconsistencies in the plot or characterization, or your idea of how a character speaks has evolved since you started. You might notice a superfluous scene, or two scenes that could be combined. Take these opportunities to focus on making your manuscript more coherent and cohesive. Read it out loud to yourself from start to finish and think about how it flows.
These are concerns for the revision stage, so do not worry about them in your daily writing time. If you realize part way through your draft that something major needs to be changed, write yourself notes on what to do about it in the revision stage. This will keep you free from the dreaded trap of rewriting a section over and over but never finishing the project! Your main goal in the beginning is getting something down on paper to finish your first draft. Editing and revising can wait.
A daily goal will get you closer to a complete manuscript in a short time. If 1,000 is too high, chose a number that works for you, like 250, and stick with it. Any goal is better than no goal at all! For more experienced writers, 1,000 will not be enough, and they may set more ambitious goals. But whatever you choose, stick with it. You will be surprised how soon you finish the first draft of your manuscript. You can do it!
- Target Word Count for first draft
- Target Word Count for any additional writing, such as research notes or a preface
- Combined Total Word Count
- Daily Word Count Goal
- Number of days to reach the target
- Start date
- End date
- Scheduled follow-up dates to review and revise the first draft
Matthew Howard is a self-publishing author who supports award-winning authors and business professionals in writing, editing, designing, and self-publishing their work for global distribution in paperback and ebook formats.