What I learned from Writing 1,000 Words a Day for Two Weeks

I stumbled upon #1000WordsOfSummer where I stumble upon most good things: Twitter. 

I made the decision to participate in #1000WordsOfSummer when you choose to participate in most good things: at 11pm. 

The timing was perfect, really. I was sitting in my bed beating myself up for the fact that I haven’t worked on a large project in months. It’d just been sitting there, untouched, and I wasn’t making any moves to do anything differently with it. I read about Jami Attenburg’s challenge to write 1,000 words a day for two weeks and I decided to jump in. By participating in #1000WordsOfSummer, I’d make substantial progress on the project. What could go wrong? I’ve been writing 800 words a week for a long time now and I naively figured that 1,000 words a day for two weeks would just feel like a hyper version of my weekly writing commitment to Liz. 

I was very, very wrong. But that’s okay. 

I learned a lot about myself during #1000WordsOfSummer. I’ve never written so much in such a concentrated time period, by the end of it coming out with 14,000 more words than I had before, which is wild. I think that knowing ourselves as writers is an important part of the process, so I want to share with you what I learned throughout my experience with #1000WordsOfSummer.

You Can Write Anywhere 
To quote my friend Jamie Tworkowski in his writer profile, “i'm trying to stop searching for the elusive perfect place to write.” I kept that in mind as I went about writing 1,000 words a day, especially because I work a desk job that involves sitting up straight and staring at a laptop for hours on end, before I go home and work on schoolwork that’s also on a laptop. Honestly, this is one of the things that keeps me from writing on an everyday basis. By the time I get off of work and done with my school, I’m tired of looking at a computer. But, with my commitment to write 1,000 words a day, I had to get over that. 

I wasn’t able to “wait for inspiration to strike” because there’s no way in hell I’d feel inspired every day. I couldn’t wait until I was in the mood to sit down at my desk, nor could I create whatever my “ideal writing space” is every night. I just had to write. This means that I’d write in my notes app on my phone, in my living room while watching Netflix (it never worked, but my computer was present while I watched Olivia Pope conquer the world), on my couch, in bed with my lap desk. I wrote anywhere I could, trying to get my words in, and I learned that it’s so much less about the environment and so much more about my mindset going into it. If I decided to write, that was enough. 

You Can Write Anytime 
In conjunction with the perfect writing environment is often our preferred time of day to write. In writer circles I’ve often heard, and said myself, things like “I’m a night writer,” or “My best writing happens in the morning,”. While I’m not going to refute the idea of preferred writing times, I am going to challenge it. Because, as I learned while trying to cram in 1,000 words a day, I learned that, while I prefer to write in the mornings, I can write whenever. To write 1,000 words in the morning on a Monday would be nearly impossible, so I had to write at night. 

Sometimes, even, I’d write in the middle of the day, which was previously my least favorite time to work. I had this idea in my mind that I needed to book-end my day with writing, that if I wrote after I finished lunch or while drinking afternoon coffee, that the magic wouldn’t be there. Really, I was just making excuses. Some of my best writing happened at 4pm, in my living room, with none of my “magic” writing tricks present. Once again, all I had to do was be willing to write the words, no matter time or place, and it worked.

Organization Is Your Friend 
I’ve never written a book before and another thing that kept me from actually working on it was the size of the project itself. How the hell am I supposed to handle something that’ll end up being 200+ pages? The answer, my friends, like most things in life, is this: make a plan.

I started by writing out a chapter by chapter outline. This way, via bullet points, I’ve known what each chapter needed to contain and accomplish. Now, it is a flexible outline and just yesterday I moved all the chapters forward because a break felt natural at a different point than planned. So I plan, but I also let the story tell itself in the way that feels right. 

When it came to daily writing, the outline helped me know what scene to write. I learned that each scene was about 1,000 words itself and with each chapter containing two-to-three scenes, I felt a natural break at the end of every day’s writing. This has saved me, both throughout 1,000 days of summer and even after. 

Likewise, I have another file with character information. From physical appearance to personality traits, it’s hard to keep up with all the details of all the people when you’re 100 pages into something. So, I have a spreadsheet that I can refer to any time I need to know what color I’ve said someone’s eyes are, or even if I’ve mentioned their eyes at all. It’s been insanely helpful to have these side-files to refer to because then I don’t slow down my actual writing by searching for this information or trying to make it up.

Embrace the Shitty First Draft
I’m an enneagram 1, an INTJ, type A, thinker-doer, perfectionist. I don’t do well with drafts of any kind, whether it’s something I’m writing for school or for fun. Writing 800 words a week has partially broken me of this habit, as I’m working on what I hope will be my first book, I can’t help but want it to be perfect. However, if I work now to make it perfect, I’ll never finish it. So I’m adopting the ways of Anne Lamott and looking my shitty first draft in the face and embracing its freeing role in my life. 

At this point, I’ve written a little over 20,000 words of my novel. I’m on the eighth chapter and I haven’t reread anything I’ve written since I started chapter three. I know myself and I know that if I go back and read, I’ll change things and if I get caught up with changing things, I’ll never move forward. I’ll get stuck in the trap of pursuing perfection and the novel will never get written. So, I’m not going to reread it until it’s done, because that’s the best way for me to guarantee that I finish this thing. 

While I’m not going to encourage you to do your own #1000WordsOfSummer, I do want to encourage you to get to know yourself as a writer. Does rereading your work make you shift into editing mode? Are you using the myth of the perfect writing environment as an excuse not to write? Ask yourself these questions, searching for the things your using the excuses to avoid the work. Then, get over those excuses, and just do the damn thing.

Ashton Ray