Today marks 180 days since I started in earnest to write fiction every day. 180 days is not quite half a year, but it’s a nice round number and close enough for me. This wasn’t a planned thing. I just decided that I needed more practice and more consistency if I was going to produce better stories. But streaks can build on themselves and become powerful motivators. That’s what happened with me.
As of today, I have written 178 out of the last 180 days. In that span I’ve written a total of about 158,000 words, for an average of about 900 words/day. The two days on which I didn’t write came at times when my days were absolutely filled and I could not find a single moment of time in the day to write. (On one of the two days, I did indeed write, but it was after midnight, and the words counted for the following day.) I think that represents some pretty good discipline.
The streak has also taught me some valuable lessons about how to write every day. Here are a few of the more important lessons I’ve learned. In particular, I cannot stress enough the importance of the first 4 lessons in the success of my streak.
- The streak itself is powerful. Seeing the row of unbroken numbers has been a motivating factor in making sure I get writing in each day. I don’t want to break the streak.
- Even when I can only find 15-20 minutes, it is enough to write 400-500 words. This was really an eye-opener for me. I always assumed I needed to set aside a period of time each day when I could focus on writing. But I’ve managed to write 150,000 words within scraps of time throughout the day.
- Forget ambience and learn to write in any conditions. Instead of trying to get up even earlier than I already do each morning and squeezing in writing when everyone is asleep and the house is quiet, I’ve learned to write anywhere. Probably two-thirds of the writing I’ve done this year (about 100,000 words worth) has been done sitting on a rail chair in our bedroom, while the kids watch cartoons before going to bed. I put on my noise-cancelling headset, sit with the family and type away on my Chromebook for 20 minutes.
- Planning ahead is key. I’m not talking about outlining novels and stories. I’m talking about noticing when Kelly and I will be out late one evening, or when we will be out of town. Trying to get my writing done earlier in the day when the conditions change is helpful. Especially when we go out in the evenings, I have a feeling of relief knowing that the writing for the day is already done. And it’s really not that hard to plan ahead for this.
- When the words won’t come, write anyway. Some days, the words just don’t come and I’ve felt a big desire just to skip the writing. But I don’t. I’ll write a sentence, and it may seems wrong and bad, but I’ll write it anyway. Usually one sentence will lead to another, and another, and before I know it, I’ve got my 500 words. Not great words, but words. The value for me is in learning to push through the hard spots and still write. You can always rewrite later.
- Accept that some days are going to be low word-count days. But low-word counts are better than no-word counts. 3 days out of 180 have words counts of 100 or less (the lowest is 89). Fine, I accept this and move on.
- Understand that some days will be extraordinarily productive, but that doesn’t mean you can skip the next two or three days. I’ve had 3 days where I’ve written at least 3,000 words, and on my best day so far, I wrote 5,300 words. This is wonderful and I do a little happy dance on days like these, but it doesn’t excuse me from getting my words in the next day. The important thing for me is consistency, the ability to do it over and over again, regardless of the conditions.
Underlying all of this is a real passion for writing. If you don’t enjoy writing, then trying to write every day will be really difficult. You have to love to do it. For me, writing is one of the few times that all of the other stress, ordinary as it may be, melts away.