Note: this post was originally published in November 2016
Last month I set myself a goal to write a minimum of 1,667 words per day, every single day for 30 days. I chose 1,667 words because it meant I would write 50,000 words in a month, which is roughly within the threshold of writing a paperback novel sized amount of words.
Over the past 32 days I achieved more than my 30 day writing challenge goal every single day. On average I wrote 2,430 words per day, which has meant I have written a whopping 77,000 words in a little over a month.
Here are some of the lessons I learned along this way, including a couple I didn’t really expect:
1. Writing is damn hard and it doesn’t get any easier
One of the things I have noticed coming out the other side of 30 days is that it doesn’t get any easier. I still need to work almost as hard on day 32 as I did on the first day to make the words flow and get into the writing zone.
Maybe 30 days isn’t enough to feel comfortable and I’m considering doing a 90 day version of this challenge already.
In the first half of the month I would get up at 5.20am every day just to write and get the work done, however in later days I have been more inclined to write at night after dinner and with the time pressure of having to go to bed, which keeps me focused on writing so I can get to bed earlier.
Mixing this up as well as mixing up where you write really helps keep things interesting. Sometimes I write in a cafe, other times at home or at a co-working space. Being surrounded by other people who are focused on their work definitely helps.
2. It really matters what you write
The choice of what you write really impacts on how much you get done. I’ve personally switched from writing private notes, thoughts and journal entries to now writing short stories and blog posts that I plan on publishing.
This has really slowed my writing down because when I know someone is going to read my writing I am much more careful in how I do it. I am much more nervous and have even been known to spend twenty minutes writing and rewriting a sentence or researching some obscure part of work.
This isn’t always bad but it means I have to work harder to reach my word limit.
3. Writing teaches me a lot about the world
Writing is the ultimate reminder of how much more I have to learn about the world.
The hours of research required for me to understand how certain topics work takes a long time.
Research extends the time is takes to write, although the upside is I’m learning so much more than I ever expected, which is extremely rewarding in itself.
4. Track your progress and it will keep you going
There have been so many days (lazy Sundays for example) where I really had to push myself to get the words out. The thing that keeps me going is the writing activity spreadsheet I keep to track my progress.
This spreadsheet tracks and calculates my weekly, monthly and all-time word count as well as the type of writing and the purpose of my writing.
This month I’m going to add 3 more columns to track (a) the time of day I did my writing, (b) how long it took and (c) how I felt about the writing today. The reason for tracking these three new things is to get a better understanding of my moods and energy levels throughout the day to pin point when I’m at my cognitive and creative peak.
I have also recently came across a writing tracker app called 750words, which looks awesome for tracking mood and other stats about your writing automatically.
5. You need a project
To be successful in writing long term I think you really need to have a project that drives you beyond the spreadsheet. My own personal challenge for next month is going to be to write something longer, like a first draft of a novella. or a series of blog posts.
6. Punching out random words isn’t enough
Focusing on improving your writing is a lot better than just going through the motions. I admit even I’m guilty of writing a long winded sentence just to reach my daily word limit. I find its important for me to focus my mind on improving even if thats only a little bit per day.
I’ve also found is really helpful to do a lot of reading as well as writing. I think if writing is considered a craft then reading is the study of that craft. In the past few months I have read books on writing, fiction, non-fiction and some genuinely good books by good authors.
Have you considered doing a 30 day writing challenge?
I am still a long way away from being a comfortably good writer. I’ve been working hard to improve my skills every day and while mentally things are not getting any easier yet I have actually noticed a huge increase in my command of my native English language.