I wrote 200 words a day for two years. Here's what I learned.
Two years ago, I set a daily goal: write 200 words, every day.
I wanted to write regularly and consistently. Prior to instituting a daily word goal, I had stretches of time during which I wrote, but these stretches of time always ended in another stretch of time during which I did not write. For a couple months, I'd write daily. Then … I wouldn't. I could make excuses—I had a baby! It was finally spring so I had to plant tomatoes!—but when I didn't write, I didn't make progress on my writing projects, and I didn't like not writing.
As Anne Lamott wrote in her book Bird by Bird (read my review!):
"[S]ometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that they are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out."
Besides generally enjoying the process of writing, I wanted to write daily because (1) I had an impending book deal (read about it here), so I had better figure out a workable writing schedule, and (2) I needed to write a weekly blog, and (3) my brain was constantly sprouting ideas for new projects, so if I ever wanted to get to them, I needed to finish up some of my current projects. Finishing projects, of course, requires working on them first.
Thus, daily words.
I added daily reading at the same time. (You can read about my routines.) I made a spreadsheet. And eventually, because of my daily word goals, I wrote about my Incremental Method to Achieving Long-Term Goals and Getting Things Done.
What have I written?
In the past 730 days, I've written
- Over 146,000 words
- Over 100 blog posts (~1000-2000 words each)
- A book (~90,000 words)
- A profusion of drafts and notes for future posts and projects
While some authors recommend begetting written words each week like you're a prolific pair of breeding rabbits—Ray Bradbury, for instance, was known for writing a short story a week!—other authors set more modest goals. Terry Pratchett was a 400 words a day guy. He wrote over 50 books. Granted, his words were no doubt more inspired than mine, but modest goals can get us moving in the right direction!
Besides, most of these proliferous male authors were not homeschooling a trio of young children.
I did increase my daily word count while I was drafting my book manuscript, since I didn't halt the blog during that time. My goal then was 200 words for the book, plus 200 more, which could also be in the book, or could be blog posts or other notes. Then, when I switched from first draft to revisions, I swapped out the 200 book words for time spent revising—working a minimum of 20 minutes a day on fixing up the manuscript. (Read more about the book process!)
(Read my review of Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury!)
What did I learn from daily writing?
I learned I could stick to a daily writing schedule, even in the face of life with three young, wonderful children.
I learned I had to be flexible about what time of day I wrote, where I wrote, and how I wrote. Sometimes I got laptop time in the office; sometimes I wrote my words on my phone after everyone was asleep; sometimes I dictated via voice typing while watching my kids play in the backyard. Sometimes I could sneak in writing time early in the day (my preference, when I'm most awake and active); sometimes I had time in the evening, after everyone was asleep.
Each method worked well for certain kinds of writing. Voice typing was a fast, easy way to get down initial brainstorming and thoughts for blog posts, and for taking notes on books as I read. Editing and polishing worked best at the laptop.
I learned that writing is not only about meeting goals and finishing work. For me, daily writing is a way of processing, thinking, learning, and synthesizing. I remembered that I enjoy journaling, like when I tried out Morning Pages. I was reminded that reflection time is necessary for learning. The blog is a place to put ideas that aren't necessarily perfect yet—a place for reflections—place for them to breathe.
I discovered I have more ideas the more I write. I took notes on books I was reading, jotted down thoughts about blog post topics, wrote bits of books, and in the process of thinking about each of these, I'd connect ideas together and start drafts of new posts. (Are you even a proper blogger if you don't have 50+ unfinished draft posts in a folder somewhere?) This makes sense given how creativity and originality work: mixing two or more things together in a new way.
(Read: Book review: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant)
Because I was writing a lot, I felt driven to improve my writing. I don't know how well I've succeeded—it's a long process—but I started reading books about the craft of writing (here are reviews of a few). When you want to improve, you seek out masters and sit at their feet, hoping their wisdom and talent will rub off on you.
Slow and steady wins the writing race.