Write a Little a Day and Surprise Yourself


For the past two weeks now, I’ve been writing a minimum of thirty minutes a day. This all started because of a challenge I read about called the Write Chain Challenge. The idea is to write every day to a certain goal you set for yourself. It can be a goal of only 100 words a day or 2000 words a day. Or it can be writing a chapter a day, a poem a day, or whatever. I chose to go the time goal route, and since the whole thing is controlled via Twitter, my first Tweet looked like this:

Thirty minutes a day. It’s not much, but it’s not about writing a lot. It’s about making a goal that you can do on even your worst day. If I can’t set aside thirty minutes, then something’s seriously wrong (or I’m just lying).

After two weeks, I’m starting to really reap the benefits of writing this little bit a day. Day by day, little by little, I finished a novel I’ve been working on for months. All because I made myself sit down and write for thirty minutes.

And here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to all be writing. I can also use these 30 minutes for editing, or plotting, outlining, etc. So the day after finishing my latest manuscript, I started plotting out my next novel. And now the first draft of that outline is done, and I just have to do another pass through it to get it all in order, and then I’ll be ready to write the story.

This has been a great boost to my productivity. I feel like I used to just write whenever the mood struck, but too many writers wait for inspiration that never comes. I used to have writing marathons, spending three hours writing, only to take a week or more off until I get back to the story again.

Now it’s thirty minutes in the chair, with Scrivener open, every day. Doesn’t matter if I write or edit or just stare at the screen with my face in my hands. That thirty minutes is what I needed to boost. (And in the case of staring at the screen for thirty minutes, this has not yet happened nor do I ever expect it to. The simple act of making myself sit down with notes in front of me has so far been enough to make me write something.)

So how can you harness this to jump-start your writing?

Start Small

There’s this little book by Chris Fox called 5,000 Words Per Hour (which you can get for free by signing up for his mailing list). Its whole purpose is to get writers to up their writing pace to get projects done faster, because the writing is the most important part to get out of the way before editing.

Fox created a companion app for iOS called 5KWPH. It’s a simple timer program in which you plug in however long you want to write, and at the end it tells you to stop and you record how much you’ve written. Then the program will give you stats like your WPH writing pace. I think so far I’ve topped out at 2700 WPH.

Back during NaNoWriMo, on days when I wasn’t really feeling it, I would set a timer for five minutes just to get started. The result made the rest of the day easy. Either the words didn’t come easily or they did. If they did, great, better keep writing because now I have an unfinished scene or chapter to plow through.

If the words were a slog, however, I had a choice to make. I could either give it another go or call it a day. Either way, I got something written, even if it was only a hundred words.

Make it a Competition

On some writing chatrooms, you’ll find word wars hosted by members. These are usually impromptu attempts to force the challenger and others to get some writing done. Participants agree to a start and end time then count up their words at the end to determine a winner. But really, there are no losers, as long as everyone gets some writing done.

On one of those chatrooms, a member set up a separate page for Word Wars, complete with a user profile with stats and everything. The chats run for one ten-minute sprint and two fifteen-minute sprints per hour. Check it out and try to challenge yourself to compete with others and get those words done.

There’s also a whole slew of writing groups on Twitter who host word sprints. Perhaps the most well-known among these are those attributed to NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNo, like @NaNoWordSprints. But there are plenty of others that run year-round like @TheSprintShack and @GetWordies and probably plenty others that I don’t even know about. Look around for them and follow them, participate in the challenge and write.

Find Your Comfort Zone

Thirty minutes is perfect for me. It may be too long for you and for others it may not be enough. Maybe you’d rather set a goal that corresponds to word counts or a number of chapters. Set whatever challenge you feel comfortable with.

From there, you just have to stick with it. You’ll be surprised at what you can get accomplished, even just doing a little bit each day.


About David Shank

David T. Shank is a writer, runner, and musician, in that order. His blog is hopefully an oasis among the vast ocean of negativity that is the Internet. He lives in Cleveland studying how to write good.

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