Living 1000 Words a Day

One of the worst things a writer can do is write a paragraph, then go back and fix that up, then write another paragraph, then go back and fix that one up. When I do this, I’m not moving forward, I’m not gaining critical speed.

I’m not learning fast enough.

If I write 100 words a day, always perfecting, always fidgeting, it will take me two years to write the first draft of a fairly average-length book.

730 days.

And what if during that extended time period I realize I’m on the wrong track? What if my characters changed direction? What if my passion has died down? What if I need to rewrite it in a different point-of-view (which my wife so often suggests)?

In that case it has taken me 730 days to learn all of those things.

But what if I write 1000 words a day, never looking behind me to see what the wake has washed up? In a mere 73 days, barely two months, I have the completed work to look at, to pour over, to reevaluate.

I can do in two months what would have taken two years.

“The reason not to perfect a work as it progresses is that…original work fashions a form the true shape of which it discovers only as it proceeds, so the early strokes are useless, however fine their sheen. Only when a paragraph’s role in the context of the whole work is clear can the envisioning writer direct its complexity of detail to strengthen the work’s ends” (Annie Dillard, The Writing Life).

This isn’t just for writers.

Where are you moving at a snail’s pace? Go forward faster. Stop tidying up each day as it passes. View your life in bigger chunks than weeks or months.

Start living life at 1000 words a day.

23 Replies to “Living 1000 Words a Day”

  1. Wow. I needed this!

    I write short bits and then try to perfect it before moving on. It is draining and I’m not getting anywhere! I also love how you parallel this idea with what is even more important. Thanks Shawn.

    1. I think this is one of the most important parts of writing well, Ryan. Not to say I’ve mastered it. But it’s also what helps me keep moving – when I’m writing something I’m not too crazy about, I just give myself permission to keep going.

  2. In the communications work I do, we always say that “it takes longer to write a sentence than a full article” for the very reasons you mention.

  3. Wow, this post describes me. The entire way I live. Thanks Shawn. I needed this.

    “Start living life at 1000 words a day.”

    Let’s DO this!

  4. Did you say “stop tidying up?” I’m waaay ahead of you. JK…

    It’s true though, if I let a blog post sit too long, I second guess the entire thing and never post it.

    1. Very funny, Becky! Although I can run with that “stop tidying up” rule, especially around the house…

  5. Great stuff – I really like the point of an original work only taking form as it proceeds.

    I read this same book by Dillard, and she also encourages writers to send a note every day to other writers we admire. I tried it for a couple weeks but got overwhelmed and stopped. That was until I found BlogRocket and writers like you who’s work I really enjoy!

    Please accept this as my admiration post of the day :-)

  6. Sage wisdom, Shawn. And adroitly written, too. I’m so pleased to have made your acquaintance via the BlogRocket. Learning so much about writing everyday. Now I must find the Annie Dillard book you referenced.

    1. “The Writing Life” is this tiny little book so full of writing wisdom that it’s almost not fair. A must have for any writer.

      1. Found a used copy on Amazon for $4.52–Includes The Writing Life, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, & An American Childhood. Not supposed to be buying books right now (per spousal request). Suppose I’ll have to do a giveaway on my blog, or something, to clear out some “inventory.”

    1. Thanks for coming by Melissa. I’ve really been enjoying your blog. And based on your upcoming move, I think your pace is already picking up.

  7. Btw, don’t know if you’ve read any about Dean Koontz’s writing process, but to sum up, he:

    1) Freewrites–doesn’t outline; and,
    2) Hones & polishes every page as he goes

    Course he’s been doing his thing since about the mid 60s.

  8. Right. Freaking. On.

    It’s funny, because in some areas I can totally just keep moving and getting it done and come back to what needs work later and in other areas, I can become completely gridlocked. If everything isn’t perfect, how can I possibly move on to the next thing?

    Fantastic reminder. Thanks for the good words.

Comments are closed.