The Top 5 Tips to Writing 500 Words a Day

Could you write 500 words a day for a month? For a month with 30 days, that’s 15,000 words. When you add up the numbers it seems like an insurmountable task. Let’s forget the concept of just writing for 30 days straight, to give yourself a word count just adds to the mountain. That rigidity of must write – must meet a quota certainly should lead to writers block or at the very least writers fatigue.

I wrote 500 words every day for the month of January.

Every day, I sat down either with my notebook or on my laptop and wrote. Sometimes I barely squeaked by with 500 words, other days I ended up with twice as much. I wrote in the car on the way to family birthday parties. I got up early when I had a full day, I even wrote on vacation. In general, it took less than an hour each day. One day I only had 20 minutes and pushed myself to reach the word count. At the end of the month I had a first draft of a full length play, half of a one act, and the first drafts of ten articles.

It’s not an easy exercise, but it’s not hard either. There are procedures you can put in place to make sure each day gives you usable material.

What’s Your Endgame?

The overall goal is to write 500 words every day for a month. Beyond that however, it’s important to think about your specific goals.

  • What would you like to have accomplished at the end of the month?
  • Are you working on a project like a novel or a play?
  • Are you writing blog posts?
  • Are you a new writer and simply want to create a habit of writing?

All of these examples are valid and useful expressions of the exercise. If you establish your end game before you even start, you have a reason to write every time you sit down. You have a goal in mind.

And don’t worry if your goal is to work on a book and a couple of days you end up free writing because your brain just isn’t in the mood. The exercise isn’t a punishment.

Further to that, over time you may find that your goals change. My end goal was to finish the full length play. Around the third week I had enough material to start rewriting, which is why I switched my 500 a day goal to articles.

Plan the Night Before

Staring at the blank page is the easiest path to writers block. And there’s no worse feeling than when you set a task for yourself and nothing comes to mind. Spend five minutes at the end of each day thinking about what you’re going to write. Put a question at the top of a piece of paper, or a sentence, a theme, or idea. That way when you sit down to write half the work is done for you. You don’t have to think about writing, you just do it.

500 words does not mean 500 perfect words

This project is hard enough on your brain. To worry about the quality of the writing only adds extra hardship. Don’t be afraid to free-write your 500. Throw your focus into staying on topic but after that just get those words on the page.  You may even not want to worry about rewrites at all during the month. That’s a mistake I made during the exercise. It was difficult to use one part of my brain for rewrites and then switch over to another part to get those 500 words on the page.

Announce Your Work

One of the best parts of my experience was that I had to tell people my word count each day. Writer Jeff Goins set up a closed facebook page where participating writers committed to posting each day. This set up didn’t work for every participant – Facebook can be a time suck afterall. For me it was the accountability I needed to keep writing, and keep track of my words. I also liked having a place to share with others going through the exact same experience.

If you don’t have a group to share your count, reach out to some fellow writers and start your own. Announce your daily results on any social media platform. Aside from posting on facebook, I also Instagramed a writing picture each day.

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You could even ask a friend or family member if you could email them every day. The method matters less than the act itself.

Celebrate Your Efforts

A exercise like this will illuminate for you the true nature of writing.

When you’re writing that much on a daily basis it’s becomes easier to see how much of the process is work. It’s easy to see how often your brain doesn’t come up with wonderful shiny ideas.

You’ll see what it means to have to sit down and crank out words when you don’t want to. You’ll learn how to write on a consistent basis rather than when the muse strikes. You’ll figure out if writing is something that you really want to do.

For me, this project was an overall joy. I love to write and love to push myself. It wasn’t always pretty and the last week was by far the hardest. But I came to the page every day and put something there.

You can do the same.

Make a commitment to write 500 words every day for a month and see what happens. Make a commitment to write 100 words a day. Or make it a time challenge. Get up five minutes early and write. Or take fifteen minutes out of your lunch to write.

You’ll be amazed at the results.

It’s Ok to Walk Away

Not everything you write will be perfect. Are you ok with that?

Not everything you write will move forward to completion. Are you ok with that?

The first one is pretty tough to deal with. We all want perfect writing.  It’s hard to not keep working and working and working at something until you get it just right. My latest play is in proof form and still I can’t help tinkering. Trying to get it perfect.

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But over time it becomes easier to realize that if you want your writing out in the world it has to reach “doneness.”  Doneness can be wonderful, and it can be your best work and not be perfect. And that’s ok. It has to be. Because as we  have all heard time and time again – nothing is perfect. It’s tough to come to terms with that, but not impossible.

But what about that second one.  What about the idea that some of your work will never, ever reach doneness? It won’t even come close.

Could you walk away from a piece of writing?

That would feel like failure wouldn’t it? That would feel like your quitting. That would feel like you couldn’t hack it as a writer. That would be proof that you will never be a writer.

No. No, no, no, no.

You can’t think like that. What if you had a great idea that just doesn’t flesh out? What if you started writing a play but quickly realize it’s more suited to being a novel, and you don’t write novels. What if you lose your passion?

Maybe you need a break from your writing and everything will come together later. But maybe it just doesn’t work.

There are many reasons why a piece won’t reach the finish line. Not everything you write will succeed every time. And so what if it feels like failure? Failure in the arts is good. You have to fail. You should try things knowing they might fail and do them anyway.

If you’re trying to avoid failure as a artist, then you’re doing it wrong.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t leave everything half finished in a drawer. But if you’re consistently writing, and consistently finishing product and then this blip in the road comes along, treat it just as it is –  a blip in the road. It’s a pot hole, not a pit. Don’t collapse into a deep dark hole that isn’t there. Simply put the words to the side and pick up something else.

It’s ok to leave that writing and move on. That’s what writers do.

 

Have You Ever Felt Like This?

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I feel like this 24-7. I think I’m a horrible speaker, and I don’t speak well off the cuff. If I have something to say, I write it down. I love speaking with my hands. I can take my time. I can make sure I get it right. There have been endless numbers of times when I get something so wrong when I say it out loud. But when I write, it feels just right.

How about you? Do you speak best with your mouth, or your hands?

 

Top Five Tips for Adaptation

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An adaptation is my favourite type of play to write. I love taking a work from one genre and figuring out how it will thrive as a piece of theatre. I’ve written theatrical adaptations of A Christmas Carol, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Walt Whitman’s Drum Taps poems and my most difficult challenge Edgar Allan Poe. It was worth every drop of blood, so to speak.

Want to turn a book, a short story, a poem, or a song into a play? Here are your Top Five Tips:

Round and Square do not Mix

Do not try to fit a round peg into a square hole. A book is not a play and vice e versa. The storytelling techniques that work in a novel are completely different than those in a theatrical setting. Books and scripts don’t play by the same rules, so don’t try to force the rules of one genre into the environment of another.

Is there theatre in these pages?

When you look at the original source material, ask yourself this most important question: is this a piece of theatre? You need to find the theatrical in the pages, be it an image, a moment, or a character. And if it’s not inherently theatrical ask yourself: what theatre can you make out of the work? Do you see Moby Dick as a plank and a couple of ladders? Can you illuminate the Headless Horseman using just shadows? It’s not enough to transfer the words from the page to the stage, what are you going to do with those words?

Character and Conflict

Character and conflict are the lifeblood of every great play. The reason we still study Shakespeare is not because of the archaic language but because of character and conflict: a boy and a girl who fell in love when they weren’t supposed to. A young man who has to deal with the murder of his father and killing his step-father. This is key in adaptation. Who is your main character and what is the conflict? What stands in the way of the main character? Define this in your source material and bring it to life in your play.

Ditch the Narrator

Narrators are death in theatre. They hardly exist in a play for their own merit with their own unique character. They’re used to  move tell us the plot, describe a location, or share the inner thoughts of a character. Playwriting Rule number one:  show your story, don’t tell your story. Show what’s happening inside a character, visualize and theatricalize that inner thought. Unless you can find a theatrical way to use the narrator and bring him to life beyond being a plot device, get rid of him.

 The Audience needs this because….

Lastly, you have to ask yourself why  – why does an audience need to experience this work in a new form? What’s in it for them to see a short story on the stage? Your audience must always be on your mind when you write. Include them in your process. If you can articulate exactly why an audience needs to see Moby Dick instead of read Moby Dick then get writing. You’re own your way to a great adaptation.

Ritual or Habit

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Is writing a ritual or a habit? To which ideology do you subscribe?

Writing as Ritual

Those who believe in ritual worship words. They respect the power of words and the ceremony of writing. The writing ritual has certain and specific steps that must be followed.  There is a specific atmosphere that must be invoked in order for words to flow and prosper. Writing only happens in a special place or at a explicit time. The ritual must be authentic or else the writing will be disingenuous. This writer has far too much devotion to the word to ever let their work falter or become base. The ritual is everything and the ritual is what makes words come to life. That is what makes this writer thrive.

Writing as Habit

Those who believe in habit are practical. Writing is a job. A wonderful awesome job, but a job nonetheless. Writing is work – sit down, roll up your sleeves and get it done. Writing doesn’t happen at a special time or place or with a special pen. It happens when this writer puts words on the page. And this writer is dedicated to words on the page; good, bad or ugly. Writing on a consistent basis is what defines a habit. Words on the page makes this writer fulfilled. And then once the words are on the page, the habit becomes to craft the words, make the words better.

What do you believe? Do you savor the ritual? Are you a roll up your sleeves type? Which ideology is right?

Which ideology is right?

That is what the beginning writer wants to know. What path do I follow to become a writer? I need to know the exact steps that will take me from A to Z. Am I on the right or wrong path? If I’m on the wrong path, I’ll never become a writer.

The right path is the one that gets writing done. If a belief in ritual works for you, it is your path. If you squirm at the thought, don’t subscribe. If you find yourself following a completely different path altogether, don’t look back.

There is no formula, no doctrine, no one way to write.

Exercise

Finish this sentence starter: I believe writing is…..  What? What do you believe about writing and being a writer? Get it on paper, keep it close by. See if it changes year after year. Define your own path.

Find The Writer Within

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We all write every day. It’s impossible to avoid: there are emails, tests, project proposals, letters, reports. Pen to paper, keyboard to computer – every individual knows how to write.

To  that  end it makes sense to assume that there is a writer inside every person. Some folks just don’t know where to look to find their inner writer, and some get confused by the term ‘writer.’

But what most people imagine when they think of being a ‘writer’ is the creative aspect. Creativity is what causes the average individual to freeze up because they feel creativity is inherent as opposed to a learned skill.

How do you access your creativity? How do you become a ‘writer?’

Start Small

There’s no need to attempt a project the size of  ‘War and Peace’ as your first foray into writing. You’ll  only  get  discouraged. Start  small. Write  a  poem.  Keep a journal. Write a paragraph. Start a blog and post regularly. Write out daily observations, write letters. Start connecting and communicating. That is what is at the heart of all  writing: the desire to connect and communicate.  As you write, focus on writing full sentences with capitals at the beginning and punctuation at the end (that goes out especially to you texters!).

Define Your Genre

The term ‘writer’ covers a wide variety of genres. Decide and define what specific type of writing you’d like to explore: poetry, screen­writing, plays, novels, short stories. Not sure which is your genre of choice? What type of writing do you enjoy most as an audience member? Do you love the one to one experience of a novel? The cyclical experience of the theatre? The imagery of poetry?Once you’ve defined your genre, immerse yourself. Read, read and read some more.Become familiar with the different styles associated with your genre. Eliminate styles that don’t speak to you and make a list of those that do.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Writers write a lot and so should you. Get in the habit of regular writing.  Again this is not the time to write the next massive novel. Write one letter a day. Write a personal email. Write one blog post. Write 300 words. Write one page. Give yourself a daily time limit. Maybe it’s an hour, maybe it’s five minutes. The more you practice, the more comfortable the act of writing will become.

Writing Exercises

The bookstores are filled with ‘How to Write’  books. The web is filled with writing
exercises.  So go do them! Writing exercises will help you overcome the fear of not being
creative. Of thinking that you don’t have what it takes to be a ‘writer.’ Instead of worrying
about your creativity or lack thereof in a specific project, use exercises to practice the craft.
Keep it small and manageable. For example, practice writing using the five senses.
Keep this writing routine up for six months before starting work on a specific project. This
length of time will let you know if writing is something you want to pursue.  If you keep
bursting with ideas during the six month trial that’s fine; write them down in a notebook and leave them be. They’re not going anywhere and when you’re ready to start a project you’ll have a number of ideas to choose from.

Start small. Define the genre. Practice the craft.

Everyone can find the writer within.

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Finding the Writer Within