For the past three years, I’ve written at least 300,000 words for publication.
It’s not that difficult, and you can do it too—it mostly requires an ability to focus. If you don’t have this ability at first, fear not: it’s a learned process.
Someone once said, “I hate writing, but I love having written.” I tend to think you have to love at least some of the writing part too, but I get the idea. In my case, I write because it makes me feel good, and because I feel like it’s what I’m supposed to do.
If you want to write consistently and thoroughly, you must learn to make writing your job, regardless of whether it has anything to do with your income. It must be what you think of at different times throughout the day, even when you’re doing other things.
You may have heard the advice about carrying a notebook everywhere and writing things down as you think of them. This advice falls into the category of “extremely helpful tips that almost no one follows.” Trust me, it helps: I have my notebook when I ride my bike, when I go to a restaurant, and with me on the seat of two-hundred airplanes a year. Never keep anything in your head—keep it in the notebook instead.
Once you start recording information, you’ll likely find that ideas are not the problem. For most writers (or anyone doing most kinds of creative work), execution is the problem. Therefore, the framework I write from can be summarized in this quote from Jim Rohn:
“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret and disappointment.”
In choosing to write, you must choose the pain of discipline. Good news: it’s not that painful, once you get used to it. You just have to make it more important than other things you could spend time on.
Make your art your obsession. Fall in love with it. Experience withdrawal symptoms when you don’t give it your attention.
Say no to other things so you can make art. Learn to view sacrifice as an investment. Writing is a joyful experience that will bring you comfort and satisfaction, but you must put the hours in.
Think about what you know how to do, and write down all the steps that someone else should take to do the same thing. Spend your vacation outlining the novel you’ve always wanted to write. Start a blog, even if you abandon it later.
Do not worry about quality, especially when you’re getting started. Quality will improve as you put in the hours. (For evidence of this fact, read the first year’s archives of almost any blog, including this one.)
Worry instead about getting your words in. Wake up early, stay up late, use that notebook you are carrying, appropriate those ten and fifteen-minute breaks in the day with nothing scheduled.
When you finish at night (or whenever you pause for a while), try to end in a place where you know what you need to do when you return to it later.
Why 300,000 Words?
In my case, I want to write 1,000 words a day, six days a week. I often write more, but rarely less. The 1,000 words a day is my own metric—yours may vary, but it’s a good one to steal. In the end I’m not necessarily concerned with exact figures; it’s just that having a number helps me to keep working.
Also, 300,000 words ensures I can write a book every year, 100+ blog posts for AONC, 50 or so guest posts elsewhere, at least 2-3 business projects that require a lot of writing, and a few long-form essays or magazine pieces. I don’t count emails (200 a day) or short entries for social media sites.
I wrote most of this post when I was stuck in the Nairobi airport last month. Kenya Airways is actually a decent airline—on an hour-long flight to Rwanda, I was served a full vegetarian meal in Economy Class. In the U.S. I am upgraded to First Class 80% of the time, but I can’t even request a vegetarian meal in advance.
But I digress—the point is, while the national airline is nice, Nairobi Airport sucks. Sitting around for four hours, I knew I had two options:
a) keep whining to myself about it
b) use the time well
I knew I’d feel better if I used the time well, so I sat down and wrote. I made myself do it, camping out in a sea of people. There were no outlets, so I worked fast to conserve battery power.
I wrote 1,200 words, and then I wrote another 500 words for something else, and then another 500 words for this post. Four hours went by and I boarded my flight to Jo’burg feeling great. I was behind on my emails as usual, but ahead on my art. I drank bad red wine (shoutout to Kenya Airways again) and didn’t feel guilty about taking a short nap on the way down to South Africa.
I hope some of you write 300,000 words over the next year—then you can write the post about how 300,000 words was easy.
Most important: Love your art and it will love you back.