The 1000 Word Habit

As I wrote a few days ago, I’m making another attempt at writing fiction. When I interviewed Camille Noe Pagan, author of The Art of Forgetting, for BNET recently, she mentioned that she had made a chart with 80 “1K” entries on it. A commercially viable novel these days generally has about 80,000 words, and she kept herself focused on writing a draft by checking off each of those 1Ks… I’m sure with great relish (does anyone else ever put things on your to-do list after you’ve done them, just so you have the satisfaction of crossing them off?)

So I’m attempting something similar. Every workday, I put “1000 words” on my to-do list. I hope to keep this up (except for vacation days) for the 12-14 weeks I have until my baby arrives. Granted, that’s only 60,000 words, but I already have a 50,000 word novella that I wish to form the basis of this longer work. I also know that many of those 60,000 words I’ll write over the next few weeks won’t be usable. I’m figuring out what I want to say as I go, figuring out new plot points just by cranking out words until something takes shape. As they say, the road is made by walking on it.

I’m only 4 days (or 4000 words) into this experiment, but have come up with some intriguing ideas which might become major plot points. I’m spending some time developing characters and putting them in different situations. And I’m most heartened by the fact that writing 1000 words without an editing filter takes almost no time at all. Definitely less than an hour. Sometimes closer to 45 minutes. Cut out a few excess email or Twitter or Facebook breaks, and the time is there.

Have you ever broken a big project into little chunks? How did you keep yourself focused on your big goal?


2 thoughts on “The 1000 Word Habit

  1. I use this ‘do it daily’ technique for a couple of things – gardening (ten minutes) and running a website (60 minutes). From my experience, there are two key factors to ensure you keep it up:

    First is to find the level at which you can realistically keep doing it for. Using the gardening example, a commitment of at least ten minutes each day doesn’t seem too daunting to do. I’ve found that anything more means I’m likely to skip days.

    Second, keeping a record of how much you’ve done means you can see the big picture progress you’ve made. You can also use it to catch up on the days where, for whatever reason, you don’t manage a 1000 word day.

    I also like the fact that you mention not using an editing filter for your initial drafts. I guess this means you are churning out more content which, as you explain, stimulates creativity. Using a ‘ready-fire-aim’ approach like this is a great strategy for getting things done.

    1. @Tim – I like the “ready, fire, aim,” analogy. Writing is partly about practice. More words = more practice.

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