How I Wrote 50,000 Words In Two Months (While Working Full Time)

If you clicked on this post, you would probably enjoy my Monday Motivation newsletter. Sign up here for the inspiration you need to make the life you want.

In January I set a short term writing goal for myself: write 50,000 words of my manuscript by March 1. Last Wednesday, February 28, I typed my 50,092 word.

During this time period I had 42 writing sessions averaging 30 minutes each. I was working full time and also happened to be revising my first novel for an agent simultaneously (that’s a story for another time). When I hit my wordcount goal no one was more shocked than me.

I’m a perpetual goal setter, but I almost never accomplish the tasks I set out for myself. That’s fine. I still get farther with goals than I would without them. But I wanted to figure out why this time was different. What did I do more effectively? How could I duplicate it for future goals?

First drafts are the hardest part of the writing process for me. I am terrible first drafter. I know everyone says that in a really cute “aw shucks” kind of way, but I really mean it. My first drafts rarely even contain complete sentences. I’m lucky if they contain discernible words.

I’m an Editor by trade and writing doesn’t click for me until I have words to work with. I hate writing every word of first drafts and so I made it my goal with this project to get the first draft over with as soon as possible. Getting these bad words on the page quickly is crucial because the important work of shaping and coloring in the novel will take much longer.

So I launched an investigation to figure out how I wrote 50,000 words in two months while working fulltime. I identified five key factors that set my writing approach aprt:

Five Tools That Helped Me Write 50,000 Words In Two Months

1. Set a goal in the Sweet Spot

The first thing I did that helped me accomplish my goal was setting a reasonable goal in the first place. I found the Sweet Spot.

The Sweet Spot is a target difficult enough to be a challenge, but reasonable enough to keep you motivated. For me, writing 25,000 words would have been too easy, but writing 75,000 would have been so difficult I wouldn’t have bothered to start. Fifty thousand words was the Sweet Spot. A stretch, but within reach.

To find the Sweet Spot first list your Unattainable and Too Easy goals.

So for example:

Unattainable: 75,000

Too Easy: 25,000

Sweet Spot = Unattainable Goal – Too Easy Goal

The Sweet Spot is the difference between these two goals. In my case, 50,000 words.

2. Quantify your goal

If you are a creative, quantifying your goal might seem counterintuitive. After all, how do you quantify art? (Insert smug mustache twirl thing here). But if you want to improve and set measurable goals than you have to choose a way to track what you are doing and how it’s working.

Measuring quantitavely in this sense, is not about measuring quality, it’s about measuring output.

Everything is quantifiable. If you are a painter, you might track how many days it takes you to finish a painting and how many hours per day you spent working on that painting on average. If you are a runner, you might track your time and mileage. If you are an actor, you might track how much time you spent practicing and how many auditions you attended.

By keeping track of my creative output, I was able to see what on earth I was actually doing. Because I kept detailed records of when and how much I wrote, I know that the most I wrote in one day was 3,000 and the least was 560, and that my average was somewhere around 1,200.

It also helped me to identify patterns. I write much faster and sustain energy for longer periods of time, later in the day. Most writing advice says you should write in the morning. I can do that, but it’s not the most efficient way for me to write. Tracking my writing made me realize I need to plan my writing sessions later in the day.

The only way to know what works best for you is to keep track of it. Lots of random internet advice told me I needed to get more sleep, but when I Heatmapped I discovered that I was actually happier with less sleep. Don’t take other people’s advice on what will work for you. Find out for yourself.

PS: If you’re not sure how to start keeping track of your time, I wrote an entire post on Heatmapping—the best tool I’ve found for quantifying personal goals.

3. Outline outline outline

As with many things in life, planning for success makes success more attainable. I’ve always outlined my projects, but normally I ditch the outline 1/3 of the way through. This is fine, but it meant I would start each writing session with, at best, a vague notion of what I needed to write. Over the last two months, I ended my writing sessions by jotting out a detailed outline of what I would write the next day.

This doesn’t just apply to writing. If you are a runner, make a running schedule. If you are a painter, sketch out what you want the finished product to look like. Start each day knowing exactly what you need to do on that particular day to reach your goal.

4. By law you get a lunch break. USE IT.

This one only applies to people who have goals outside of their bill-paying jobs. I have a fulltime job and consider myself very lucky to be employed. But my job means I have to think carefully about when I can write and need to make use of the free time I have.

I work all day, but I do get a lunch break. I outfitted my iPad with a mini keyboard. Now I have a lightweight writing device I can use to write during my lunchbreak. That’s a solid hour of writing every day.

One thing I’ve noticed about my friends who work office jobs is that they rarely take lunch breaks. Your company is legally obligated to give you a break during the workday. Don’t be a martyr. Take it.

5. Do NOT revise as you go. Ever.

The final thing I did that made a huge difference was not reviewing my work. I didn’t read a single word of what I had written. I just kept going.

Why is this important? Because starting a project is fun, but it’s easy for me to get so bogged down in perfecting the beginning that I never reach the ending. Perfectionism prevents completion.

Most dreams die in progress. Lots of people have first chapters of novels that they’ve edited to death. Few people have finished manuscripts. The first chapter, first sketch, first rehearsal, isn’t important. Finishing is important. And to finish you need to look forward, not backward.

For my last project, it wasn’t until the final draft that I started the story in the right place. The first chapter that I slaved over for months didn’t even make the cut. It wasn’t necessary. You will save yourself tons of time and energy if you commit to seeing a project through without trying to fix it as you go.

So there you have it. Five easy things that made it possible for me to write more efficiently and to have more fun while doing it. What about you? How do you reach challenging goals while meeting other life obligations? Comment below so I can steal your ideas!

Want more practicable info like this? Sign up for weekly motivation.

5 Simple Ways to Stop Feeling Stuck – Step 4: Give up a Comfort Crutch

This is Part 4 in a five part series

Read the Intro

Read Step 1: Identify and Attack Your Triggers

Read Step 2: Make a Bored List

Read 3: Start Heatmapping

I’ve written before about the power of fasting to spur to spur creative growth. I’m writing another post about fasting because a) it really is super powerful and b) it’s one of the best ways I’ve found to get unstuck.

When preparing to write this post I poked around to see if there was any research on the mental benefits of purposeful deprivation. I was frustrated to find that fasting research has focused on fasting as a tool for weight loss. I find this ridiculous. The purpose of fasting is to grow not to shrink. And fasting isn’t limited to food—you can fast from social media, the internet, gossip, make up. All of these are beneficial and none of them are represented in the current literature.

For example, many studies indicate that vegetarians might be happier overall than meat eaters. Scientists have attributed this to chemicals in meat. This very well may be true. In my personal experience, the benefit of not eating meat has been entirely mental.

Since it seems very few other people are writing about the power of fasting, I will refer to my original post on the creative power of fasting:

“Fasting forces you to be present in your life. Every time you say no to something, you are reminded that you are a rational being, capable of making choices. It’s so easy to glide through our days with our heads down and never look up. My default is to ignore the big picture of my life in favor of getting through another day. Fasting reminds me of the very simple, but entirely remarkable fact that I’m alive.”

And here’s what other famous people have had to say about fasing:

“I fast for greater physical and mental efficiency.” – Plato (428-348 B.C.)

“Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goals, if
he is able to think, if he is able to wait, if he is able to fast.”
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

“Fasting is the first principle of medicine; fast and see the strength of the spirit reveal itself.” – Rumi

 

Fasting isn’t about weight loss. It’s about improving your mind and spirit. And it’s a great way to jolt you out of whatever rut life has tossed you in.

Steps to Effective Fasting:

1. Identify what you should give up

For a fast to be effective, you need to give up something matters to you. If you rarely drink, cutting out alcohol is not going to provide you a good growth opportunity. If you don’t care about clothes, giving up fashion won’t be a sacrifice. The key is to find something that is not bad in and of itself, but that you rely on in a potentially unhealthy way.

I call these Crutch Comforts. At the beginning of this year I made a list of Crutch Comforts and I’ve been trying to give up one a month. A few things on my list:

  • Sugar
  • Instagram
  • TV
  • Reading
  • TV
  • Internet
  • Reading
  • Eating out

Reading was actually a recent addition. I never thought of reading as something that could have harmful effects. I read a lot, but I don’t think of it as an addiction. However, because I also write a lot, reading can have the adverse effect of filling my head with other people’s ideas when I need to be generating my own.

Make your list and then choose one thing you’re willing to go without.

2. Set a time frame

Fasts can last for any period of time. If you are doing an extremely calorie restricted fast, it’s probably best to start with a short period of time. Religions often prescribe 21 or 40 day fasts. Personally, I prefer to do fasts by month. Why? It’s easy to remember for one thing. I try to give up one thing each month. Choose the time frame that makes the most sense for your life and mark it on your calendar. When I did a 21-day fast recently I blocked it out on my calendar so I would be reminded of it every time I checked my schedule.

3. Choose one thing to ADD

The Lenten season is most famous for fasting, but the spiritual practice is also supposed to involve adding something to your life.

At its core, fasting isn’t about deprivation. Fasting is about giving up something hindering you so that you can focus on what really matters to you. Think about what you want more of in your life and how what you’re giving up can make room for that.

For example, maybe you want to exercise more. If you give up TV, you can use your normal Netflix time for working out. Or if you want to be better at keeping in touch with family, give up social media and use scrolling time to call your mom.

4. Tell someone (but don’t tell everyone)

A study from Dominican University found that students who shared their goals with a friend were twice as likely to complete them as those who kept their goals to themselves. Accountability is key to success.

Choose one person in your close circle of community to share your fast with. You don’t even need to ask them to “keep you accountable” (in my experience this usually backfires) just let them know what you’re giving up and for how long. Ideally, choose someone who will notice if you go back on your word. For example, I usually tell my roommate (who also happens to be a good friend) when I’m giving something up because we spend enough time together for her to notice if I’m cheating.

So if you’re giving up a food item, tell someone who you eat a lot with. If you’re giving up movies, tell the person who’s your movie buddy. Etc.

The key thing is: tell one person, not everyone. The more people you tell, the less your fast becomes about your spiritual growth, and the more it becomes about how your fast looks to other people. As Jesus said, “when you fast, don’t make it obvious.”

Accountability is a proven way to achieve goals. However (and this is a big however) telling too many people about your goals has been shown to decrease your likelihood of achieving them. When we start telling people we’re doing something, it makes us feel like we’ve achieved something. We’re then less likely to actually do the thing we’ve been telling people we plan to do. Cue vicious cycle.

So tell one trusted friend. And then don’t tell anyone else.

5. Pay attention

Now comes the important part: the fast itself. You’ve given up your Comfort Crutch. What now? Get the most out of your fast by taking the time to pay attention. Are you really struggling with what you gave up? Why? Lean in to whatever discomfort you feel. How do you feel? What’s different? I recommend keeping a journal or typing out quick notes in your phone whenever you have a revelation.

Have you ever done an intentional fast? Got any tips? Let me know in the comments!

Want more articles like this? Sign up for my weekly newsletter.