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

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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!

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Happy New Week!

Everyone I know loves the new year. We throw parties, stay up late, and most importantly of all, make resolutions.

I think what draws most people to New Year’s—more than the midnight parties and the ball dropping in Times Square—is the chance to start over. The new year is always a blank slate, a fresh opportunity, a second chance.

I’m no exception. I love making lists of ways I’m magically going to be better, completely different person than who I actually am because that’s the kind of delusional hope that January gives me.

It’s funny to me that most people love the opportunity to start a new year, but loathe starting a new week. I think this might have something to do with the fact that, as many resolutions as we make, New Year’s is not a real harbinger for change. It’s easy to ignore because it only comes once every 365 days. New Year’s is a red herring—we use it to give ourselves a spark of hope for change, without any of the work and drive that real change requires.

But if you want to wring the most joy possible out of your one wild and precious life, why only give yourself one opportunity a year to try?

Monday is a weekly reminder of our opportunity to start fresh. What if instead of making huge New Year’s resolutions that we’ll never fulfill, we made New Week resolutions? You don’t have to make the same mistakes this week that you made last week. You don’t have to wait until January to start improving your life. Start today. Heck, start now. Stop reading this and start working. I won’t be offended.

New Week resolution

Make a New Week resolution and stick to it! Mine for this week is to get up when my alarm goes off (because I don’t want to snooze button through life). What’s yours? Shoot me an email and let’s hold each other accountable.

How to Conquer Internet Addiction and Achieve Your Dreams

telephone-1822040_1920Headline seem like a bit much? What does the internet have to do with dreams (besides all the nightmares you have freshman year because you stayed up too late reading about serial killers…please tell me I’m not alone in this)?

I think addiction has everything to do with mediocrity. And one of the things I’m addicted to knowledge. In some ways, this can be good. I’m informed about world events, I’m full of fun facts about serial killers (see above) and women in ancient Rome. The problem is I spend way more time consuming useless information than I do making the things I want to make.

So I decided to Rumplestiltskin* myself for the month of October.

Some of you have been asking about my Information Diet and since I’m drowning in extra time now that I’m no longer perusing the internet (oh, the horror!) I figured I’d share more details with you.

What’s the Goal?

Someone asked me what the point was in giving up information. They phrased it in a nicer way, but that was the gist. It’s such a valid question.

When I gave up other substances for a month, it was not with the goal of cutting them out of my life completely. I had no plans to become sugar or coffee free (I’m not INSANE).

This challenge is different because my goal is to permanently reduce the amount of time I spend mindlessly consuming information. 

I’m starting with a month of cold turkey informationless-ness** so I can determine what resources I miss and how much time I should devote to information consumption.

Cutting out information is far harder for me than cutting out alcohol or coffee. I didn’t even let myself think about it until October 1 because I didn’t want to face the reality of what my world would look like without news. That’s exactly why I knew it needed to be done. If I’m afraid to go without something, it probably means I’m addicted to it.

A few others have asked me what I’m actually doing and if I have any tips for doing your own Information Diet. I’ve written before about how I use tricks and manipulation to force myself to grow. Here a few tricks I’m using I’m using to make myself mindful of the information I consume.

Info Diet Tips & Tricks

1. Track your time

I am firm believer that knowledge is power. One of the most powerful tools we can give ourselves is knowing how and where we spend our time. 

At various phases in life I’ve used apps, physical worksheets, and calendars to keep track of how I spent every hour of every day. This is a bit extreme for most people, but if you suspect you have a problem with the amount of time you spend online (or watching TV, staring blankly into space, whatever floats your boat) forcing yourself to account for it is a great way to motivate yourself to make a change.

You can use sheets with slots for every hour (like so) or use good old fashioned pen and paper. This is a super useful exercise for life in general, even if you’re not particularly interested in how much information you consume.

2. Change your triggers

Deciding not to do something is easy. Setting yourself up to succeed in ditching your bad habit for a better one is the difficult part. 

Humans are creatures of routine and habit. External triggers cue these habits. For example, my mind is trained to automatically open my email account when I get to work and to scroll through Instagram every night before bed. Even though I’ve decided not to do those things this month my brain is still going to want to do them automatically. To succeed I have to take action to replace these triggers.

Here’s a few practical ways I’m doing that:

  • Changing the home screen on my internet browser. It used to open to Bing, which displays the top news stories of the day.  Whoever writes those headlines is a genius who should make millions of dollars because I would click on the stories every single time. If I don’t see that when I open the internet browser (which I’m not really supposed to be doing anyway) I can’t get sucked in by those stories.
  • Delete apps from your phone. I’ve never kept Facebook on my phone, but this is a great way to reprogram what you do when you automatically try to fill time by scrolling through social media. You can’t do it if they’re not there.
  • Sign out of social media accounts. This way when your brain types in F for Facebook without you being consciously aware of it, you will be locked out. Forcing yourself to log in every time you want to check social media is an easy way to be purposeful about how much time you spend on it. I’d also unclick “stay logged in” on anything you don’t really need to be logged into.
  • Use Instapaper to save articles you want to read (shout out to Adrian for telling me about this app!) I get inspiration from everywhere and appreciate a good Longform article like nobody’s business. This app lets me save links people send me or that I stumble across so I can come back to them later if needed. If you’re like me, you also constantly stumble across names and events that you want to look up. Instead of looking these up immediately and tumbling into the tunnel that is Wikipedia I started a Note on my phone to list all of them. If I’m still interested after a month*** they will be there. 

3. Set Time Limits

Maybe a complete Information Fast is not your thing, but you want to be more mindful about how you consume information. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes of browsing time and when it dings, go back to work. 

4. Use a Break To Do Sheet

Second shout out to Adrian for sending me this awesome PDF from Lifehacker. I live and die by To Do Lists. Seriously I have lists for everything (I think I’ve mentioned about five in this post alone). Probably the one thing in my life I don’t have a list for is taking breaks. 

Resting is difficult. Resting well is nearly impossible–if you’re not prepared. If you know you want to unwind by watching the newest SNL Digital Short, reading that New Yorker article, or scrolling through Instagram, plan for it! This makes taking the break purposeful instead of mindless. Also, you will get the unparalleled joy of checking something off of a list. You’re welcome. 

5. Know how you want to spend your excess time

The point of consuming less is to create more. I’m challenging myself to fill the time I used to spend surfing the web with creative output—outlining a story, editing pages, or doing story research. Keeping in mind the big picture why of my Information Diet helps me focus on what I’m gaining instead of what I’m giving up. 

 

What about you? Do you have any hacks you use to trick yourself into spending less time online? I need all the help I can get!

If you want more made up words and tips for tricking yourself into doing anything, sign up for my weekly newsletter where I offer plenty of both.

*Is this a verb? No. Do I care? Also no.

**Another word I made up. Really rolls right off the tongue doesn’t it?

***I won’t be