Lessons From Writing 750 Words a Day for 365 Days

One year ago I set out to write 750 words a day, using the site 750words.com, without any set goal in sight. I just wanted to improve my writing and I figured that getting in the habit of writing daily could only help. Somehow, I was able to stick with it, despite a few days where I had to miserably mash my fat thumbs on my iPhone for all 750 words.

I eat success for breakfast

10 Things I Learned From Writing 750 Words a Day For 365 Days

1. Process Over Product
Early on I learned to not concern myself with the output of my 750 words. I just wanted to build the habit. I knew that if I focused on the output, I’d eventually stall and stop writing because it was “good enough,” whatever that means. Maybe I’ve been influenced by Zen and the Art of Archery, but with the writing I detached myself from the product at the end of the day, suspending any judgement. The keyword in that last sentence is “suspend” not completely eliminate, as I’m eventually going to have to judge anything I publish. If I didn’t, that would make me a psychotic egomaniac. But during the first draft I don’t judge my writing, I just get it done.

2. Know Why You’re Writing
I wasn’t writing with the hope that by day 365 I’d be able to crank out a perfect 750 words each time. I had a few reasons for wanting to write 750 words a day:

- You can only get better with experience. Analysis and reading books helps a lot, which I did, but you have to actually apply what you learn for it to mean anything.
- I want to publish more books. A lot of the daily writing went toward various books that may or may not get published.
- I want to build my “writing muscle.” I’m a strong believer that the mind needs to be exercised just like a muscle. Whatever parts of the mind you don’t use atrophy.

3. Planning Always Helps
If you want to do something–anything–always do what you can to eliminate possible barriers to accomplishing the goal. With writing 750 words, an easy barrier could have been “I have nothing to write about,” but planning, even if just before writing, helped squash that alibi.

4. There Are No Good First Drafts.
The vast majority of what I wrote each day for 750 words isn’t publish worthy, mostly because it’s a first draft. This took me a very, very long time to learn, but I eventually came to accept that I’m never going to like the first draft of anything I write. That feeling isn’t weird or a signal of being a bad writer, it simply means I need to start editing the writing until I like it. A first draft is much like a contestant on the biggest loser. You’ve got to trim the fat and make your writing sweat to get it in shape. And that takes work.

On this topic, Stephen King’s On Writing is a great resource.

5. Go Full Screen / Eliminate distractions
One of the easiest ways to influence your behavior is to control your environment. Out of sight, out of mind is pretty effective advice, at least with double stuff Oreos and avoiding distractions while writing.. When writing in full screen, I was less likely to be distracted by passing thoughts or to open up a new tab.

6. Jerry Seinfeld is Smart
It was likely just over a year or two ago when I read a productivity tip Jerry Seinfeld gave about having a giant wall calendar and making an X across every day that he wrote jokes. His goal then became to not break the chain. If 750words shut down or turned off the “streak feature” it would be harder to stay motivated. People love seeing progress, in stories and in themselves.

seinfeld not impressed

 

7. Mix Up Your Writing
Sometimes I wrote thoughts off the top of my head, other times blog posts or essays for a random book. I once had a phase where I’d challenge myself to see if I could write 750 words about the most boring topic possible and make it interesting. Turns out I have over 800 words worth of thoughts about socks, though I’m not sure about the market demand for sock observations.

8. Get It Done Early
Though I haven’t followed this as closely as I should have, writing the 750 words in the morning produces a great feeling. It’s a weight off my shoulders, where I never have to wonder “when will I have time later to write my words?” There’s something positive about starting the day with a little accomplishment.

9. The Ultimate Practice for Writing
Writing thoughts is a fairly easy task, at least for me. The best way that I’ve found to practice writing is by writing stories. They don’t have to be elaborate, but to just use the basic structure of a person who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. Writing stories is one of the best ways to improve your writing.

10. Prime Yourself
I occasionally read parts of the book Jesus’ Son, a book of fictional stories from a drugged out drifter, before writing. I’m not even sure what I think about the book, but vivid writing gets the creative brain flowing. With a sentences like this, the book frequently paints an interesting picture: “His eyeballs look like he bought them in a joke shop.”

The biggest lesson so far:

Though I’ve already somewhat discussed this in #4, good writing is mostly good editing. It’s much easier to edit something to become great than to slowly write a perfect first draft, which I don’t think is even possible. If you want to save yourself time and sanity, get the horrible first draft out of the way so you can start making your writing great.


You should connect with me on Twitter: @BenNesvig
Also, a satirical book I wrote is only 99 cents on Amazon today.

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  • http://brandonhilkert.com/ Brandon Hilkert

    I really love #8. I’ve been doing the same and getting up early. Not only do I get a ton of stuff done, but my morning feels waaaaay better at the time I would’ve normally gotten up. It feels like I’m starting the day off on a better foot. Love the writeup!

  • http://7fff.com jgn

    Ben, how many minutes — on average — did it take for you to do your 750 words?

    • http://www.twitter.com/bennesvig Ben Nesvig

      Good question. I wish I had been tracking that. 750words.com tracks your writing, but if you start in the morning and finish at night, it counts the entire time you weren’t writing. If I power through with no distractions “stream of consciousness” style, it could be as quick as 20 minutes.

  • Just a guy’s opinion

    It’s too bad you added 2 completely unnecessary gifs in here, they can only undermine your writing. Especially when like the 2nd one it’s actually hard to understand the link between the gif and the paragraph it’s in!

    • Another guy’s opinion

      It’s too bad you added 2 completely unnecessary sentences in the comments here, they can only undermine the discussion. Especially when like the 2nd one it’s actually hard to understand the between the poor grammar and syntax it’s in!

    • http://www.twitter.com/bennesvig Ben Nesvig

      I love gifs! But that may just be me and a few million teenagers on Tumblr. They are a bit of a stretch in terms of relevance though.

  • http://leif.me Leif Singer

    Great list! I loved 750 words until I broke the chain one day. :) Do you have any advice on plotting out a 750-word story? I’ve only done planning / thinking so far in 750 words, no fiction. What’s a good structure for example for such a short story? Can you recommend a good brainstorming approach?

    • http://www.twitter.com/bennesvig Ben Nesvig

      For fiction or non-fiction? I suppose either way, the simplest story structure I’ve read is:

      A story is a character who wants something, but has to overcome conflict to get it.

      You could break it up 250/250/250 with stating your ambition, the conflict, and getting/not getting and the lesson you learned.

      If you have trouble starting, there are a few books dedicated to “writing prompts” though I’m sure many blog posts as well.

      For inspiration, Dave Trott and James Altucher are two writers who post at least weekly and are great storytellers. Dave Trott is a master at telling stories about other people and Altucher tells often amazing stories from his life remarkably well.

      http://thegateworldwide.com/london/2013/03/25/talent-v-tenacity/

      http://www.jamesaltucher.com/

  • http://www.tosbourn.com/ Toby Osbourn

    I really enjoyed reading this Ben. I love your point about editing – it is something I need to get better at.

    Are you going to continue to write 750 words a day for the foreseeable future?

    • http://www.twitter.com/bennesvig Ben Nesvig

      Yeah… though I debate whether it would be better to take some time off and dedicate that toward editing. But it’s too hard to break the chain right now.

  • Alex

    About editing, well, it´s the same I do, but not necessarily what everyone sholud do. Julio Cortázar never rewrote his short stories (o.k., just once). And Borges suggested finding your own rythm, instead of drowning in drafts (and he said that when he was old and wiser). Greetings.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bennesvig Ben Nesvig

      Finding your own method and rhythm that works is definitely ideal. Drowning in drafts is a concern I’ve had, which I assume only gets worse the longer a book gets. There’s a good balance to be found.

  • poornun

    hi , i like this blog post. just translated to Chinese http://jianshu.io/p/0113e1d1c74b by my poor English. My translation alson appears to my Tumblr.

    if you do not agree my translation ,plz contact me ,so that i will delete it. ;)

  • Dubem Menakaya

    Interesting article. Kudos on the commitment! A couple of questions – I write a journal daily, could i count that towards the 750? Also, what is the best time to write the 750 for you, or did you often start and finish at different times?

    • http://www.twitter.com/bennesvig Ben Nesvig

      I think it could count toward 750 words. You can learn a lot by journaling your day (see – http://book.personalmba.com/self-elicitation/ ) . I wish I started a daily journal a long time ago.

      I think it’s ideal to do it in the morning. You get it out of the way and there are usually less distractions. But some people write better at night, so it depends on what works better for you.

      • Dubem Menakaya

        Cool thanks, I’m going to give this a try over the next week

  • nathashaalvarez

    My sister sent me this post about a month ago but I’m now reading it. I’m glad I did. I went to look at the 750words.com site and that is interesting as well. I signed up for that. Stephen King’s book is excellent. I’m 2/3 of the way through. I’m off to buy a huge calendar which should be 50% off by now. Great post!

  • Paco Pierre

    Recently on Jerry Seinfeld’s Reddit AMA he denied ever having anything to do with #8 on your list.
    He stated “It’s the dumbest non-idea that was not mine, but somehow I’m getting credit for it.”
    http://imgur.com/kV1fR2R

    • Paco Pierre

      I mean number 6 on the list.

      • http://www.twitter.com/bennesvig Ben Nesvig

        Interesting. I feel like misattribution with advice happens a lot. Some people forget what they say, but I assume he’d remember marking an X on the calendar.

  • Izzy

    This is a really good post. I hadn’t thought of planning before I write (not knowing what to write about is always the biggest barrier), and putting pressure on getting it done in the morning seems good too, there being a specified time for it. So thanks! Good luck with all your writing.