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.
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.
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.