Lessons from writing over 1,000 words per day
In a 90-day period, I wrote over 1,000 words a day. Here are the eight lessons I learned about writing a book during that experince.
I can remember creating all kinds of short stories and memorable pieces for family members. But, apparently, I use to write a lot more than I realize. My mother has been finding all kinds of pieces of mine, from well over twenty years ago, recently.
Clearly, I was inspired by all the fantasy books I use to read. Because all of those early writings were also fantasy-based. Then, as I got older, as well as interested in building a personal brand, I started writing more in the business realm. I estimate that I have been writing, mostly blogging, in some form or another, fairly consistently for well over ten years.
After starting with blogging I then turned my attention to creating my first books. After those shorter ebooks were published I decided to dive into writing my first full-length business books. My first one of those was a tell-all tale about my first startup, GoGrabLunch. I called it "Lessons from a Failed Startup". Boy did I learn a lot. Years later I decided to go all-in on my longest book yet. The Ladder or the Grind was around 50,000 words of me exploring two disparate career paths - working for one's self or working for someone else. You can find both of those books here.
After all that writing, I then shifted my creative energy to the creation of all the courses I offer.
Eventually, I rediscovered my joy in writing. After the loss of my brother in August, I decided to finally write my own fantasy book. I figured if we couldn't adventure together anymore in this world we would adventure in fantasy worlds. I finished that book in December after 90 days of dedicated daily writing.
I've talked to plenty of people who think they want to write a book. I would tell you that it isn't easy. In fact, it is really hard. It is especially hard to consistently pump out over 1,000 words per day for 90 days in a row.
But, I would also tell you that it was one of the best experiences of my life. I'm sure that is because it was somewhat cathartic in helping me through the loss of my brother. However, I don't think that is the only reason it was such a wonderful 90 days.
Today I'm going to share with you some of the lessons I learned about writing a book during that period. In case you are considering writing a book of your own.
Lesson #1 - Concept -> Outline -> Start writing
I am a very instinctual writer. I don't spend hours planning out exactly what I am going to say. Would that improve my writing if I did? Maybe. But it could also stifle my creativity. Plus, one of the reasons I write is for myself. So, I go about it how I enjoy the process.
I knew going into it that this newest fantasy book would require a lot more structure than a blog post does. So, the first thing I did was research templates for organizing a book. For that, I found a cool Notion template. You can find it here. I wish I had noted who I got the template from but I didn't. Sorry.
Anyway, I set out first to capture the concept of the book. Including mapping out the main characters (they are all based on my family members) all the way down to their clothes, weapons/magic of choice (remember it is a fantasy book), and personality (including quirks, weaknesses, strengths, etc.).
After I had the concept mapped out enough that I felt I had enough details to bring the story, locations, people, etc. to life I then outlined the chapters and the main points of each chapter.
From there I started writing. No kidding. Each day I sat down I simply worked through a chapter (more or less) based on a simple outline and "talking points".
The key point here is not to overthink it. Do as much planning and outlining as you feel like you need but don't overdo it. Once you have enough start writing.
Lesson #2 - Writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised, regularly
Minus a few days, I did write virtually every day during those 90 days. If I missed a day I made up for it on the following day.
If you are going to write a book I find that writing begets more writing. Meaning, the more you write the easier it is to write. The "writer's hand" keeps pumping out words the more you put that hand to work. It is like a muscle. The more you exercise it the stronger it gets.
Lesson #3 - Turn it into a ritual
I found my writing sessions were easier to do when they were partially ritualized. By that, I mean that I had a standard time of the day I wrote. Most of the time. I also had a standard workflow and location in my house. In fact, I'm sitting in that location right now. My workflow included soft music. Guess what I am listening to while I am typing these very words out. Yep, soft music.
I'm not suggesting you become a perfectionist about it. There were days that I wrote at my standing desk instead of sitting in bed. But, I did find that on the days I followed my normal rituals the writing process went a lot smoother.
Lesson #4 - Step away from the writer's block
I had set a pretty tough goal for myself of finishing the book by December 15th. I wanted to share it with my family for Christmas since it was about my brother and their son/husband/father. So, every day counted. There were about five days out of the 90 where I had writer's block. The first time I tried to push through it. But, I realized that the quality of my writing was suffering. So, I trashed the whole day's worth of text and moved on. By the second time it happened, I just decided to roll with it and I simply closed down shop for the day. No big deal. No pressure.
Writer's block is a real thing. Don't fight it too hard. Just allow it to be. I believe the lack of pressuring myself allowed me to move past it pretty quickly. The one time I had two consecutive days of writer's block I decided to skip ahead and write a part of the book I was really looking forward to writing. That got me going again.
Lesson #5 - Don't think about grammar or syntax while you write
I'm not an English major or classically-trained writer. So, I am sure you can find all kinds of errors in my writing. You have fun doing that because I really don't care. I opted for momentum rather than perfect grammar or sentence structures. Doing so allowed me to get and stay on a role. There were plenty of times I would rattle off 200+ words in virtually one fluid effort. Then there would be a short pause and I would go right back at it.
Lesson #6 - Set a daily goal
This one should be the third lesson since lesson two is about consistency. But, since I am following lesson five 😉 I'll leave it here.
For both of my larger books, I set a daily goal and did my best to stick to it. From memory, I set a goal of 500 words a day for The Ladder of the Grind. For my fantasy book, it was 800 words a day. But the timeline was compressed.
Whatever amount you choose, set a daily writing goal and hold to it. Don't sweat missing it by 10 words or even one word. But try to get close.
Lesson #7 - You don't need fancy tools
I wrote The Ladder or the Grind using Scrivener. It is a great product with lots of cool features. Such as tracking your daily word count as compared to a goal you set in the system.
Scrivener, or other programs, are a good idea if you need to format the book in a particular way for publishing the book publicly, like using Amazon KDP. Which is what I did with TLoTG.
However, for my fantasy book, I decided to use good old-fashioned Word. Well, actually Google Docs. It did the trick just fine.
Lesson #8 - Stop when you are ready to stop
Not only did I have a daily goal of words, but I also had an overall word goal of 60,000 words. If you just did the math then you figured out that 90 days of writing times 800 words a day is...72,000 words. My 60,000-word goal was for words that made the final editing cut and stayed in the book.
So, what was the final count? Just over 46,000 words. Why? Because I had said, or written, everything I wanted to say by the time I got to that point. I didn't have a publishing company that had given me an advance to satisfy. So, I stopped when I felt like the story had been sufficiently told.
Which is what I am going to do right now. Thanks for reading.
P.S. Until now only family members have been able to read my new fantasy book. But in case you are curious, below is the short, opening chapter.
P.S.S. If you did even more public math you are asking yourself how 800 words a day became the 1,000 words in this article's title. That's because I write for a living. On any given day I easily write more than 1,000 words a day. Don't be so nick-picky 😆
The master jeweler took a long breath and sat back in his chair. He had been working on this particular piece for quite some time. As usual, he had fallen to hunching forward, which meant his back ached and throbbed. He took the moment to wipe the sweat from his brow and adjust his third spectacle.
Doing such precision work required the use of a magnifying glass. That magnifying glass was built into his third spectacle so that he could lower it when in use and raise it when taking a break. It was the telltale sign of a master jeweler. Someone who worked in minute details.
The work he was doing was made up of just that - minute details. Such tedious work was not foreign to the jeweler. It may have been to some jewelers, those who only worked on larger, less ornate pieces. But that was not the profession of this particular craftsman. His entire decades-old business had been built around doing intricate work on pieces of jewelry. Including designing and crafting his own pieces. Which was where he found himself tonight.
Looking around the room you would have noticed candles that had been burning for quite some time. The rest of the room looked like what you might expect from a jeweler’s business. Numerous wooden benches in various states of wear and tear hugged the walls. Some had deep marks punched into their surface from the banging associated with a life full of hammering and chiseling. Metal tools of various shapes and sizes littered the tops of those benches. The same tools that had left their marks on the furniture.
Had you looked close enough you would have noted that there were no unfinished projects on any of the other benches. Those had all been completed and the finished products returned to their owners.
It looked like a store that was going out of business. That is because it was. Permanently. After tonight.
The jeweler pulled down his third spectacle and leaned back in to continue his work on the piece. The jewel rested in his right hand while his crafting tool was clenched in his left hand. Before continuing to shape the jewel he made sure he felt mentally ready. Any lack of focus or twitch of his hands would mean the jewel would not turn out as he had designed. And that was not acceptable. This piece, like all six of the other pieces, needed to be just right. Everything depended on it.
He had been working toward this moment for months on end. As he drew closer to retirement he had felt the need to speed up. To finish the project on time. Tonight he would do just that. With just a few more strokes, followed by a bit more polishing, the emeralds would be shaped to the exact specifications that his design had called for.
“Well, not my design. Not entirely,” he thought with a smile.
It wasn’t that the work hadn’t been his own. Or that the exact shape of each of the jewels wasn’t as he had meant them to be. It was that the pattern that each of the jewels was shaped in was not his own design. That had come to him in a dream.
That dream had convinced him that this would be his last project. And his most important one. The same dream where he had been shown the shape the jewels would need to take. The same dream that had shown him seven jewels was needed.
That was the part that had confused him. Why twelve jewels? He would have understood the significance of two jewels. That made more sense. After all, he had two grandsons who he had always intended to create something for as his last hurrah. But, it was to be twelve.