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How to Write a Thousand Words per Day Without Really Trying

Mel Carriere is a writer in Northern Colorado, where in winter hacking out less than 1000 words per day results in frostbitten fingers.

Mel warms his frozen innards with a cup of morning Joe, and warms his frozen fingers on his keyboard.

Mel warms his frozen innards with a cup of morning Joe, and warms his frozen fingers on his keyboard.

Just A Few Word-Flakes a Day Can a Literary Avalanche Make

The digital age has ushered in a revolution in the art of writing. The tedious, bone-wearying task of producing handwritten copy went the way of the dinosaurs a century ago. To further exacerbate the delightful laziness of the modern author, the mind-numbing drudgery of editing by hand is another fossil that followed it into extinction. Over the past three decades the word processor eliminated that toil, making possible the instant editing that was prayed for in the past by those who wanted to meet the demands of their muse, but didn't think they had the attention span for it. In other words, a lot of of us shiftless bums finally crawled out of the holes we had been hibernating in, to put our ideas down on virtual paper, for better or for worse.

Nevertheless, many would-be-writers of the Internet age still don't think they can squeeze the activity into their busy schedules. As it is, there aren't enough hours in the day to get the kids off to school, work an eight hour shift, punch the clock, drive home for more family duties, while still somehow managing to crowbar a little recreation between the cracks.

But emerging from the wilderness here is the biggest writing revelation since let there be light made its debut. I'm here to tell you that just a few tiny flakes of words at a time, falling gently from your fingertips, will snowball to avalanche proportions without sweeping away too big a chunk of your existence, even when not carried out on a daily basis. Just an hour to an hour and a half in the morning, or whenever your time preference is, plus a little bit extra on weekends or stay-cations, can easily accumulate to a 1,000 word daily building block. One by one, these little literary bricks construct a veritable skyscraper of written material. Furthermore, I have proven mathematically that a writer can enjoy a slew of much-needed days off and still get this done, without it seeming like another burdensome line-item on an already voluminous laundry list.

Unable to think of a good reason to keep the secret to myself, I am going to share the technique I used to average 1,056 words per day over the past year. If I could accomplish the feat while working significant overtime, passing through life-shattering events, and making a formidable move over the hump of the Rockies from California to Colorado, over the course of normal life anybody should be able to do it, without really trying.

1,000 words per day is not trifling. Stacked together neatly or haphazardly, the building blocks add up to 365,000 words per year. Since 100,000 words make a pretty fair novel, or an anthology of fifteen to twenty short stories, this easily-obtained output will let you write a novel, edit it twice, and still have lots of time to birdwatch, go to the beauty parlor, or bask in the sun, like the lounge-lizard you love being.

World-renowned author Stephen King - whose photograph appears above the definition of prolific in the dictionary, has written 57 best-selling books, at a fairly languorous rate of 2,000 words per day. That's his full time job, and at that paltry pace the morning coffee is barely done brewing before the steam whistle blows quitting time. This leaves him lots of waking hours for fun before the sun goes down, and the Night Shift takes over. Recognizing that his readers have real jobs that prohibit even that meager output, the king of horror advises aspiring authors to produce just half his harvest. Some critics of the King complain his USDA-sanctioned 1,000 words is an unobtainable goal, but I am here to dispute that. His bar is not set too high, I have done the Fosbury-flop over it, and here is my method.

You too can do the Fosbury flop over the bar of your writing goals

You too can do the Fosbury flop over the bar of your writing goals

A Couple Caveats

Let me begin by saying that I have not yet proven myself as a writer. I am struggling through that phase described by Stephen King where "… the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing." In other words, I'm not there yet, so don't think I'm bragging. I'm simply suggesting a method that led me to a significantly increased output, a greater quantity. The quality of those words, on the other hand, is very much subject to debate. The jury is still out.

I publish this article on Hub Pages, where many of my long-time friends are probably asking, if you're writing so much, where are all those words? I can only offer my most heartfelt mea culpa, confessing to you, my brothers and sisters, that in order to pursue my life-long dream of becoming a published author of fiction, my online blogging output has been reduced. It seems like I've been sleeping in, but during the past writing year I have produced or edited three novels in various stages of development, as well as a dozen short stories in various stages of development. All that, plus a baker's dozen Hub Pages articles. I firmly intend to crank my blogging output into higher gear, but the process of getting settled into a new home, in a new state - geographically and spiritually, means I have less love to spread around.

So while a dearth of Internet articles leaks forth from my fingers like an annoying late-night drip in the bathroom sink, the other spheres of my literary creation could fill a swimming pool. Not only has production increased, but better words are cranking off the assembly line. Practice definitely improves the facility and speed with which one can arrange words into meaningful, lively, entertaining sentences. Every morning the gunk-filled, calcified writing pipe pumps into life a little faster, the drip building into a flow and finally a torrent, ever faster than it did before. I don't let myself suffer from writer's block, I have learned to incorporate that clog into the stream - a kind of built-in Drano on the brain. But that's another topic, for another time.

The subject of the current article is how I did it, and the answer to that question is - I did it by tracking it. Keeping score is a powerful motivating force. You look up that scoreboard, see you're behind in the fourth quarter with a few minutes left on the clock, and your competitive juices start flowing. You push yourself to get that game-winning touchdown, then afterwards wonder what all the fuss was about. As you hoist the championship trophy, it occurs to you that your opponent really was a patsy, a pushover. Knocking him out of the way was not that difficult, you just needed something to light a fire under your dragging ass. Here's how I kindled my flame.

Microsoft Excel and Word mobile apps, two sides of the holy trinity of my writing life, the other being my phone's notepad.

Microsoft Excel and Word mobile apps, two sides of the holy trinity of my writing life, the other being my phone's notepad.

Eyes on The Prize

To know how much farther you need to go in your writing trajectory, you have to survey the distance. With this in mind, sometime in late spring 2020, I decided to get out the measuring tape and gauge exactly how many bricks I was adding to my squat, wobbly, ramshackle writing structure on a daily basis. At that time, I wasn't very pleased with my production. There were days when my fingers flowed with flowery prose, followed by protracted stretches where the walls of my writing brain echoed in absolute silence. Then, I reminded myself that I'm not getting any younger, the time I have left to do this is decidedly finite. If I wanted to share my muse with the world I had to get busy, and to do this I had to develop a process. I needed something that would commit me to a schedule, but a realistic one that left a lot of open dates to fool around in (you only get one life, after all), along with time to carry out life's nagging necessities. I think I found it.

My middle name might as well be Excel Spreadsheet. I track just about everything in my life via Excel, to a ridiculous point. A friend of mine once asked if I have a spreadsheet for every time I take a s**t, and I have to admit he was uncomfortably close to the truth. So it occurred to me that if I track the time spent and mail volume I get on my postal route, and I track the time, location, and circumstances of Charlie Horses I suffer in my legs - as if anybody cares but me, why not use Excel to measure my writing output? This turns it into a game that drives me to reach a measuring stick - a sort of writing Ex-lax that increases regularity, we could say, if it wasn't such a distasteful analogy.

My Excel spreadsheet - called Writing Count, because I couldn't think of anything more clever, consists presently of three tabs - 2020-2021, 2021-2022, and one called Calculation. The 2020-2021 tab was used to record the data for the past writing year, which ended May 31st. Tab 2021-2022 is being used to keep track of this current cycle. The Calculation tab simply counts the daily data, which is plugged into the current writing year, then cleared for reuse the morning after.

In order to give you an idea of how a complete writing year progresses, I will focus on the 2020-2021 tab, used to store the data beginning June 1, 2020. The tab consists of five columns - Project (to provide a historical record of every story I work on), date, original, rewrite, total day, and total month. I also created six calculation cells that measure the total word count, the number of days progressed so far in the writing year, the daily average, the number of days writing actually took place, the percentage of these writing days, and the average word count of writing days. I froze these calculation cells on the top row so I can look at them without scrolling.

The results were as follows: During the 2020-2021 writing year, from June 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021, I processed a total of 385,801 words - 222,733 original, 165,466 rewritten, for an average of 1,056.989 words per day. I wrote 275 days during that writing year, 75.3 percent of annual total, for an average of 1,402.91 words on active writing days.

As I said previously, My Calculations tab is used to enter the daily tally. I clear these cells before starting every morning, then pour the freshly squeezed juice from my brain into one of two columns - original and rewrite. Excel voodoo then does the rest via esoteric, magical processes I don't attempt to understand, or claim to have mastered. If creating such a spreadsheet piques your interest, there are plenty of Excel tutorials on the Internet that will help you evoke this hocus-pocus for yourself. I won't dig into the steaming guts of how I do it, but if you request such assistance in the comments section I will certainly try my best to accommodate.

My precisely-calculated word-spinning day goes as such. I usually rise between 5:15 to 5:30 on days the unavoidable necessity of making a living sends me away from my real job. I dive write into it, working on original material between an hour fifteen to an hour and a half. I actually compose on my phone's notepad, and when I finish a paragraph or stream of dialogue I copy-paste it into a blank Word document to get a count. In the Android version of Microsoft Word, a word count is found by clicking on the light bulb, then typing "word count" into the blank. Once counted, I transfer this sum into the appropriate cell of my spreadsheet's Calculation tab.

On days off from my side gig of making a living, I break out my Chromebook to do rewrites. Although I have found that composing on the note pad keeps my fingers from running away from my brain, making corrections on the tiny screen is just too cumbersome. So I edit on the laptop, but I count edits as only half of a word. I regretted this decision for a while, but then put a stop watch on both processes and found that I wrote 742 words per hour of original material, while on rewrites I clipped along at a 1203 words per hour pace. So rewrites only counting half seems like a fair evaluation, even though it denied me of an additional 165,466 words of written material, meaning that my yearly output for 2020-2021 would have been 551,267, over half a million.

The daily calculations tab of my "writing count" Excel spreadsheet. It was a busy day.

The daily calculations tab of my "writing count" Excel spreadsheet. It was a busy day.

A snapshot of my year to date writing activity

A snapshot of my year to date writing activity

To get a word count from the Android version of Microsoft Word, click on the light  bulb, accessed by the up arrow on the editing tool bar, and start typing "word count."

To get a word count from the Android version of Microsoft Word, click on the light bulb, accessed by the up arrow on the editing tool bar, and start typing "word count."

Tale of The Tape

Don't think a cool breeze in my back blew me to 1,057 words per day - no, I had to struggle against gale force winds. The path was laced with land mines along the way, and many of them blew up in my face, knocking me into a slippery trench that I crawled out of on my elbows. All the same I emerged from the trough, spit out the shrapnel, and limped to the finish line.

I include this tale of how I wobbled my way to the goal because it illuminates how a writer can be derailed from his proposed course of action and still get back on track, even after weeks missing in action.

Up until October 4, 2020, I was writing 90.4% of all days, averaging the same 1,057 words that would end up to be my final. After that, disaster struck. My life in Southern California suffered a tectonic shift, nearly sliding into the abyss of the San Andreas. Between October 5, 2020 and Christmas Eve (Dec. 24), 2020, I wrote only twelve times, a pathetic 14.9% of all days. There was a 33 day span in there where I wrote nothing at all, not so much as a shopping list. By the time Santa was parking his reindeer on the roof and looking in vain for a chimney into my hearth-less Colorado apartment - where I cooled my hills after a heated flight from California, my writing percentage had sunk to 60.9%. My daily average had tumbled like a Rocky Mountain avalanche to a shaky 705 words.

But like that chain smoker who has been stranded on a desert island lights one up as soon as he gets back to civilization, I had developed a craving for the routine, and was eager to get back into it. Because Santa could not find an opening into my spiritless abode, on the day my rebound began I gave myself my own Christmas present, 2680 words. From there until the end of the writing year on May 31 I wrote 94.3% of all days, for an average of 1517 words. This elevated my final tally to the same 1,057 I had maintained prior to when calamity pole-vaulted my Southern California fence.

The point I am making is that it is easy for writers to be discouraged, and to perhaps abandon their aspirations in the face of adversity. But adversity is a blizzard that mother nature cannot sustain forever, it blows over sooner or later. So don't be afraid to put down your pen or lock up your lap top for a little while. The muses can be fickle, persnickety bitches but they don't get out much, they'll still be there when you get back from exile.

The muses are fickle bitches, but they'll still be there when you get back from exile.

The muses are fickle bitches, but they'll still be there when you get back from exile.

Paper Tigers

In all of my misdirected, hobbling humility I am the first to admit that one plan is not write for all writers. Being a numbers and statistics geek, some would say freak, keeping score keeps me motivated. But as my own worst critic, I have to ask myself if I am sometimes sacrificing quality to race ahead on word count. However, because there are days I am scraping out the word-count bilges at a sludgy 750, and others where I am polishing the brightwork at the top of the masthead at 1,250, I don't think this is too much of a serious issue, for me. Sometimes, to verify a fact to maintain suspension of disbelief in a tale, I have to slam on the brakes and do a google search. Frequently, to avoid the redundancy of sounding redundant, I pause and look up a synonym. The biggest impediment to the flow is getting my brain jump-started at 5:30 in the morning. In those wee, twilit hours, it's hard to find anybody around with cables. It takes a minute for the coffee to get brewing. Until the whiff of steaming java drifts beneath my nostrils, I am a mess.

This daily routine is not difficult for me, because what the else am I going to do at age 57 besides write, right? My brittle bones can't take getting slammed down by waves on a surfboard, or stumbling hard on the snow trying to ski. I don't party until the wee hours anymore either, so I'm not rolling over in bed, hitting the snooze button to honor a howling, honking hangover. Usually my back is ready to get out of bed before I am, so I would say my lower back has actually been at the forefront of getting to me to stick to a disciplined plan.

But perhaps you, dear aspiring writer, are still in your hale and hearty twenties or thirties. While you want to write, you really intend to start writing any day now, you're a skittish racehorse stuck at the starting gate. It could be you have to clean crying baby butts at 5:30 AM. It could be that the mirror still compliments you when you rise at the break of dawn, and there are plenty of pretty little distractions dogging your footsteps out and about town. I understand both those things - you've got to make time for your babies before they fly the nest, which they will soon enough, and if you're a single guy or gal you've got to enjoy your hormones before they fly south.

So my suggestion to you, oh envied young one, is to set your goal smaller. Make it 500 words a day, or some fraction that fits your active lifestyle. You can stop in at a Starbucks on your way to a date and punch out 500 in 45 minutes. You can sit in the parking lot after work and scratch them off in an instant, without anybody noticing you were missing in action for that blink of an eye. The point is, even though you might not believe it now, feeling good and thinking you're going to live forever, 57 sneaks up on you from 27 real fast, to boot you in the behind. So if you start small today, doing only 180,000 words a year, one 500 word half-brick at a time, you'll still have five and a half million words notched into your belt leather by the time you're my age. That is, if you wear a belt, which is kind of an old fart thing. Think about it - that's 54 standard 100,000 word novels, composed and compiled while dedicating a mere 3.125 % of your day toward it. It leaves the other 97 percent free for mindless fun. Then, at age 57, when your vitality is drained and you have nothing better to do, you can finally get serious about writing.

Words add up, if you let them. Books look thick and intimidating, but in reality they are mere paper tigers - big, bulky pushovers. Don't let them stare you down. Get busy now, start pumping out your words at a snail's pace, and pretty soon War and Peace's 587,000 words will seem as easy as the 272 of the Gettysburg address. Write on your notepad, on your laptop, or on the back of an envelope if you need to, like Abe Lincoln did the latter. But just write.

Comments

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 07, 2021:

You are quite a prolific writer of groundbreaking biological topics, Linda, so whatever method you are using is certainly working already. But if this helps in the slightest way I am flattered. I appreciate you dropping in!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 06, 2021:

This is a great article, Mel. It's interesting, useful, and encouraging. I'm going to copy some of your techniques. Thank you for sharing them.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 06, 2021:

Thanks Greg - I love that saying what gets measured gets done. Fortunately, the mobile versions of both Excel and Word work very well on my phone, so I have had no need to use Sheets yet. But they are probably both compatible, I can paste a word doc into google docs, so the same probably holds true for Excel and Sheets. I really appreciate your contribution to the discussion.

greg cain from Moscow, Idaho, USA on August 06, 2021:

Mel - this is outstanding, very well-written advice. We used to tell our folks this when I was in the service: what gets measured gets done. It’s true as can be, and your practical suggestion for how to do it is pretty easy to implement. Google has a free spreadsheet platform, too, so you don’t have to buy Excel if you don’t already have it. I use some of each because I like that I can access Sheets from any of my devices. I think this could be helpful when trying to stack up my word count on the move. And…I already use spreadsheets to track all manner of my cycling activities and other daily rituals/routines/streaks. Thanks for the very practical article, Mel!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 06, 2021:

Thank you Meg. You are like me in doing your best work before punching the clock. As far as writing in a notebook or folder though, those days are over for me. I cannot literally put pen to paper anymore and if I did, whi could read my scrawl? I appreciate you dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 06, 2021:

Thank you John. The problem is that one can only write so much before brain burnout. The reason I write in the morning is that by afternoon my IQ has been reduced to near-vegetable status, then it's time to get out a shovel or the lawn mower and do some grunt work. You seem to do a lot of great work in addition to your free lancing. Thanks for dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 06, 2021:

Thank you Pamela. The great thing about Hub Pages is it counts your words for you, right at the top of each text capsule. I really appreciate you dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 06, 2021:

Thanks Bill. Even this mailman might need a Fitbit. Last winter packed some hibernation pounds around my belly, and I still haven't sweated them off.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 06, 2021:

Thank you bhattuc I am glad I was able to deliver something helpful.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on August 06, 2021:

Very interesting. I am on an average writing about 600 words a day but most of that is forums, Q & A etc so towards articles it is hardly 200 to 300 words a day making me to complete an article not before 20 days. You have given some good ideas to streamline our words per day.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on August 06, 2021:

Great advice. Years ago, when I was still employed and before computers came along in work (!), I kept a folder on my desk and wrote in it every day, as soon as I sat down and before starting work. It was only a paragraph of something that had caught my attention while driving to work but it was useful looking back over it if I wanted to write something. Quite often, one of the paragraphs fitted in nicely to a story and helped me along.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 06, 2021:

Thank you for sharing these tips on how to write 1000 words a day, and an update on what you have been up to, Mel. Congratulations on your output and dedication.

In my freelance writing, I have no problems writing 1000 words per day for clients so why do I have that problem writing what I want for myself? I may do that about once or twice per month, but not every day. You really showed that it is possible so that you for that inspiration. I will pass it on to my muse. Good to hear from you here at HP. Take care.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 06, 2021:

I think you are probably much more organized than most of us. I do have Excel, and it is a terrific program. I have never tracked the number of words I write. I think it is a good plan for you, but I am not writing a novel, just some article foe Hubpages. This is a very interesting method and a good way of pushing yourself each day, Mel.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 06, 2021:

Clever you, using a spreadsheet. Excellent suggestion! This isn't a problem for me, but I know I am more motivated to exercise since I purchased a Fitbit. The constant reminder to take more steps has actually worked for me, so why not with writing...right? Well done, you!

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