500 words of fiction a day

Setting a daily word count goal that works for me in a sustainable way, without feeling pressured by what others are doing ...

500 words of fiction a day
Photo by Alexa Williams on Unsplash

So, last evening, after I realized how much I tend to dither on any goal I set for myself, whether lofty or small, I decided to set myself a fiction writing goal of 500 words/day.

I know. I know. I've done this before, and we all know how that story has ended countless times.

I'd set this goal. Then I'd get to writing the next day with much gusto and reach for more and more, sometimes 1,500+, sometimes 2,000 words or more. And then there'd be a crash landing for the next few days, with the word counts dwindling.

This is probably the equivalent of trying to run a marathon on day one, without any prior practice, and then trying to run another marathon on the next day, only to fall flat on my face and not be able to get up from bed for the next few days.

So what's different this time?

I'll sit down to write, not get up until I've crossed the 500-word count mark, and beyond that if I'm still continuing to write, I'll stop at the 1-hour limit or earlier.

I'm usually able to write 500 words in less than half an hour. It may take a little longer on days when I'm struggling with Critical Voice.

But most importantly, I find that when I aim for much higher word count goals right off the bat, it is exhausting for me. And when I stop writing for 2—3 days after that, it becomes that much harder to return to the manuscript.

And lots of drama happens in the interim. Critical Voice keeps nagging at me. Even when I'm doing other things, there's this constant worry in the back of my head that I haven't written for the day, or that 2—3 days have gone by without me having written any fiction. And that simply kills all joy and pleasure in every other aspect of my life.

So a modest daily goal is good for me. And 500 words per day of fiction is my target.

My aim will be to get to it first thing in the morning after dropping off D at school.

There will be some ocassions, like tomorrow when we have to head out for an appointment in the morning, or on the weekends and on holidays when D would be at home and we'd be hanging out together, whether indoors or outdoors, when getting to the manuscript first thing in the morning may not be possible.

In those instances, I can certainly spend the last half an hour of my day penning 500 words of fiction.

Will that be easy? Of course not. But that's the whole point. To keep at it even when it becomes challenging.

I think this practice will strengthen my writing muscles for the long term, and also yield me more finished words in the long run.

I took stock of my wordcount so far in this writing challenge. From April 1—May 28, over a total of 58 days, I wrote 13,773 words of fiction. That amounts to about 238 words per day.

So clearly, aiming for super-high (for me) wordcounts right off the bat resulted in a worse outcome than I'd have otherwise achieved had I aimed for a more modest but steady daily goal.

On the contrary, I've been able to write about 800 words/day of non-fiction, these blog posts essentially, over the same duration.

Blogs are easy for me. I think a lot and I have a lot to say about writing and about feelings, about emotions and about life. I am so unabashedly me when it comes to blog posts that Critical Voice doesn't rear its head when I'm writing a post.

Sure, it crops up later, badgering me for writing personal posts instead of SEO-favoured how-to posts that promise to solve other people's problems.

I've reached a point in my life where I'm able to say 'I don't care!' That's the beauty of being in my 40s. When I say 'I don't care', I really mean it. Unlike when I was in my 20s, and 'I don't care' actually meant 'I'm just saying I don't care but actually I do care a hell of a lot what others think of me because I really, really, really want to be loved by everyone.'

That's the spirit of unabashed and bold authenticity that I wish to bring over to my fiction writing too. And I do believe a daily practice of getting to the manuscript and typing out words is essential for me to get over that initial resistance and whatever doubts tend to keep coming back. Because the longer I stay away from the manuscript, the harder it becomes to return to it.

So setting myself a fiction word count goal of a minimum of 500 words/day is great for me at this point in my writing journey.

Sure, there are experts and professional writers writing 10—20 times that on a daily basis, but I admit I am no expert. It does not mean I'm not as passionate about writing. I am, which is why I'm looking to adopt a grown-up mindset of long-term sustainability instead of an adolescent attitude of crash and burn.

June will be a good time for me to challenge myself to maintain this 500 words/day streak. Summer holidays will begin, D's birthday and celebrations, planning for the summer ... there'll be lots going on and I wish to soak up as much of life as is offerred to me.

Even though Dean may say this is a time of Great Forgetting because we tend to head outdoors and enjoy the beautiful weather and forget about writing at this time of the year, I don't wish to be sitting indoors, writing, when I could be playing with my child, watching him fill bowls of water and pour them on a muddy patch, so that he can run his cars through the muck and eventually paint some of that muck over himself. I don't wish to miss out on any of this beautiful stuff that life brings.

And I am very very lucky and extremely grateful that I am under no pressure to produce a novel a week or 100 books in a year or any such arbitrary deadline that may work for others but not for me and my life circumstances.

I am very very lucky that I can set a modest word count goal without it hurting my physical, emotional or financial safety. And I am grateful to KrA and D and this Universe for that privilege!

As a bunch of life stuff is coming up, this will also be a good exercise for me to reflect the day before as to when I'd write the following day. Setting that intention for the following day would get me to the manuscript way more often than not.

For instance, I knew there was a bunch of non-writing stuff to be tackled today, so I had already planned to write right after dropping D off at school. And that worked. I wrote about 600 words of fiction and was tempted to keep writing, all other tasks be damned. Uh oh! I've been down that path too often without any good results. So I reined myself in, attended to life stuff, and came here to write this post.

Now I'm off to attend to more life stuff, knowing I've met my writing goals for the day. If that nagging voice crops up in the back of my head to tell me I should have written more or that I'd never be able to write a whole lot at this rate of 500 words/day, I have enough data from the writing challenge so far and sound arguments to send it skittering away to sulk in some concealed corner.

Life is fun when my energy and outlook are good. And that's really the most important thing, even more important than writing, for me. To remain optimistic and have a positive and trusting energy towards life.

This lesson has been a long time in the learning for me, and I am determined to keep reminding myself of this every single morning, every single day, every single night.

That I have a choice. That I can choose a more helpful thought. And that when I am firmly grounded in my self-worth and self-trust, life offers endless possibilities for me. Thank you, Universe!