500 February: Thoughts
March has arrived finally, and the 500 February challenge is over. The challenge, for those who didn’t see my updates over last month, was to write 500 words every day for the month of February. The hope was that by the end of the month, the writer would have 14,500 new words in their drafts. I posted (more or less) daily updates on my progress. Unfortunately, I didn’t post from the 23-29th, and that was because I didn’t make myself write those days. I’ll touch on why that happened later in this post. I wanted to take the time, though, to make a post about the experience of doing this challenge and how that relates to the everyday life of a writer.
So how did I do? If we’re looking purely at numbers, I failed this challenge. I wrote 12,710 words (as opposed to the estimated 14,500), and I only wrote for 18 days of the 29. That said, I don’t necessarily feel like I failed the challenge, I wrote 12,710 words that wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t done this challenge.
What does 12,710 words really mean? Throwing around numbers can be kind of vague. So I wanted to talk briefly about what I actually did this month. I wrote the last section of my novel, which took about half of the words in my total for the month. I also finished the first draft of a creative nonfiction piece and a short story. Lastly, I started writing a second creative nonfiction piece, and got about two-thirds of the way through a second short story.
My thoughts on the whole experience?
At the beginning of February, it took me a while to get into the swing of writing. The first few days, I felt like I was dragging my fingertips slowly, agonizingly across sandpaper. It was really difficult for me to write fluidly. I was easily distracted and checked my word count about every hundred words. As the month progressed, that tendency went away. I could more easily approximate where my word count was at, and it felt like more of a joy to write. There were even a few days throughout the month, where I was having so much fun writing, that I went well above the word count. I felt like I was fairly consistent with writing throughout the month. I wrote almost every week day, and I sometimes wrote on the weekend. The last six days of the month, I didn’t write at all, because I had a lot of work to do and I wasn’t feeling well. I had to force my full attention on my school work to make sure that it got done (or that the most important things got done), and I didn’t have the energy left to write afterward. I’m still really bummed that I wasn’t able to write those days, but I realize that it’s something that happens in life, especially if you’re a writer and a student.
What tips would I give?
Even though 500 February is over, that doesn’t mean that we have to stop writing every day. I thought that I could give a little bit of advice on what it takes to write consistently for people who aren’t used to doing it.
- Pick a time to write.
By scheduling a time to write, you’re committing to your craft. It’s easier to forget to write if you’re vague about when you’re going to do it (ex: I’ll write tomorrow). If you pick a specific time to write, and only write, and commit to that time, then you’ll be more likely to actually do it (ex: I’ll write tomorrow morning at 8:30 after breakfast/ I’ll write for fifteen minutes between two of my classes/ I’ll write for ten minutes during my lunch break). Having a time that is your writing time can be really essential for making sure that you write on a consistent basis.
- Have a goal.
Goals create a significant end point, so that you know how much you want to get done. The goal during 500 February was to write 500 words a day. If you’re unsure of how to create a good goal for yourself, I’d suggest starting with a 500 words a day goal. 500 words is a pretty easy goal to reach, but it’s a large enough goal that you really feel like you’re progressing in your writing. Of course, this word count goal might not work well for everyone, especially poets or flash fiction writers. In those cases, maybe your goal could be based on time (ex: I’ll write for 30 minutes) or content (ex: I’ll write a poem/ two stanza/ a paragraph). Most importantly, make sure that your goal is something achievable but challenging. If you’re new to writing every day, you probably shouldn’t be setting a goal to 5,000 words a day. And if you’re an experienced daily writer, 100 words might not be challenging you enough, and raising your goal to 300 words might work better for you.
- Know, approximately, how long it will take you to reach your goal.
This relates a lot to the last two tips, because knowing how long it will take you to write a certain number of words (your goal) will allow you to plan how much time you need for your writing session. This will take some time to figure out, and I suggest spending a couple weeks recording your word count and how long it took you to do it. For me, I take about 20-30 minutes to write 500 words, but I know, from NaNoWriMo, that a lot of people can write that amount in 10-15 minutes. Knowing my normal speed, I like to plan my writing time during a section of my day where I have a lot of time (usually I have about 1.5 hours, which gives me a nice buffer if it takes me longer than normal to write or if I get carried by the writing and go on to write 1,000 words instead of 500). Also, if you do have kind of a slower word count time, like me, don’t stress about it. As you write more, your speed will increase.
- Track your progress.
This is something that I rarely see on tip lists, but it is so important for your morale to track your progress. If I hadn’t been tracking my progress throughout February, I probably would have been really mad at myself for not writing every day, instead of being excited that I wrote over twelve thousand words. Plus, keeping track of your progress will help you see which days you actually write and which ones you don’t. I track my progress two different ways. 1. I have a sticker chart in my bullet journal. I drew little boxes with dates on them and put a sticker in them on days that I write. 2. There’s a website called Pacemaker.press that can track your progress as a graph. I use both of these, instead of just one, because the sticker chart makes me happy and gives me a good look at how often I’m writing, and the website helps me track how much I’m actually writing. Pacemaker is also great, because you can set writing goals. The program will then calculate word count (or page or scene) goals for you based off of your goal.
- Make yourself accountable.
This one is pretty important, if you’re one of those people who commonly skips out on doing things that don’t have consequences. Accountability can really be anything from texting your best friend that you’ve written 500 words for the day and hit your goal, tweeting that you’ve done that, or, in my case, making blog posts about your progress. Sticker charts and writing charts can help you be accountable as well, but I find that doing something that has a human component is more helpful, because humans can be encouraging. They can get excited for you, and charts really can’t do that.
- Don’t beat yourself up for missing a day.
It will happen. Life will sometimes demand that you focus on things other than writing. Sometimes you’ll be sick, or you’ll oversleep, or you might just forget to write. If that happens, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t start thinking that, because you missed one day, you’re going to lose all of your progress. Just do your best to write the next day. It’ll all be okay.
- Start a short piece if you have writer’s block.
This happened to me a couple of times this month. I sat down to work on my novel, and it just wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t in the write mood to work on it, or I didn’t know what I should write next. If that happens, go find a random prompt (there are so many online) and just write off of that until you hit your goal for the day. One of my favorite pieces of writing from this month came out of doing a random prompt I had thought of.
- If you get the writing bug at a time outside of your appointed one, jump on it and write!
There were several times, mostly on weekends, where I got hit with an idea for a short piece. Instead of sorting away that thought to write about later, as I normally do, I immediately went to my laptop and started writing. One day, that resulted in my writing over 1,000 words of a creative nonfiction piece.
- Take editing days.
This is one thing that I didn’t do, but wish I had. I’m one of those people who feels like writing and editing days should be separate (they really shouldn’t be, I just have it in my mind that they are). In February I only took one editing day (the 23rd) to work on a piece I was submitting to a literary magazine. I wish I had taken more, because I really want to read over and make some of my pieces from this month better.
- Have a writing space.
This is probably the least important for me out of all of this tips. Some people might find it helpful, though. Having a dedicated writing space, one where you only use to write, can be really helpful to some people, because it puts them into the mood to write. I tend to sit at the same table every morning, but I don’t use it exclusively for writing. I do think, though, that there are certain places where I feel it’s easier to write than others. I hate writing in cafeterias, for example, because there are too many people and it’s too loud.
I also want to make a note that creating a writing space doesn’t have to mean finding a physical space. You can make a writing playlist that you only listen to while writing that gets you in the mood. Or you can get a drink that you only get for your writing time. Or something else that makes your writing time more enjoyable and separates it from other times during the day.
I hope that this post was helpful. I really enjoyed doing 500 February this past month. Thank you to everyone who followed my posts and kept me optimistic by liking and commenting on them. I hope that you all have a wonderful day, and that you’re writing sessions go well.