Write one thousand words
No days off no matter what
My personal goal
Years ago, I accepted the suggestion of 1,000 words written every day that I discovered in reading Carolyn See’s life-changing Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers.
See suggested that 1,000 words was sufficient to confidently declare to any and all that you are a writer. At the time, I craved validation from others more than I’d like to admit. Then, I desperately needed to bring my private words out into the light and send them toddling off into the world. Since she took weekends off, See encouraged the prospective writer to produce their 1,000 words five days a week.
Only five days a week?
That wasn’t good enough for me. I decided to set my eyes on 1,000 words every day, mainly because I thrive on daily routines that can be cemented solidly into place — I actually do them because the infernal, yammering Ego self wallops me hard until I get the commitment done, meaning that I am then free to waft, wonder, and wander with the blissful relief of knowing that I’ve done what I said that I would do.
It would be difficult to exaggerate how terribly hard the first day of the 1,000 word march was. I opened my PC, created a new file, arranged my hands on the keyboard and typed an excellent title and then spaced down for the words to come.
The words didn’t come. I sat for perhaps an hour, staring at my hands on the keyboard, the blank screen, and the clock on the wall. This was the worst idea that I’d ever had. Whose idea was it for me to go after this dumb challenge anyway? It’s not like I was going to get anything for it.
I am a blessedly stubborn person. Since I said I was going to do it (if only to myself), I was in it until there were 1,000 words on the page. Passing out was not an escape from the commitment. It was death or get it done.
Somehow, some way, I managed the 1,000 words. It took me all day, full-on willpower buckled perilously tight, full-on dramatic sighs that no one heard but me. The way that I finally managed it was to goad myself into writing 100 words at a shot. The 100 done, I was free (I told you that I have a nasty taskmaster Ego) to get another cup of coffee, stare out the window, clean a toilet, go out and get the mail, pat the dog, think about a snack and realize that there was nothing to good to eat in the house so I had to start a grocery list. Refreshed, renewed and eager to end this living hell, I’d return to the couch and pound out the next 100 words.
If this day sounds like a terrible slog, let me assure you it was ten times worse than anything you can imagine. If memory serves (and that’s what I’ll have to rely upon because bossy Ego left the room to check on the facts), I think I finished the last word of that awful 1,000 sometime around 11:00 p.m. that night — having started around 7 or 8 a.m.
The next day was not any better. In some ways it was worse because I knew what I was in for — and I was still an agonized mess from the prior day. However, being the commitment lover that I am, I did it anyway. With serious quantities of chocolate, I achieved 1,000 words 12 hours later. Again, I started in the morning, slammed words onto the page in breathless sprints, and kept going with long, luxuriant breaks during which I breathed, pulled my shoulders down from around my ears, and questioned my sanity as I gobbled chocolate.
On the first Saturday of this terrible program, I assured myself that it would be perfectly fine if I took the day off — and Sunday as well. After all, it was the weekend — and Carolyn See said that it was okay to take days off. Fierce battle raged between my Ego self that adores stability, routine, and doing what I say I’m going to do and my soft spoken, weak and wifty, but sweet essential self that begged for time off to recover from this latest dumb Ego endeavor.
Ego won. I managed the 1,000 words — only it didn’t take anywhere near as long as it had during the week. There was a sixty minute window before I had to leave for an appointment and I couldn’t bear coming back home to have to face that blasted word counter that hadn’t hit 1,000 yet.
The result was hideous. It was awkward and astoundingly terrible writing.
I didn’t care. The words were done. It took not-so-clever or smooth cribbing from from other writers (Chris Baty, a founder of the National Novel Writing Month adventure says it’s okay, so I went with his view) and slowly, words hit the page until the word counter hit the magical 1,000.
Yup, I’d stood on the shoulders of literary giants and seen a glimpse of what it looks like from up there. It is marvelous, astonishing beauty well beyond inadequate, boundaried words.
I was hooked. From those early days, I’ve written 1,000 word free-form essays every single day, very occasionally taking a day off because I’m on the road, otherwise committed, or ill.
I continue to enjoy massive benefits of this deceptively simple habit that nearly slayed me at the start. For one thing, I’ve learned to write really, really, really fast. I can get 1,000 words written before the coffee has finished brewing — mainly because I really want the coffee while it’s hot and I honor my commitments to getting the words done, especially when I don’t want to have to face the 1,000 word commitment once I’ve been out in the world doing other things.
Another fantastic benefit is the ease with which I complete my annual NANORIMO commitment every November. I’m fast, confident, keep the novel draft flowing no matter what. Very occasionally, chocolate must be applied, but that’s okay because the word goals are met.
Another benefit that’s waving her arms from the cheap seats is a personal favorite. I’ve learned how not to care about the quality of what flows through my fingers. Let it flow, let it go, deal with the mess and mayhem later when I have to put on my editor hat. Often the results are wayward blots, but other times there are incredible gems that don’t even sound like something I would ever write. I live for those days, the days when I can pluck a shimmering line, a bit of insight, a wondering that I can offer one of my characters.
There are other benefits, to be sure, but it’s time for something completely different — and among the things that I have learned (sneaking one in under the radar of Ego tapping her foot) is how to move my focus from the screen and word count, clear my mind, look around and go out into the world and live — so I have something to write about if the words come clunky, slow, and awkward for the next day’s 1,000 word piece.
It’s time to thank Carolyn See for her brilliant writing. I thank her for Making a Literary Life with the encouragement that I needed on this gratifying, aggravating, confounding, and marvelous path.
See was born on January 13, 1934. When I researched her work, I learned that she died last year on July 13, 2016. Since I don’t believe in making a big deal about the day that you die, I’ve noted her birthday for a bang-up, full-on day of writing and reading merriment in 2018.
Happy Birthday early, Carolyn See — with deepest gratitude for sharing your own writer journey to light our way.