The 500 words that changed my writing life

For some reason I like when the first of the month falls on a Monday. This seems like a great opportunity for a fresh start. It’s like new years but without all the baggage. I have gotten back on the writing horse with 500 words a day. I got out of the habit of writing 500 words a day, even though that strategy got me through my dissertation. My goal is to write at least 500 words everyday this week on this article I’m working on. Today I managed 522 words.

Other people have asked me how I do my 500 words so I thought I would share it here:
Routine for writing 500 words a day

  1. Before I start writing I write down the word count and add 500 to it so that I can see my target number of words
  2. I write  – some days are easier than others. Some days it’s like pulling teeth to get to 500 and on others I just sail there in an hour or less. I can’t always predict what days will be what. It depends on my mood, the material, if I have an idea or not, and if I know where I’m going.
  3. I write 500 words for 5 or 6 days a week
  4. If I write more than 500 words on one day that does not subtract from the words I can write on the next day. Also, I cannot write less than 500 words, but if I do, the missing words do not accumulate to the next day. (For me I write so incrementally b/c the idea of having to produce a massive amount on one day overwhelms me. So it would be counterproductive to let my words accumulate to a later date)

I like writing 500 words because I need to be able to quantify my productivity with words on the page. I tried working for an hour a day or some specific time period and I would just not write for 2 hours. I would stare at the computer screen. So I had to start counting words. I like knowing that I can realistically write 10,000 words a month and knowing that helps me to plan what I can get done. I feel a little bit like an infomercial. Just send cash or money order to living academically if you found this advice helpful. 500 words a day changed my life, and for just $9.99 it can change yours too!

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  • a  On October 2, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    this seems like a great idea. i have trouble with starting to write though? do you write outlines? I am also a postdoc, and writing in grad school was the hardest part. It’s a big part of my postdoc. my PI is big into outlines first so I am currently stuck on this part. Would an outline count towards your 500 words?

  • Another Postdoc  On October 2, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Hi a, thanks for the comment. To answer your question I do write outlines. I need to see where I’m going before I begin. I wrote a large outline for my diss overall and then for each chapter. I am not one of those people who can just sit down and write – but I know some people who can do that so I would not discount just “sitting down and writing.” I think some people also free write by hand to get started. For me, an outline would not count toward the 500 words, BUT that does not mean that other people could not include it in their word count. Including outlines in writing goals sounds like a great idea:)

  • Inchoate Ph.D.  On October 8, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    This sounds like an excellent plan, especially if you know that it has worked for you in the past. I’m hoping to get onto a similar pattern but so far teaching and service demands keep getting in the way. It’s past time for me to stop letting them do so, and I’m going to try to take your success as a model to get myself moving (albeit on a most likely smaller daily scale). Thanks for the inspiration!


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