A common question writers have is how they can be more productive and get more done. Joanna Penn from The Creative Penn has some great tips on doing just that.
I’d like to share a method I’ve discovered that combines much of her advice into one single method: the Twitter monthly writing challenge. I didn’t create this method, but it’s been incredible for helping me meet my writing goals.
The Twitter Monthly Writing Challenge
There may be more than one of these dandy little writing challenges in existence, but the one I’m talking about is based at WritingChallenge.org. It’s premise is simple:
Commit to writing 500 words a day, every day. If you are in the editing phase of your current work in progress (WIP), commit to a one hour of editing each day.
My Experience So Far
My novel is something I picked up about a year ago after letting it fester for a LONG time (the earliest date in my files is 1999) when I recommitted to fiction writing and editing after many years of work on nonfiction writing and academic editing. I’ve been working on it on and off since then. My in-person critique group has been supremely helpful in giving me a once-a-month goal of at least ten new pages. However, it was still slow going, and I kept letting other things take priority over my writing.
Then, in mid-July, I got some great advice while listening to one of Brandon Sanderson’s Brigham Young University lectures on novel writing. In these lectures, Sanderson talks about more than just the craft of writing. He also covers the business of writing. In one lecture, he mentioned that for a serious writer to write about two novels a year, he or she should be writing a at least a couple thousand words a week.
I got to thinking about that. It’s a reasonable goal, even for someone working full time, as long as they are willing to make the writing a priority. I know it’s a long road from part-time to full-time writer (Sanderson and others know it can take 10 years or more), but you gotta start somewhere.
So, I set myself a goal of 500 words a day. I figured that even with misses here and there, it would definitely amp up my word count quickly and help me write at least 2000 words a week. It also reinforced what everyone, Internet memes included, have been telling me: that it’s better to have a complete, awful first draft than to have a few perfect chapters but ne’er a finished draft.
I needed to quit nitpicking over every little word and just get the first draft done, but how could I bring my editor self around to this point of view?
Scrivener is now my go-to program for writing (I am writing in it now). It has this handy-dandy little Project Target window. You can set your goal for each session (in my case 500 words), and it keeps track for you, with a pretty little colored bar that moves from red to green as you get closer and closer to your goal. Yes, I’m using that now too. The Project Target window also keeps track of your overall word count. This is especially handy for novels.
How did this help me with my editor self? Well, it turns out that Scrivener keeps track of your NET ADDED words for the session. This means that every time I cut something, I have to add at least that many words back plus the 500 to meet my goal. So, I learned that I could edit all I wanted as long as my overall word count was 500 words greater than it had been the day before. I could live with that, especially since I tend to start with skeleton scenes and go back to flesh them out and add detail later. I have the choice every day of writing fresh, new scenes or editing old scenes as long as I am still growing my story (or blog, like I am today).
The Writing Challenge
After I had used my 500-words-a-day goal for about a week, I discovered some of my Twitter friends tweeting about the #AugWritingChallenge. At first, I thought it was just a thing where people would tweet back and forth to help keep each other accountable, but I soon learned there was a website and even a shared spreadsheet to help writers keep track of how they are doing day to day. The monthly writing coaches get in there every day to give encouraging feedback and shout outs to everyone participating. It’s great to be a newbie member of this community.
(Almost) Every day, I get my words done, log them on my own personal spreadsheet, log them into the WritingChallenge.org spreadsheet, and then Tweet my progress and thoughts with the hashtag #SeptWritingChallenge. I make sure to send as much encouragement as I can to other participating writers. Finally, I wait for that nice little shout out from the monthly challenge leader. I do this even on days that I don’t write because I want to give a like to those that made it.
The Results So Far
So, sure I’ve missed some days. In August, I got sidetracked pretty quickly because of a community play I was involved with (didn’t I mention something about priorities earlier?). However, I was committed to climbing back on the bandwagon in September, despite an 11-day travel schedule, and I did.
So, here are my statistics so far for this month:
Sept. 1-Sept 18
Days Participated: 15
Total Added Words: 696 to my journal and 10,616 to my novel
Average Daily Word Count (including skipped days): 628
They may not mean much to you, but if I continue this trend, that’s over 229,000 words a year. Definitely a couple of novels worth (or more)! This is concrete evidence for me that my novel can and will get done. I will get the first draft out and into the editing stage, and I will start on the next.
How the Writing Challenge Fits into Joanna Penn’s Productivity Methods
1. Schedule Your Time: In the writing challenge, you have to log in your words every day before bedtime. This works much better when you have a set time every day to get it done.
2. Reward Yourself: Or have someone else do it for you via the monthly challenge leaders!
3. Become Accountable: You do this by adding your word counts to the database and tweeting your progress every day. You can also help other writers out by liking and retweeting their writing challenge posts and letting them know you are rooting for them as well.
4. Set Deadlines: See #1.
5. Spend More Hours in the Chair: Again, to meet the challenge, you have to put in the time. Five hundred words a day is a perfectly reasonable goal (that you can speed up using dictation) that can result in some big long-term rewards.
I am so psyched about this progress that I am even contemplating participating in National Novel Writing Month (aka NanoWriMo) or the first time this year. In NanoWriMo, the goal is 50,000 words in one month or 1667 words a day. If I don’t do it, it will be because I want to forge ahead to finish this novel before starting another, but it’s definitely worth considering.
I hope some of you will give the monthly writing challenges a try. See you on Twitter!
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