5 Steps to Writing 2,000 Words a Day
If you tell someone you’re writing a novel, I’d stake my fiddle leaf fig tree that you’ve heard one of the following statements:
“Oh, I’m writing a novel too.”
“I started writing mine five years ago…”
“I know someone writing a novel. My (mom, uncle, friend, dog, ad nauseum…)…”
You hear these less often:
“I finished my first draft last week.”
“I’ve been getting really productive feedback from my beta readers.”
“I’m racing to meet my goal for editing my novel’s second act.”
The first category would be fine, except that most people never make it out. Writing never changes to written.
I used to be stuck in the first category, but I clawed my way into the second. If you want to make the same jump, the biggest monster you’re going to have to defeat is procrastination. I can’t diagnose why we procrastinate, but what I can do is try to hand you the stick I use to beat procrastination back and hope you can do the same.
Step One: Realize Writing Will Never Be Convenient
Before you can defeat procrastination, you have to adopt the belief that there will never be a convenient time to write. Seriously, engrave that idea on your heart. You have to expect that your brain is going to start feeding you an unending list of reasons why today just isn’t working out.
Prepare for those thoughts. Identify the most common excuses your brain feeds you and have answers ready. Here are mine:
Excuse: My hair is dirty. I need to wash it before I head to the coffee shop to write.
Answer: Wear a hat.
Excuse: It’s late. The coffee shop is only open for three more hours.
Answer: Great, that’ll give me at least two and half hours to write.
Figure yours out, and then have your answers ready to go. Write them down if you have to. The excuses your brain makes will never stop, and if you listen to them, you’ll never find a convenient time to write.
Step Two: Avoid Productivity Traps
I wrote a blog post once called “Don’t Clean Your Room Before You Write.” While a little hyperbolic, the idea is an important one. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the preparation that we never get around to actually writing. It’s easy to get caught up in a never-ending cycle of getting your plot outline just right or making sure your room is perfectly organized so that you can focus.
I call the little things we do to help us write better “productivity traps.” Productivity traps are preparatory actions that we think will help us be more productive but actually keep us stuck in the prewriting phase.
If you want to get your project written, you have to prioritize actually writing. Do your plot outline. Push the crap off your desk. But don’t get stuck getting ready to write instead of putting down one word after another.
Step Three: Set Specific Deadlines
Setting a deadline for finishing my first draft was critical for upping my word count to 2,000 words a day. Before that I was inconsistent. I wrote only when I felt like it, and it didn’t lead to much progress.
Eventually, I decided I wanted to take finishing my novel seriously. I picked March 30 as my goal date. I estimated what my total word count would be and figured how much I’d have to write a day to make that happen. It came out to be just below 2,000 words a day. Having a specific date to shoot for kicked my butt into gear.
I’d recommend picking something on the ambitious side. If you can find a goal that will be just the right amount of challenge, then you’ll be energized by your progress.
The best part is that you can always adjust if you need to. I ended up finishing my first draft on April 14. It was two weeks after my original goal, but meeting the specific date wasn’t the point. It was having that date to aim for that gave my process the structure it needed to move forward at a steady pace.
Step Four: Get Pumped Up
Feel free to laugh at me on this one. Every time I sat down to work on my first draft, I listened to “Godzilla (feat. Juice WRLD)” by Eminem. There was something about that song that made me feel like I could do anything. I was a novel-drafting bad-a**. It helped me jump right into writing, instead of messing around on the computer or giving in to whatever other temptations were hanging around.
I recommend you find an equivalent. You need something that gets you excited for what you’re about to do. It could be your own pump-up song or it could be a special coffee drink you only allow yourself to have when you’re working on your novel. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it gets you excited to work.
Step Five: Set a Writing Timer
This last tip is specifically to assuage the biggest hydra head of procrastination: social media addiction. I use an app for this, but your phone timer will work as well. Set your timer for 25-30-minute work intervals. Then allow yourself five minutes of a break between each one. That way, every time your brain prompts you to check your phone, you can tell it you’ll get a chance when the timer goes off.
I’ve found it’s much easier to allow yourself a short interval to look at your phone every half hour than to try to drop it fully for your entire writing session.
The battle against procrastination can make a writer feel a little like Sisyphus. No matter how many of its iterations you defeat, it always shows up again in some new and clever way. My hope is that these tips help you win more battles than you lose, and that you find some of your own. Happy writing!