[The Writer's Life] A Writer's Challenge

There are many challenges for a writer, but this particular challenge came in the form of a Facebook page on January 1st: Write 500 words a day for the next month.

Easy-peasy, I’m a writer. That’s what I do. I signed up with over 1600 other members and began scribbling away like mad to meet the daily count.  I got some free writes done and I posted to my blog and I felt like a success. I posted my results on Facebook and received messages in response like, “Love it!” “Keep going!” and “Congrats!” I added words of encouragement of my own to the other writers.  

And then I began to think about it: Why do I have to be challenged to write?

It seems like a writer shouldn’t have to be challenged to write every day and yet there are hundreds of writers signed up on this site to do just that. What a ludicrous command for a writer. Hey, writer...why don’t ya write? Right? What else would I be doing?

How many times have I thrown down this same gauntlet to my writing students? I assign them to find a mere 10 to 15 minutes each day to write in their journals. Do it with your morning coffee, I suggest. Make it the last thing you do before you go to bed, I encourage. Always have your journal with you so you can write when waiting for a doctor’s appointment or picking up a child from soccer/dance/orthodontist, I admonish. On a boat, with a goat, in a moat. And yet, there I was, trying to stay committed to the challenge of 500 words a day...on Day 4.

Part of me was grateful for such a command when at the end of a day I remembered I didn’t write yet. It was motivating and not that hard, really. Five hundred words is a page; single-spaced and about 20 minutes of time. That’s nothing for a writer. If pressed (and I often am) I could write 500 words about my grocery list. So the challenge isn’t about the writing; it’s about the commitment.  Over the last 27 days I’ve been both successful and unsuccessful in staying true to 500 words a day. I have written (and “counted”) reports for my day job, essay revisions and press releases.  One night, after a full day of work and a lovely, but long, evening of babysitting, all I wanted to do is not do anything. I collapsed on the sofa in front of the TV, remote in hand; my laptop closed and quiet on the side table next to me. The threat of failure was too great...I grabbed the computer, wrote 522 words about being old and tired, closed it up and tuned in to Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. And I felt just fine about it.

I am glad that I signed up for this challenge. It kept me aware of the importance to stay true to my practice. It isn’t hard. It’s what I love and I have time and resources to do it. But do I have to be challenged to do it?  Wait, I know this one: Yes, because every day there are a hundred little interruptions that come along and threaten my resolve to put writing first. All writers talk about it all the time. Published and unpublished, in print and online. When the month is over and the challenge has ended, my new challenge will be to continue. Depending on which wives’ tale you believe, it takes 21 or 30 days to make a habit stick, so I’m almost there. I’ll let you know how it goes.


PS. This is today’s 500 words. I’m counting it.  

Can you write every day? Do you? Can you write 500 words a day in February?

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  • Juliana Lightle

    I agree with Tracy Slater.  I know some really good writers who post on blogs at least something they write every day and I see no point in it.  I suppose if this works for you, well, do it, but it seems like a waste of time to me.  Not that I have published a lot of books, just one and one almost ready for publication and paid to write technical stuff.  I think rather than advise "do this" for everyone, each person has to discover what works for her.  

  • I agree with all the comments. :) Last night I went to hear Anna Quindlen talk about her new book and she spoke about her "butt-in-chair" method of writing. We are all different writers and all have different methods of committing to our practice. I guess that's what the challenge meant to me--it was more of an exercise than a mandate. I know writers who write every morning without fail and I wish I had that kind of discipline. Others have incorporated writing into their careers (journalists, tech writers, grant writers, etc.) and that kind of work can keep the craft honed. I keep having to make the writing important as some of the "breaks" I've taken have lasted years! I was just happy that I could do it. Will I continue into February? We'll see...but I've already let the last few days slide! (Wait...how many words is this?) Thanks for the responses, ladies. It's a good conversation.

  • Yehudit Reishtein

    I should have mentioned in my post that my daily writing does not include the Sabbath, which as an Orthodox Jew I observe strictly. No work includes not using the computer, or cooking, cleaning, driving, watching TV, etc etc. So although I write daily, I do have a weekly break, which I do not count as interrupting my daily writing habit because it is built in to the framework of my life.

    Making writing a regular weekday habit, just insures that it gets done, like other habits, such as brushing my teeth, saying my prayers, and eating breakfast.

  • Patricia Robertson

    I agree with Tracy. I can write 500 words a day and have done it, but I don't feel I have to. Often I'm more productive if I take a couple of days off from writing then come back refreshed. Some of my most productive days are ones where I don't write a word, yet I'm thinking about my characters, exploring scenes and plot developments in my mind before a word hits the paper.

  • Tracy Slater

    I respectfully but vehemently disagree with the whole myth of the writer who writes everyday, and I've never understood why this has become such an oft-repeated belief in the writing community. Who does some kind of work every single day? And why do writers in particular feel such pressure to say they do?

    I wrote about this phenomenon when I first got my memoir book deal from Putnam last year (http://thegoodshufu.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/the-motherlode-pitch-that-started-the-essay-that-started-it-all/). I'm grateful and happy to say I've now finished the book and it's in production, and I still don't write every day, nor do I see the need to--or especially the need for writers to feel like they have to and they're failing if they're not.

    That said, Cindy, I'm glad you feel positive about the challenge and are excited about it and I hope it proves really fruitful for you!

  • Yehudit Reishtein

    Yes, I can write every day. I have developed a strong habit of writing first thing in the morning.  My particular challenge is writing 500 words. Some days the writing goes well, the ideas flow like Niagara Falls, and when I look up from the computer I've already written close to 1000 words. Other days, it's like...well, it's like Niagara last week, when the falls froze completely. On days like that, I'm lucky to get 200 words before I have to move on to the rest of my day. 

    My morning writing is goal oriented, writing for my book in progress. Other writing (blog posts, letters, editing) is done at other times, later in the day. Staying on target is another challenge because sometimes things happen and I'm just not focused on Israeli geography in the morning--the Syrio-African rift has been there for eons and will still be there tomorrow). Or the topic (like peace negotiations) has become too fraught and I do not want to face it first thing in the day.

    It's not that I need an external challenge--I challenge myself. But I do appreciate support of others when I can get it. Who doesn't?