Chris Guillebeau’s 1,000 words standard: what’s your writing process?

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Writing Process | flickr creative commons user alist
Writing Process | flickr creative commons user alist

Since it’s the beginning of the year, I’ve been thinking a lot about professional and personal goals. One of my professional goals is to write more consistently. While I write a lot, I’ve always been an inconsistent writer. I tend to sit down for a couple hours and throw out thousands of words at a time, then go long periods without writing anything.

I’ve learned over the years that this approach doesn’t work for me. Over the past year, I’ve tried to standardize my writing schedule, and I’ve made some improvements. But this year, I hope to create even more consistency.

In all aspects of my life, I’m trying to create lasting habits. I’ve been successful with going vegetarian, creating a consistent workout schedule, and getting regular sleep, but I haven’t been successful with consistent writing. However, I’ve come up with a strategy to change that.

Chris Guillebeau provides some insight into his own writing process in his book The Art of Non-Conformity. Guillebeau follows a daily 1,000 words standard. Here’s how he explains it:

The 1,000 words standard is that I commit to write at least 1,000 words a day of something. I don’t necessarily think all 1,000 words are good enough for publication; in this case, the discipline is more important to me than whatever the final deliverable is. I know my own weaknesses, and I know I won’t be happy with myself if I miss more than a day or two once in a while. Accounting for Sabbath days and occasional missed days, this allows me to generate an annual output of 300,000 written words — about 100 blog posts, 20 newspaper columns, 20 guest articles for various outlets, 3 information products, and 1 book each year.

This might not be the best approach for everyone — after all, Guilebeau’s career is built on his writing — but the point is that Guillebeau commits to a habit and shows the results of that habit.

Personally, I commit to an hour a day of writing. During that hour, I put aside everything else and focus only on writing. I try my best to keep with this schedule, but sometimes I’ll miss days. If I miss a day, I don’t stress, but I try to write something, even if it’s just a short five-minute reflection at the end of the day. The point is to stay consistent.

I find that on days when I write for at least an hour, I end up with about 500 words, or two pages, of writing. Doing some quick math, this ends up being about 150,000 words a year. That’s an impressive amount, but I have to commit to it.

What are some of your writing commitments and processes? Feel free to share in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter.

About Kevin Eagan

Kevin Eagan (@criticalmargins) is a freelance editor, writer, and teacher who lives in Central Florida. He edits book manuscripts and articles for local and national publications. In addition to writing about book technology and teaching college students how to write, Kevin works as an associate editor for punctum books. Previously, he was the books editor for Blogcritics. You can also follow him on Google+ or check out his professional website, KevinThomasEagan.com.

3 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

  • JustACommenter

    Because I have a non-writing day job, I try to write one full sentence every day. Some days one sentence is all I do, just because I’m too occupied. Other days, I just keep on writing.

    I discovered your blog today. It’s great! Thanks for inspiring and keep up the good job!

    • http://criticalmargins.wordpress.com Kevin Eagan

      One full sentence every day is a very good goal. I’m a firm believer that creating the habit is more important that the amount of writing. Keep up the work, and I appreciate you reading! I hope you come back again soon!

  • http://ideariff.com Michael Ten

    I try to write 750 words in about 30 minutes. I have done it and it is possible to do. I can write 1,000 words in an hour. Either way, of course this needs to be edited and not all will be published. I don’t do it consistently enough. I have written about 3,700 words in one day. That is my record. I have done that about twice. I can probably do more.

    • http://criticalmargins.wordpress.com Kevin Eagan

      That’s a great process. For me, it depends, what I’m working on that day will determine how many words I fit into my hour of writing. I’m using an hour a day as a minimum. Most days, it means I have to cut out something else to fit in the hour. Some days, I have the luxury of writing more. Those are my favorite days!

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  • http://Www.twitter.com/kelcrocker Kellye

    @justacommenter: Kathi Appelt, a very successful writer for kids, started her career writing a sentence a day! I admire you for doing what you can. The fact is, whether its a sentence a day, an hour a day, or something else, those words and pages add up, and that’s what’s important. Kevin, I think you’re right that its the habit that’s key. I’m reading Charles Dunhigg’s The Power of Habit and it ‘s fascinating and inspiring. Currently, I aim for 500 words per day but usually do 1,000. Yesterday I got to 500, wanted to quit and told myself that was fine, I’d met my goal.

    • http://criticalmargins.wordpress.com Kevin Eagan

      Hi Kellye,

      Thanks for the comment! Yes, Charles Duhigg’s approach is very helpful here. His ideas about habit formation help us understand why it’s so important to commit to *something* every day. It takes a while for the habit to form, but once it does, you’ll be writing every day without realizing it. How you approach your writing time is up to you! I find that the more I write, the more I can accomplish in a shorter amount of time. I guess it’s like any exercise or other good habit.

  • http://Www.twitter.com/kelcrocker Kellye

    Gah! Why didn’t my iPad insert the correct apostrophes for “it’s”? :O

    • http://Www.twitter.com/kelcrocker Kellye

      Final correction (I hope): it’s Duhigg w/o an n. sorry! * shuffles off to get more coffee *

  • http://aliciaaudrey.com Alicia Audrey

    Writing every day is extremely important to me. It doesn’t always seem possible with a full-time (non-writing) job and other responsibilities, but it just has to be done. I figure either I have to wake up really early or stay up really late, but either way, words need to get on the page. I write in spurts while I’m at work, so yarny.me is my best friend right. I can always pick up where I left off because it’s all saved “on the cloud”.

    • http://criticalmargins.wordpress.com Kevin Eagan

      Alicia,

      Yeah, having a non-writing job is tough. I used to write late at night…but now I work early so I try to get up in the morning to write (I wrote about that this week!). Yarny.me is a cool app. Thanks so much for introducing it to me! I’m going to play around with it.

  • http://mattmaldre.wordpress.com mattmaldre

    That’s a great goal! Get those words flowing! I’m an artist, so i should make a goal of doing a drawing a day. Actually, I tend to be more idea-based, so I’m happy when I generate new ideas. But then I end up with a few ideas a day and nothing of content to represent them. Right now I have a drafts folder in Evernote with 323 ideas. I should be fleshing them out into reality.

    Which makes me wonder, do you have an idea file?

    • http://criticalmargins.wordpress.com Kevin Eagan

      Yes, I do, although it’s two things: 1.) an Evernote tag (I prefer tags to folders), 2.) a mess of handwritten notes in my notebook. I’m a faithful longhand note-taker.

      I’m also an ideas guy, and a lot of what I write is just generating ideas and going with ideas until they turn into something useable. The point for me is to just keep writing!

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