Lessons Learned from Writing 500 Words of Fiction Per Day

On January 1, 2021, I took a chance and publicly posted a set of New Year’s resolutions. Among other things, I resolved to continue writing 500 words of original fiction per day until I finished the first draft of our current novel: Prophecy’s Malignant Son. It is now March and somehow (to my astonishment), I have managed to keep up with that resolution. The manuscript just passed the 100,000 word mark, and the first draft should be finished by the end of the month. It is far longer than I originally intended and will require rewriting, but that is a problem for a later day.

In the meantime, I thought I would share a few things I learned from the discipline of writing 500 words of fiction per day.

  1. I am capable of doing it. When I typed those resolutions on January 1, 2021, I really wasn’t sure I could achieve any of them. There are so many things competing for my time these days (despite the pandemic lockdowns) and far too many distractions. Sometimes, after a particularly busy day, I found myself, through sheer stubbornness, finishing my daily quota at 9:00 at night. For anyone who knows me, I am a morning person and my brain tends to shut down by 10:00 p.m. At other times, I was forced to tell my beloved co-author, “No, I can’t watch that yet. I have to finish my 500 words for today.” Fortunately, he has always been understanding and supportive.
  2. It breaks writer’s block. When I took a beginning journalism class in college, the professor often required us to type an entire article, from start to finish, during the two-hour class session. We all had typewriters in front of us on our desks to complete the task. (Yes, they were typewriters, not computers. I went to college when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.) The discipline of being forced to write anything or fail the assignment cured me forever of the fear of a blank sheet of paper. Over the last couple of months, on those days when I got really stuck for what to write to meet my 500 word goal, I found myself falling back into that journalistic mindset — just get words on paper and worry about revising them later.
  3. It produces a novel in record time. John and I started plotting Prophecy’s Malignant Son in September of 2020. Absent unforeseen circumstances (“God willing and the creeks don’t rise,” as my mother used to say), it should be done by the end of March 2021. Prior to last year, I would never have thought myself capable of producing a novel in six or seven months. By contrast, it took John and me almost 20 years to finish and publish 60th Hour.
  4. I cannot sustain that pace forever. When I decided to write at least 500 words a day, I made a mistake. I never gave myself a day off. I have written at least 500 words a day, every single day since January 1 without a break. On some days I could breeze through 700 or even 1000 words with no trouble. At other times, as mentioned above, I completed the daily task near the end of the day through sheer stubbornness. As the weeks have progressed, I gradually realized it is too much for me. I am a person who really needs time off occasionally to avoid burn out. While I intend to keep my 500-words-a-day going until I finish the first draft of the current manuscript (because I made a New Year’s resolution and I am so close to being done), after I finish, I plan to reevaluate the process. I need to find a compromise — a sustainable method of writing — so I can finish books in a reasonable time without burning myself out.

Anyway, I hope these thoughts are helpful for newer Indy authors out there. If any of you would like to share your methods for sustainable writing, I would be delighted to hear them. Feel free to drop me a comment.

-Susan 3/12/2021

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