500 words a day keeps the first draft at play: a useful tool for keeping your first draft moving forward

500 words


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Taken with a pinch of salt, this means “work a little on your novel every day, in order to move it forward”, but that doesn’t sound anywhere near as catchy.

Now, I (Becca) will begin by pointing out that this is likely to be more relevant to those of you who write part time like me, and those who write as a hobby. I have set out some time when I get to work early –  an hour or so every morning – to sit down and write. You can read more about how to find the time to write here. Those of you who write full-time however, often have deadlines to meet and five hundred words a day just won’t cut it, but there may be some merit in setting flexible, time-orientated goals surrounding your writing.

How is it useful?

This unofficial motto of mine helps me to:

  • stay in tune with my story
  • keep motivated that it will get finished
  • see writing as fun and not as a chore

Have you ever noticed that after you have had a long-ish break from your story (you’re unmotivated, feeling lazy, busy doing anything else other than writing) it can be hard to get back into it? Don’t fear, this happens to all of us! I find that by doing something little on your book every day – whether this be writing five hundred words or spending some time googling locations – you can keep your plot fresh in your mind and your characters close to your heart.

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As well as keeping my plot and characters within sight, my motto also gives me hope that I will get through the first draft. Let’s say that I am aiming for my book to be 80 000 words. If I write exactly 500 words a day, my first draft could be finished in 160 days. The point I am making is not to force yourself to write 500 words on the dot every day and to complete it in 160 days – some days I’ll write 950 words, and other days I’ll just scribble an idea down for a scene on a post-it note. The point is to do SOMETHING.  I know that if I work on my novel everyday, even just for a couple of minutes, my story is progressing and I am becoming ever closer to the end goal. And thats a great motivator.

A final point to make is that I find my motto ensures that writing is not a chore. I am careful not to view it as a rule. If it was a rule, I would feel like a failure had I not written a minimum of 500 words a day. It is a motto, a guideline that is flexible and in existence purely to motivate me, not to dictate to me how to write. I can maintain some element of control in ensuring my story progresses, but without sucking all the fun out of it.

Why 500 words?

Honestly? Because it popped into my head one morning and it just stuck. Like I have said above, this is a personal guideline rather than a rule. Think of it as a mantra. 

Some days I can write 900 words in one 45 minute sitting, it just flows off the tongue. Other days I struggle to spell my own name in twice that time. And that’s okay. Bad days come with the territory of being a writer. Scrap that. Bad days come with the territory of being a living, breathing human!  I am not advocating a string of lazy days where you have one thought about your novel and think yup!, thats me done for the day. But I do suggest that the days you find yourself struggling could be the days where you spend fifteen, twenty minutes browsing inspirational photos or researching fictional jobs for your characters. In Asda’s words ‘every little helps’.  Don’t be so hard on yourself. 

bad-day

 Image source www.buzzquotes.com

Could it work for me?

As with most writing advice, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. There are multiple types of drafting and writing styles that are globally known and accepted, and much like revising for a test, human nature dictates that everyone likes to do things differently. If you are like Heather and prefer to tackle a relatively large chunk of writing in one long sitting – then this may not be the answer for you. However, you could make up your own little motto (it doesn’t have to rhyme, I promise!) that keeps you motivated and in the zone.

How about something like ‘A chapter each weekend in order to ascend” or  “10 000 words each weekend must be penned”

Okay, okay, you get what I’m trying to say, so I’ll stop with the painfully cheesy mottos. How about trying one out for yourself and see if its useful. If it isn’t then thats okay. If it is, then I am glad to have done you a service!

Parting words

To summarise, having a little motivational sentence and daily/weekly/monthly goal can help motivate you to keep pushing forward in the difficult, messy and long-winded journey that it is first draft. It keeps your characters close to your heart, your plot fresh in your mind, and it gives you hope that their is light at the end of the tunnel (aka an end to it all). It is also a good way to give yourself some kind of guidance and control in order to progress, without making writing a chore.

Keep your freinds close

The way you choose to manage your first draft  is dependent on the type of writer you are, your schedule and your goals, but finding the right rhythm for you is likely to be invaluable whoever you are.

If you fancy having your own little motivational graphic to print off, or keep on your desktop, drop us an email or comment and we would be happy to throw one together for you free of charge!

Much love and speak soon

Becca xx

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