Today you will write 1000 words. You will show up for yourself, you will be present in this goddamn moment, you will be actively on that page, you will occupy that space with your mind, and you will do all this until you finish those 1000 words.
I haven’t talked about why 1,000 words in a while. Why that number? A number I decided worked for me. Why any number? I mostly write fiction, which asks us to imagine worlds we haven’t seen before, to work without guidelines. It is only the words, the number of pages, that act as any sort of real structure when I begin to write a novel. The rest is for me to fill in the blanks.
Most of my books have landed around 75,000 words, give or take. When I’m intensely writing, I sometimes work one weekend day, too. For the sake of momentum. The minute you stop and look around can be when you get distracted or question yourself. And I don’t want to question it. I want to write. If I write at least 5,000 words a week, for three to four months straight - minus a few days on the beach here and there, good god, I’m not a monster - I get pretty close to finishing a first draft of book.
My most productive moments in my life have been in the summer. I wrote the first draft of my fourth book, The Middlesteins, in one summer, working almost every day, and it was like one long dream I was having for those few months. I chose that time to do that work, and I hit my mark every day. I wrote it in 2010. The world was not calm, but it felt calmer than it does now.
One summer in a month I wrote eighty pages of a book proposal that I went on to sell later that year. And one summer I wrote about two hundred pages of a book and I ended up throwing that book away. But damn it felt good to write it.
I am not trying to sell you on anything here (although sometimes I worry I sound like a bit of an infomercial or a self-help guide) except for the idea of developing a daily practice that will shift your life in some way, big or small.
I like 1,000 words. I like a number. I can’t help it. It gives me something to hold onto in the storm of this existence.
Today’s guest contributor is historian Alexis Coe, who is the New York Times bestselling author of You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington and Alice+Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis. Alexis writes to us from the perspective from someone who does research-based writing. (She is actually anti-word count but is pro-getting your shit done, and that, I think, we can all get behind.)
“I have never, ever written 1000 words a day. Not original ones, at least. I bet I’ve exceeded 1000 words a day when I’m researching and take far too many notes because I’m so excited by the details and I want to immediately master them, or I take too many notes because I’m writing a line-by-line rebuttal. Those practices definitely don’t get me any closer to a 1000 words a day, a practice Jami, who has lovely hair and a very good dog and writes books I inhale, has inspired all you good people to try, even if just for a spell.
Look, I’m in AWE of it. I truly respect the hell out of everyone who attempts or succeeds at it. But I don’t think I’ll ever get to that number, and it doesn’t get me down.
Truth be told, I don’t even count the words in a single day. I check the word count when I’m starting or finishing a section, and I like to see it rising, of course. I know that it has to be around x words by y date, but there’s no number that can tell me that I’ve done what I know I should do in a day. I just keep moving forward. I do so as steadily as I can, but sometimes I’ll spend an entire day working on one damn paragraph, and that paragraph will probably be my favorite in the book. Of which I’ve written two. And that’s the point, my friends. If you can write a 1000 words a day, good for you! And if you can’t, so what! Just sit down and do the work, whatever it is. Write. Research. Read. Rotate when you find yourself stuck. That’s real progress, even if you can’t quantify it.”
Alexis asks that you consider donating here.
Day 12, you got this.