So, if you are reading this, you probably have or are considering joining the million-word challenge this year. That’s fantastic. You have only a few days to get ready. So what steps should you be taking now? Here are some simple tips and tricks.
Set Your Other Writing Goals Accordingly
So if your goal is to write a million words this year, and you break it down into daily chunks of 2,800 words or 4-5K per day with weekends off, you need to have some idea of what you will be writing every single day. In other words, you can’t really start your day without a plan for that many words.
You could do that if you’re going to write a page a day, but this challenge is much harder. You’ll have to plan what you will write and when. You’ll probably need to plan more than one project a day unless you are really dedicated to only one, and super disciplined. Your mind will need variety, and that can only come through planning.
The problem becomes that if you don’t have enough writing planned for the day, you will run out of words long before you reach your word count. Then you’ll be struggling to come up with what to write next. That will produce immediate issues, and it will only take a few days of low output to discourage you.
This means you need to plan to do more writing than you might have originally thought you would do this year, but even each day, week, and month. Remember, eating the elephant is one bite at a time, and you need to plan those bites out daily.
Test Your Process
No, technically you can’t count any words you write before the first of January, but you can use the last couple days of the year to test your process. Is the time and place you have selected to write going to work for you? How much can you actually write in an hour sprint? Two hours? Split sessions? What works for you?
The more you know about your process and how things work for you, the less likely it will be that you will get behind at the beginning of the challenge trying to figure those things out.
On the other hand, hopefully, you know yourself well enough by this point that you know how and where you work best, and your prime writing time each day. If at all possible, set aside that time for your writing and stick with it.
See how your family will react to your new process and potentially your clients as well if you have freelance work to do. If you still work a day job, be sure your writing schedule works around that schedule as well. You may need to write at lunch or on breaks or both, and that may mean making changes to your routines. Try them out if you are working the last couple days of the year and see how your mind and your body react.
Don’t Neglect Self Care
Get up, stand, and walk around often. Don’t sacrifice sleep or exercise for your writing time. Remember, this is a marathon that lasts an entire year. You can sacrifice sleep for a few days, but after even a few weeks, that will take its toll. So will skipping walking, running, or working out.
Watch your diet too. Writers tend to munch as they write, so make sure if you do you are eating healthy snacks. Drink lots of water too. Hydration may seem like an afterthought when writing, but you will be surprised how much exercising your brain will exhaust your body too. Eat foods that feed your brain, and if you need to take vitamins and supplements to stay sharp.
That means planning to have water wherever you write, having the snacks you may want or need, and to plan for restroom breaks and walking around. If you take the right kind of breaks, you will actually be more creative, refreshed, and efficient when you come back to the keyboard.
Practice Being Distraction Free
Close your email programs and social media, or better yet turn off your Wi-Fi as you write. Put your phone on “do not disturb” and let your significant other, if you have one, and others know that you will be unavailable.
Shut your office or bedroom door if you have to. If music helps you concentrate, use it. If it is a distraction and you need silence to write, shut it off.
Remember, if you are going to meet your goals, you don’t have time to wait for your muse to show up. You must sit down and write without hesitation. This means you must start writing. You can always delete words (you don’t have to subtract them) but you can’t count the words you thought about but did not type.
This means when you sit down, you must be laser-focused. No distractions at all. Use the full-screen mode in word, the distraction-free mode in Scrivener, or another program to keep you from looking at other programs. There are even apps like Write or Die that punish you if you don’t write fast enough either with annoying pop-ups or worse, by eating the words you have written.
The point is that whatever helps you focus the best is what you must do. Practice it for a few days before you start and starting will be even easier.
Prep Your Brain to Write a Million Words
Yes, you need to eat brain food, as we talked about above. However, there are other ways you need to prep your brain as well. You will be working it in entirely new ways. Here are some tips to keep the creative edge.
- Read: I know, you are spending a lot of time writing. Read too, things in your genre and professional improvement books. Don’t have time? Stop reading as much on Facebook and social media or binge streaming shows less.
- Take a walk: This can be part of self-care too. Exercise is great for you, but a simple walk will often spark your creativity for your next writing session, or for a transition to your day job. Walking has been proven to improve your brain function. Do it.
- Limit screen time: If you are writing on a computer, take screen time breaks and cut off your television use at least an hour before bed. Use that time to read or exercise, whatever works best for you. You will sleep better, your eyes will be more rested, and you’ll be more creative.
- Do meditation: You’ll want to be in the right frame of mind to write. Before you get started, take a few minutes to meditate and clear your mind of whatever you have been doing up to that point. If you can, do the same thing after you finish.
Your brain is the most important tool you have, so use it to its utmost advantage by keeping it sharp and clear. This will take work, but if you don’t care for your brain, this challenge will be even harder for you.
As you get ready for your kickoff on the first, think about these things:
- When writing fiction, leave yourself on a cliffhanger, so that the next day or session, you will want to start writing again to find out what happens.
- Do the same with non-fiction if possible. If you finish one thing, start another, even if you just put the title and headings of whatever you’re doing next in a document. It will be easier for your brain to drop back into that writing mode when you are ready to get started.
- Think about ergonomics. People get taken out of this and other writing challenges all the time because their workspace or desk is not set up properly, or the space they have chosen is not conducive to the physical demands and challenges of long writing sessions. If possible, have places in your workspace where you can stand, sit, and recline, and alternate between them when possible. You don’t want to end up with carpal tunnel or other physical ailments that keep you from writing.
- Try dictation. It doesn’t work for everyone, but you can master it with practice. You can generally talk faster than you can type, so you’ll be more productive if you find a way to make that work for you.
This is a long and hard challenge, but you can do it. There will be some days when it will be easier than others, but the key is to keep going. Evaluate your goals each quarter of the year, and adjust your goal accordingly. There is no shame in lowering your word count goal to one that is more realistic once you find your rhythm and what you can really accomplish. Do that before you quit.
This is a life-changing challenge that will do more for you than just enhance your writing life. Get ready, get set, and when the new year hits, GO!
Troy is a freelance writer, author, and blogger who lives, works, and plays in Boise, Idaho with the love of his life and three very talented dogs.
Passionate about writing dark psychological thrillers, he is an avid cyclist, skier, hiker, all-around outdoorsman, and a terrible beginning golfer.