500 Words

IMG_5291I’m not a big advice-giver, but if I’ve ever given you advice, it might be this:

Keep a journal.

By this, I mean make a daily habit of writing something, whatever you feel like writing. Write down your dreams, your plans, your fears, your obsessions, or even just what you’re having for dinner. You can do it longhand or on a computer; whatever feels best to you. The key is just to write it out. Don’t worry about writing well, just focus on getting the words on the paper or on the screen.

My goal is 500 words a day. That’s about one page, single-spaced, so it’s a nice, round number. I’m not a very smart person, so usually whatever I’m thinking about is used up in the first 300 words, and I have to stretch my imagination to reach 500. It’s possible that, in that “stretching” part, good things are happening in terms of stimulating creativity or whatever, but, like I say, I’m not a very smart person so I can’t say for sure.

Try reading Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg. It’s one of my favorite writing books; I actually just finished reading it for the third or fourth time since I got it back in the 1980s. Goldberg suggests daily writing practice as the key not only to becoming a better writer, but also as a method of self-discovery.

Or, as Thomas Oppong puts it, “Thinking in writing has this magical quality of clarifying your thoughts.”

There are, of course, all kinds of ways to keep a journal, and even different ways to define what a journal is. Here’s what I do: Each day, I sit down at a computer, open up a blank Word document, write the date and the time at the top, and then write 500 words. It’s never anything good, nothing I’d ever want anyone else to read. I am a little OCD about spelling and editing, so I will sometimes go back and correct mistakes, but writing teachers will tell you it’s better to just move forward and not worry about the quality of the writing. When I reach 500 words, as indicated by the handy word-count indicator at the bottom of a Word document, I finish whatever thought I’m surfing at the moment, then I copy the text I’ve just written and paste it into an email in my drafts folder. I keep a different draft for each month, so I have hundreds of files in my email drafts folder.

Someday, maybe, I’ll copy them back to Word documents so I can store them locally, in case The Cloud ever collapses or something. Or maybe not. Because while it is nice to be able to go back and see what I was thinking about on a given day years ago, I still think the real benefit of doing this kind of writing is the immediate effect of getting the words down, getting your thoughts out of your head and translating them into some more tangible form. And, since it’s usually the first thing I do in a day, it serves, if nothing else, to get my fingers warmed up, if not my brain.

I don’t always do this every day, but that’s my goal. Lately, I’ve been doing pretty well with it. In fact, I have managed to write in my journal every day since September 29, 2017. That was exactly 200 days ago, so today was something of a milestone. I won’t make you do the math; it comes to 100,000 words I’ve written in my journal in that time. Actually many more than that, because I’ll generally go 10 or 20 or sometimes 100 words over my 500-word threshold on a given day. So anyway, woohoo for me.

This site encourages you to write 750 words a day. They’ll even let you pay $5 a month to do it. I wish I’d thought of that one.

Seriously, though, give it a try. If you’re worried about thinking of enough things to write about, here’s a month’s worth of prompts, although I’ve never felt the need for prompts. Most of the time I end up writing about what I accomplished the previous day, or what I didn’t accomplish. And hey, speaking of accomplishing things, I find that getting those 500 words written, getting that page filled up with text, is a great way to start the day. If I don’t accomplish anything else all day, at least I’ve done something.


One thought on “500 Words

  1. Good habit, good advice. I agree. Most mornings it’s tea, sunshine (or Happy Light), a big cushion to lean against, a comfortable pen, and a blank journal page. It’s amazing how things flow once one is in the habit.

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