I Wrote Every Day for a Year, and This is What I Learned

In the heat of writing a novel last month, I skipped over a rather important milestone. I hit my 365th day of writing every day. For one year, not a day went by where I didn’t bring at least 250 words into the world.

After years of inconsistency, I finally found The Magic Spreadsheet, a shared Google Drive document that serves as a sort of game for writers. Every day you post your word count in the spreadsheet, and it awards you points based on how much you wrote. While you can get points for volume, you get more points for consistency. AKA, you’ll get more points writing 500 words every day for 10 days than you would writing 5000 words in a single day.

The point of The Magic Spreadsheet is to encourage writers to write every day. There’s a live leaderboard to show you where you stand among others on the sheet, but I rarely look at it. I mostly look at my own line, my own count. I started last year during NaNoWriMo, and learned a lot along the way. A few key points:

1) It’s not about time, it’s about priority

The daily minimum for The Magic Spreadsheet is 250 words, which really isn’t that much. It’s about three good paragraphs, and depending on how fast you write it could take less than ten minutes. Even on days where it doesn’t feel like you have a moment to spare, you can always find 10 minutes. Sometimes I woke up early if I knew I’d have something else going on in the evening. Sometimes I wrote during my lunch break at work, saving my words in a email draft. When I went on a young adult retreat weekend, I wrote while other people played board games. When I was staffing conferences and truly didn’t have a moment to myself the whole day, I stayed up late at night to write before bed.

It wasn’t about “finding time,” it was about deciding that this was something that had to be done. I don’t find time to floss or eat or go on Facebook or stare off blankly collecting my thoughts, yet I manage to do all three on a daily basis.

2) Even phoning it in can be useful

There were times when I put off writing until late at night, until the last possible minute. I questioned whether or not it was still worth it, since what I was producing was obviously terrible. I was so tired I would fall asleep mid-sentence. I wrote whole paragraphs about how tired I was and how hard it was to stay awake. I wrote about how painful writing was, and I wrote about how I worried it wasn’t worth it at this point.

But then came November, and I was deep into my novel. I wanted to write about how my hero was feeling drained and exhausted, and realized that all I had to do was re-create the same voice I had during all those sleepy rants. It was easy to write that scene, because I’d written it so many times before.

3) Writer’s block is for projects, not practice

Writer’s Block isn’t actually an inability to write anything, it’s the inability to write the thing that you vaguely wish you could write. You can have writer’s block on a scene or a story, but it’s not a factor when you’re talking about a daily writing practice. There will always be thoughts in your head. Write them down.

4) The easiest thing I can write is my own opinions

If you spend enough days writing your own silent monologue, you’re probably going to get pretty good at it. I’m starting to realize that non-fiction, explanatory prose is about the easiest thing in the world for me to write. This post, for example, was extremely easy to write.Scrivener

5) If you up the output, you have to up the organization

My Scrivener project for this blog is a mess. It’s absolutely atrocious. Scrivener is the (fantastic) software I use for writing, and it gives you the ability to quickly and easily organize your writing. And I’ve been using it as a glorified text editor. The Scrivener project for this blog is still no more than a list and some folders. It’s a long list too, full of somewhat arbitrary categories with zero distinction between the wheat and the chaff. I think my lack of organization was the primary reason I kept questioning whether or not writing every day was worth it. I was hiding my accomplishments in the mess.

6) People may think you’re weird

While on the whole everyone was very supportive, I got a few weird looks along the way. Aren’t you tired? Don’t you want to relax? Are you really leaving early for that? It wasn’t always said, sometimes just implied. In daily life we often hear about highly dedicated people, but we seldom know them and even less frequently become them. It helped when I heard a friend explain my writing to someone else as “a daily discipline.” It felt a little more reasonable, a little more sane. We’ve all tried daily disciplines and we all fail at most of them. This was one that managed to stick with me.


I think it was beneficial to just write, regardless of subject or purpose. Like playing scales on the violin, sometimes you simply need to practice your instrument.

The Magic Spreadsheet allows you to count editing time in lieu of actual words, a substitution I haven’t allowed myself yet. However as I sit staring at the 287,000 words I’ve written in the last year I can’t help but think it’s time to start sorting through the muck. Writing is rewriting, which means editing is writing. And so long as I work on my writing in some measurable way every day, I might just end up with something great.

NaNoWriMo Debrief

This is my second attempt to write a blog post about my 2014 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Why? Because I haven’t written non-fiction in 30 days and it’s hard to suddenly switch back. I’m also out of practice with some key elements to good blogging, such as caring if what you write is any good and knowing when to stop.Winner-2014-Twitter-Profile

Oddly enough, my first NaNo was the easiest one, and it’s only gotten harder since then. Perhaps it’s because your first will always be the novel you’ve imagined the most, and therefore it will be the one you’re most prepared to write. That was certainly the case for me. My first year I started without much preparation, yet I already knew my protagonist, antagonist, love interest, several supporting characters, a few key settings, the basic plot outline, and what themes I wanted to explore. This year I knew months in advance I would write that superhero story I’ve been kicking around for years, yet when November 1st arrived I realized I wasn’t prepared at all.

I didn’t have a plot beyond a few basic ideas. I didn’t have an antagonist until halfway through the month. I had a few isolated scenes and a whole lot of placeholders. Placeholders like, “a scene where she first notices her powers,” and “she should kill someone in a way that is understandable but not really justified.” These are about as helpful as someone suggesting you should “put in something really cool.” Thanks. I’ll get right on that.

Yet through it all I managed to bash out 50,359 words in 30 days. A lot of them are very bad. Most of them will be thrown out before anyone sees a first draft of my yet untitled superhero book. But it’s a start. And it’s more of a start than I had 30 days ago. Most importantly, last night my boyfriend went to the store and bought me a box of celebratory Lucky Charms. So not only did I write a book, but today I had Lucky Charms for dinner. And it’s not even Christmas yet.

My First NaNoWriMo

At some point near the end of college I realized writing is what I wanted to do, and that I was better at it than any of the other things I considered doing. So it was decided. I would be a writer. I knew it would take time. Nobody starts a career as a full-time writer, just like no one starts as a full-time actor. I could wait. I could get other jobs in the meantime.

I called myself a writer though. Or rather, I told people I wanted to be a writer. I rarely said that I was a writer to anyone but myself. Perhaps this was because I knew deep down that I was missing a key component: I wasn’t writing. Oh sure I dabbled in a scene or two, but I wasn’t doing it often. I wasn’t doing it consistently. And I wasn’t producing anything to completion. Writers write, and I wasn’t writing.

nanowrimo-logoI had known about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for some time, and I scoffed at it. Many people do. They look down on it because it encourages people, especially novices, to write as much as they can as fast as they can, even though a lot of it will be bad. That’s not real writing, I’d say. You can’t just put up an arbitrary goal and force terrible prose onto a page for the glory of pretending you’re a writer for a month. That’s idiotic.

I was a NaNoWriMo hater.

However I couldn’t think too poorly of NaNo because I had some good friends who did it every year. And they loved it. So while I still discounted it, I discounted it as a fun way for amateurs to bust out that one novel everyone has in them. Cross it off the bucket list. There was nothing wrong with that, I thought.

Haters gonna hate.

My friend Kristina is a vlogger and has a good-sized following online. She has done NaNo for years and one October I saw a video pop up on my news feed featuring her annual NaNo pep talk. I was mildly interested, so I watched it. She talked about her excitement, about getting ready, and casually mentioned that this would be her seventh year doing NaNo.


I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before, but it hit me then like a ton of bricks. Kristina had six completed novels on her computer at home. My friend Kristina. SIX. I didn’t even have one. And unlike me, Kristina didn’t go around thinking about her fantastic writing career that was just around the corner, and looking down on people who only wanted to write one month a year.

Instead, she wrote six books.

It was a turning point for me. I did NaNo that year with four days notice, and I loved it. I began listening to podcasts about writing and going on writing forums. Everyone seemed to reiterate the same basic fact: what makes you a real writer is that you write. And now? I write.

This November marks the third year I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo. If you’re even the least bit interested I encourage you to join me (my username is NoodleDrive if you want to be my buddy). Some people may get snarky when you tell them you’ve arbitrarily decided to write a novel, but give them time. They might wise up eventually.

Haters Gonna Hate

Writing is Hard

(I wrote the following in November of 2013 with no intention of publishing it. However in looking at it now, I realize that this might be of some interest to a few of my readers.)

I have one and only one cure for writer’s block. Sometimes it will take me a while to realize I even have writer’s block. I like to mull things over in my head a lot before I write them, so I can easily stare at a screen for awhile without being truly blocked. But occasionally I will find myself staring off away from the screen after having sat in front of the computer for several minutes. I’m not thinking about writing anymore because whatever I’m trying to write isn’t working. So my brain goes off in other directions. What’s funny is that I am still writing during these times, I’m just writing off-task. Rather than mulling over the thing I need to work on, I’m mulling over what makes a person good at cleaning or how television transitioned away from the single-season-with-summer-break schedule. I write dialogs of imagined conversations I wished I would have had with people I was previously angry with. I imagine how I might introduce myself were I to become a Wall Street consultant, or the many things I would say to congress were I ever given the chance. These are tiny, separate essays that I write in my brain all the time. I have no where to put them, which is why I continue to mull instead. And they are the things I escape to when writing isn’t happening.

After an unknown period of staring into space while I write one of these lost essays, I realize that I must be stuck. There is a block between what I know I must accomplish and the act of accomplishing it. And that’s when I employ the only means I have of getting unstuck from this particular problem. I write about why I can’t write.

It may go something like this: say I want to tell a story about someone close to me, but I’m afraid of casting them in an unfair light. I know I don’t think poorly of them, but I worry that I won’t have the craft to convey the facts in a way that remains both true and positive. And I get stuck. I try to think through my writing and I can only think of explanations that are unfair to my friend. I may not realize this unfairness is why all the words sound wrong, I just know they do. And so I begin to type out my reasoning. I drop whatever voice I’m using, I ignore any sense of time or space. I start typing as though I am directly addressing the page, and therefore the problem. And I usually can’t get through more than two paragraphs before the problem is solved. Either I have eased myself into the problem and started on the path towards my intended topic, or I have stumbled upon something even more interesting to write about. Either way I am writing. When I am done I typically go back and trash those first two paragraphs and, like magic, my story starts exactly where it ought to.

Writing through the problem is in fact what I am doing right now. The thing you are currently reading is an example of me getting over writer’s block. It’s National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. The goal is to finish a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. I did it last year and had a lot of fun. Since I still have a lot of trip to write about, I decided this year I would make my 50,000 words go towards getting the rest of the journey down on paper. This means that rather than writing a blog post every other day, I have to write 1-2 posts every day, depending on their length. It’s tiresome and difficult to do NaNo anyway, but I’ve managed to back myself into an especially difficult corner: I’m not allowed to suck.

That’s the phrase: Allow Yourself to Suck. I credit Mur Laugherty with those exact words, but the sentiment is true for everyone during NaNo. Your goal is to get a lot of words down on paper. Not all of those words will be great. It doesn’t matter. Editing is for December. For now you must keep writing.

But I can’t wait until December. I need to produce 13 fully edited posts before November is over. And considering it often takes me as long to edit a post as it does to write it, and considering many of my blogs have gone over the 1,667 words needed per day for NaNo, I have been writing with a NaNo-level time commitment for FIVE MONTHS. And for four of those months I was also trying to figure out where I was going to sleep every night.

I know there are professional writers who will easily crank out 4,000-10,000 words a day all the time. But I am not there yet, and as I understand it that kind of production takes many people years to reach. And so I’m left with my only recourse, my only solution. I write out my problems. Perhaps tomorrow I will be able to get back on track. Maybe I’ll have to write through some more problems first. But for now, I can clock the rough draft of this post at 864 words, which brings me over the edge for how much I needed to write today. It’s a long way to December. But it was a long way across the country and back. And just like hiking up the Grand Canyon or driving through Oklahoma farmland, sometimes forward is the only direction. Walk, walk. Drive, drive.

Write. Write.