By Randy Ingermanson
First published in his ezine.
Most fiction writers have a major bottleneck in their process. Not all of them, but most of them.
That bottleneck is that they don’t produce enough first-draft copy.
If you haven’t developed your skills as a novelist yet, one of the key things you must do is to write lots of first-draft copy. (And you also need to get it critiqued and you also need to read up on the theory of fiction writing.)
If you have developed your skills as a novelist, then your earnings are usually limited by how much first-draft copy you produce. (Once it exists as first-draft material, you can then get it edited, polished, and published. But until it exists, you can’t do any of that.)
So the problem to solve is this: how can you produce more first-draft material?
I have a solution to propose. It may work for you and it may not, but try it and see.
The 500 Club
I call my solution “The 500 Club”. It’s deceptively simple.
Here’s how it works:
You commit to producing 500 words of first-draft material every day for the rest of your life.
Let’s look at the key ideas here, because each of them is critical.
You commit. That means (how can I make this clear?) that you COMMIT. When you sign up for the 500 Club, you are making an absolute commitment. No excuses. No rain checks. No bad hair days. Why? Because this is for you. And you deserve total commitment.
500 words. Why “only” 500 words? Because it’s a low bar. You can write 500 words in your sleep. And once you’ve got 500 words down, you can quit for the day, but you know you won’t, you dog, you. Because you love writing, and you’re going to write another 500 or 1000 or 2000 or 5000. You will. Write the first 500 because you have to and then write as many more as you want because you just can’t help yourself.
First-draft material. It’s okay to start out the day editing what you did yesterday. I do this myself—it gets me rolling. But editing doesn’t count toward your 500 words unless you’re adding in new words. Fixing typos doesn’t count. Fixing commas doesn’t count. The only thing that counts is new words. And if you exceed 500 words today, you don’t get any “rollover words” for tomorrow. Tomorrow, you have to do 500 words of first-draft all over again.
Every day for the rest of your life. Because after your life is over, there won’t be any more days for you to write, ever again. Sorry, but there won’t. The only writing time you have left is every day for the rest of this mortal life. So use it. Don’t take off for your birthday. Don’t take off for Groundhog Day. Or Valentine’s Day. Or Christmas. Every day. That means, literally, every day. If you’re conscious and can physically type, then you write your 500 words.
Why This Works
Practically every successful novelist I know has some sort of a quota. Either a word-count quota or a time quota.
I favor a word-count quota because you can waste time browsing the web, but I defy you to find a way to waste words browsing the web. It’s not possible.
The big problem most of us have is getting started. We have this mental inertia that makes it hard to get rolling each day.
The 500 Club solves this problem because you only have to get started once. You get started on the day you sign up. After that, you’ve got a streak going. Three days. Fifty days. Seven hundred days. Nine thousand days. You don’t want to break the streak.
Joining the 500 Club gets you in the mindset to produce copy. Once you have produced copy, you’ll have to edit it. You’ll have to sell it. You’ll have to publish it. As long as it’s good. If it’s not good, you can abandon the project. That’s totally fine, and you will certainly abandon some projects. Abandoning projects occasionally is a sign that you’re taking risks and growing as a writer.
Are You Ready to Join?
There’s nowhere to sign up. I don’t have an organization for you to join. No dues. No membership rolls. No accountability partners.
There’s just you. You make the commitment to yourself. Nobody else cares about your writing career as much as you do.
Commit to yourself. Make this commitment: “I will write 500 words of first-draft material every day for the rest of my life, as long as I am physically able to do so.”
Then just do it. (Gack, I can’t believe I just had a Nike moment, but there you have it.)
What If You’re Not a Seat-of-the-Pants Writer?
The 500 Club seems ideal for seat-of-the-pants writers—people who can just sit down without planning anything and write.
What if you’re an outliner? What if you’re a Snowflaker?
The important point to notice is that joining the 500 Club creates a “keystone habit.” I talked about keystone habits last month in the Organizing column of this e-zine. [That was in 2014.]
A keystone habit is a habit that tends to create other habits.
If you join the 500 Club, you are creating a keystone habit of producing first-draft material every day.
If you’re an outliner or a Snowflaker, then joining the 500 Club forces you to regularly do some planning for your work. Which is another good habit.
It also creates a growing backlog of work to be edited, which forces you to regularly edit your work. And regularly get it critiqued. And regularly study more about the craft of fiction writing. And regularly do something to market your work.
All of these are good habits that you will naturally fall into, once you start producing more first-draft material.
Enough said. If the 500 Club is for you, then you know it already. Make the commitment. Follow through.
If the 500 Club is not for you, then no harm, no foul. Ignore everything I just said. Take a moment to pity those fools who are signing up to write 500 words per day, 15000 per month, 180000 per year, for the rest of their long and productive lives.
Whatever you decide to do, have fun!