100-Word Rule

Or: How I Learned to Set My Own Achievable Writing Goal

Two and a half years ago, I had an event completely upend my life in a not very pleasant way, which is something I’ve mentioned a couple times in this space, I realize. That basically meant that the larger portion of 2017 did not see any writing at all get done, or for a good portion of 2018. But, as September last year rolled around, I finally felt like I had enough energy to start carving out writing time again. I was determined to.

I came up with a rule for myself: a minimum word count that was my goal to meet every day that I could.

Of course, the difficulty there lies in the number itself. What would be enough to actually start making progress again, but would also still seem achievable even during my more emotionally and mentally exhausted days?

For me, that number ended up being 100 words.

I can’t remember with complete accuracy how I came up with that number, but I’m fairly certain it was just a round number that felt like I could write that much, even if words were proving difficult. It turned out that I was right.

See, 100 words may not seem like a lot on the surface, but that relatively low number acts as a threshold, a gateway, a mile marker. My theory behind that was thus: if I write to 100 words, I will most likely write more. 100 words is enough to make a small paragraph and a couple exchanges of dialogue–essentially, enough to, theoretically, spark my brain back into the scene and narrative and keep going. Sometimes, I just barely made it past 100 words. There were definitely 102- or 103-word days. More frequently, I wrote well above that: 1200, 1400 words.

This threshold is two-fold, though; 100 words should be easy enough to get, even with a fairly exhausting or draining day. If I couldn’t manage that goal, however, I needed rest a lot more than I need to make my word count.

The last two and a half years, outside of dealing with the continuing fallout of that aforementioned event, have been ones of learning to allow myself to take occasional breaks from writing, free of guilt. (Well, mostly free of guilt. That’s for another post, though.) That means coming to terms with the fact that emotional and mental burnout is a real thing, and that no, it’s not great to try and “push through” that to work on creating something out of nothing and expect not to dread doing that. My goal was to fall back in love with the world of my novel and its story, to fall back in love with carving out the time to write in it–and other projects–again. Most importantly, my goal was to help myself understand that I shouldn’t feel bad about feeling too bad or too tired or too raw to write.

So, 100 words became my flint, the tool I could use to get a little spark and coax it into something much bigger. If I had the energy to sit and reach 100 words, either I’d manage 100 words more than the day before, or I’d manage much more. All in all, with the help of a friend holding me accountable and checking in at a set time every evening to get my progress (even if that progress was, “Couldn’t get it tonight, ate snacks and watched Lord of the Rings for the tenth time instead”), I ended up writing over 10,000 words in about five weeks, which helped me finally breach 50k in my novel. That may not seem like a lot to some of you writers out there, but coming off of a year and a half of not being able to muster the energy to write anything, it felt like a hell of an accomplishment.

I encourage everyone to set a minimum word goal of their own–something very attainable, that you feel you can reach even if you’ve had a moderately tiring day. Doesn’t have to be my 100 word goal, but it should be in the same vein of small enough to feel like you can get it almost no matter what, but big enough that it can help you get back into where you left off and potentially write a lot more once you get rolling.

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