The first year of 365k Club has not only been a wonderful adventure for me, but also allowed me to learn a lot about myself and my writing process. When I signed up, I expected myself to fall miserably, maybe even drop out after the first month, but to my surprise, I stayed, writing my 1000 words every day. But I know exactly how intimidating the 365k Club may feel in the beginning: so many words to be written and so many days in the year. It’s not NaNoWriMo where one can plan a month devoted to writing. It’s a real challenge, because we need to build our writing habit around our daily lives. We need to incorporate it into the daily routines, family life, day job… It’s much harder than telling friends and family we’ll be unavailable for November.
It’s going to be tough, but it’s possible. Many successful 365k Club participants prove it, and they all have their families, holidays and day-to-day lives. I can’t say what worked for them, and what helped them to reach they goal, but I like to believe they’re more organized than me and less of procrastinators than I am. But I still have few pieces of advice on how to make the best of the participation.
Do not compare numbers
It’s tempting to peek at how others are doing and even if you have no intention of doing so, entering the numbers into the spreadsheet will leave you prone. You won’t be able to not notice that Janine wrote over 7000 within a day, and Heinrich else is steadily writing 1500 a day, while you’re still barely around your meager goal of 500 words. And you even miss a day on occasion. It’s easy to look at the numbers, but the numbers won’t tell you, that Janine’s husband took the kids camping for the weekend, and Heinrich just took a week off work, so he’s relaxing and writing, while you desperately try to leave your day job on time and have in-laws visiting this month. Not to mention the sick toddler who’s being particularly moody. Everyone’s life situation is different, so that 1500 words a day when Heinrich is on holidays is not as much in comparison to your 500 on a super-busy day.
365k Club is not NaNoWriMo. You don’t have to write loads every day in a desperate attempt to meet the goal at the end of the month. You can start slow and easy. Of course, if you dawdle for too many months, you’ll have to up your game later, but by then you might have some writing routine in place already and it’ll actually be easier to catch up. Set your daily goal at a reasonable level. Back in January 2015, I decided I’d aim for 500 words a day, until I felt confident I’d be able to write more. Writing 500 words seemed so much easier than writing 1000 words, so I was more eager to sit down and try. Then, I always caught myself thinking, that since I already started writing, and reached 500, I could try to go for 1000. And I did. But I’m pretty sure, that if I started aiming for 1000 in the first place, I’d probably get intimidated by the number.
Every little counts
Sometimes it just might not be possible for you to reach your daily goal. Life likes to get in the way. But you don’t need to reach it all the time to build your routine. If your day has been bad and all you can dream about is crashing face down onto your pillow, just write a sentence. Any sentence will do: a piece of description, maybe some idea for a character or “They say Mrs. Bellis believes her attic is haunted by ghosts.” Look, it’s 11 words I got there with ease and it’s 11 words that I can put in the spreadsheet for the day. Looks much better than 0, doesn’t it? It might not be a high number, but it says that you wrote something that day. And even if the sentence you wrote down is not related to any of your projects, in the future it might bloom into an idea or become a fun writing prompt you’ll build on and turn it into flash fiction or even a short story.
On many occasions I’ve written some drabbles (flash fiction that is exactly a hundred words long) on my lunch time, and added the numbers into my private tracking sheet. As a result, sometimes in the evening I didn’t have to write a whole thousand, but only 700-800 words, which allowed me to have some time for other things.
You’re a winner when you write
You’re a winner every time you sit down to write. Even if it’s just few words, even if you didn’t get more than 100 words down in the day, you’re still a winner. Because you’ve managed to get something done regardless of being dead-tired, of the chaos of your daily life, and other disruptions. You could have sat on your sofa and watched some soap operas, but instead you opened that file or notebook and wrote 89 words. Have you ever thought it’s more words of fiction than some people write in a month? Or did you just whipped yourself with guilt that it’s not the shiny 500, 1000 or however much you intended to write?
As a writer, you need positive reinforcement. Of course, those 89 words doesn’t mean you did “great”, but you did “something”, and that’s much much better than “nothing”. Search for the positive aspects: 89 words is better than the 74 you got yesterday. You wrote 392 the previous day, so 89 is very little? But hey, it’s your second (or seventh) consecutive day of writing. Or have a look at the monthly number—maybe your meager 89’s and 74’s got you already past the 1k mark? It might not seem much, but 1000 is so much better than 89… Look for something positive. As long as you write, you’re doing a good job and you are a winner, so take a moment to recognize that.
Don’t be afraid to “lose”
Life happens, and you can’t neglect it for a year. You also can’t foresee what will happen three or four months from now. You might need to move houses, you might change your day job and take time adapting to new duties or you might catch a nasty virus that for two weeks will make you feel like your brain changed into a huge snot. You might be able to write your words anyway, but it might happen that you’ll miss a day or a month. That’s fine. As long as you can go back to writing once your life stabilizes, you’re good. You’ll most likely catch up with your goals or try your best to just keep up. Of course, you know yourself the best and have to honestly decide where is the line between an unexpected life event and looking of an excuse to your procrastination. If you start claiming last minute party events are unexpected circumstances, you might have to admit you’re doing the latter.
It’s about routine, not writing a next worldwide bestseller
You’ve heard all the encouragements like “first draft of everything is worthless” or “don’t be afraid to write bad”. Of course, we—writers strive to learn the craft and hone our literary skills, but stop for a moment and look at the odds. You have more chances of writing the most perfect line ever when you write 10 sentences, than when you write just one.
Let’s be straight: some of the things you’ll write throughout the year will be utterly and completely useless. But they’ll also help you to grow and they’ll help you to maintain your writing routine. What’s use of you being the most brilliant writer ever if you can’t get yourself to sit down and write regularly? It’s not only the people who have “talent” that get on those bestsellers lists. It’s also the people who work hard. If at the end of the year you have three projects to pick from, that’s two chances more your writing will get you somewhere than when you haven’t even finished one, no matter how perfect it is.
Of course, it’s not “quantity over quality”, because we want the “quality” first and foremost. I’m just pointing out that waiting for that one perfect sentence won’t get you anywhere in the long run. If you write daily, you don’t have to publish everything you write, but you get to pick the best pieces and get them out there. You have a choice. So don’t be afraid to write imperfect things. If nothing else, they’ll help you to set up the routine for when the perfect words come.
Writing requires sacrifice
There is a fun meme going around the Internet, saying: “Moms, you only can pick two out of the three: clean house, happy kids, sanity” (in the college version it’s “clean house, good grades, social life”), and even though simple, it rings true. Your time in a day is limited and you’ll have to make sacrifices to squeeze some writing in, unless you already have it incorporated. Of course, there are things you need to take care of first, you can’t neglect your children if you have them or skip laundry too often, but there might be some things in the day you could probably sacrifice for writing. It all boils down to the question of how important the writing is for you and how high it is on your priority list. If you pick your social life over writing, that’s fine, but then don’t complain you don’t have time to write: I can point you toward a mother of five, homeschooling them and taking care of her household who still managed to write a novel. 10 minutes a day, but she did it. You can’t claim you can’t find those 10 minutes in a day.
Of course, I’m not trying to convince anyone to become a recluse, but a sober and honest look at your priority list might help you to understand, why it’s so difficult for you to find time for writing.
So, these are my pieces of advice. I hope they’ll help you with your writing, regardless of whether you’re participating in the 365k Club or not. And if they don’t… Did I mention that everyone’s life circumstances are different? If an advice doesn’t work for you, find something else, something that works. Just because someone was successful by doing things in some particular way, it doesn’t mean you won’t be successful by following some other path.
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.