Writing 500,000 Words in Six Months: How I Became a Better, Faster, and More Disciplined Writer

You guys…I’ve written 500,000 words in less than six months.

If you’re new to this blog, you might not be aware that since September 1st, I’ve been doing the Milwordy (write a million words in a year) Challenge. You can check out My Milwordy Declaration if you want to know where this all started.

It occurs to me that if I had chosen to do a half-Milwordy, I would be done right now.

I would be lying if I said that wasn’t appealing, but we’re not changing the rules halfway through the game. Instead, let’s celebrate!

Five hundred thousand words! Can you believe it? I can—because I had to be there for every single one of them. It wasn’t always fun.

It does feel a little surreal. I feel simultaneously like it’s only been a week since I started this challenge and like it’s been 84 years. Milwordy, it would seem, is capable of bending the time-space continuum.

Oh, the power of words!

But in all seriousness, I wanted to take a moment here to look back on the last six months of this challenge. Let’s see if we can come to any conclusions about whether I’ve wasted my time trying to write an absurd number of words, shall we?

First off, let’s talk numbers:

I have completed:

5 novellas

1 novel

1 novel-length backstory (yikes!)

1 short story

I also briefly kept a journal and I’ve—surprisingly—kept up with this blog. Technically I’ve published 56 blog posts, not including this one, but I’ve actually written many more than that. I recently found a cache of blog posts that I wrote earlier on in the challenge, never posted, and completely forgot about. Most are outdated now because they were based on my experiences at that particular time, but I might still be able to salvage a few of them. Regardless, those words count toward this challenge.

Currently I’m 50k-ish words into another novel, which I hope to finish by the end of March.

I’ve been brainstorming for three other novels as well. Plus, there was brainstorming and outlining that happened for the completed works above, which also contributed to my word count.

As impressive as that amount of work is, I’m looking at it and feeling like there should be more. Like, only one complete novel? In 500k words? That can’t be right! But it is.

Now, let’s talk about time because I’ve been keeping track of hours logged during this challenge and so I might as well throw those out there as well. In truth, this probably isn’t 100% accurate, but it’s pretty close. I’ve tracked it every day, but sometimes it is a little difficult to figure out total time—especially on days where I have several small writing sessions rather than one continuous one. Still, I think these numbers are interesting.

September: 79 ½ hours total

100,070 words total

1,259 average words per hour

October: 64 hours total

91,494 words total

1,430 average words per hour

November: 47 ¾ hours total

83,418 words total

1,747 average words per hour

December: 40 ¾ hours total

85,660 words total

2,102 average words per hour

January: 52 ¾ hours total

83,878 words total

1,590 average words per hour

February (as of the 500k mark): 35 ¼ hours total

55,480 words total

1,574 average words per hour

What I didn’t realize until just now is that I have indeed gotten faster. I mean, I could sort of sense this, but truly I didn’t know for sure. I think we have to take December out as an outlier because of how heavily I leaned on dictation that month (particularly for my 23k day). But even without December I think it’s impressive that my speed as improved by several hundred words an hour since September.

But you might be thinking…Robin, it’s great and all that you’ve gotten faster, but is that really what matters? What if speeding up has actually made your writing get worse, not better. To that I say…you’re right. That is something I worry about. I don’t think that’s what’s happening here, but it’s difficult to be sure, especially since I haven’t had much of an opportunity to truly reflect on what I wrote in the beginning of the challenge vs. what I’ve been writing lately.

What I can tell you is that there are things that I know I’ve improved on, even if I can’t quantify it for you. For instance, I know that I’ve gotten better at showing rather than telling. Not as much as I need to perhaps, but I find myself naturally making more of an effort towards showing than I ever had in the past. In fact, in the past it wasn’t something I gave much thought to at all. I knew I needed to, but I went into it with a sort of “That’s Revision Robin’s problem” mentality. Now it’s a Drafting Robin’s problem. Drafting Robin is also thinking more about things like setting the scene and using all five senses. I think this accounts for the fact that I’m beginning to be less of an under-writer than I used to be (*ahem* Did someone say novel-length backstory?).

Another thing that I’ve been working on is overused words and phrases. Every writer has certain words or turns of phrase that turn up incessantly in their work. What this challenge has helped me do is identify a lot of my own personal repetition. I’m still struggling to rectify the situation, but hey—knowing what to look for is the first step isn’t it?

My outlining process has also improved. I keep intending to write a post about how I’m outlining my current novel—and how much I’m loving it, but I’ve been putting it off. Hopefully that’s coming soon, but for now I will just say that I think I’ve finally found that balance between plotting and pantsing that I’ve always been longing for. And I think that it’s really improving my plotting overall.

Quality and speed are both important things to improve, but that’s not the end of the good things Milwordy has brought me. Milwordy is teaching me to be disciplined in my writing. Showing up to write every day is becoming a habit in a way that it never has been for me. When I don’t feel like writing…too bad. I need those words. And the important lesson showing up to write has taught me is that the words will come if I simply sit down and do the work. I don’t have to wait for inspiration to come to me. In fact, I shouldn’t.

Not only am I disciplined in getting in words every single day, but over the past month and a half, I’ve started to become more disciplined in what I work on. I’m learning how to follow a schedule so that I finish a particular project in a certain amount of time. I’ve been aiming to finish my current novel by March 31st and I have been working on that project before anything else each day to make sure that I get there.

Milwordy has also taught me things about myself as a writer that were counterintuitive to what I believed about myself before. Despite always seeing myself as a night owl, I am most assuredly a morning writer. I am more productive in the mornings. I do better work in the mornings. And I love the feeling of having gotten my writing in before going to my actual job.

I like having my dedicated writing space. Prior to Milwordy, I was a “write anywhere” kind of girl. It’s taken me several months to set up my desk in just the way I want it, but now that I’ve gotten it right, I never want to write anywhere else. It’s so nice to have all of my writing books, notebooks, and various office supplies right within reach so I don’t have to go hunting for them. Plus, it’s been much better for my wrists which is challenge-saving.

Before writing this post, I don’t think I was aware of just how much good Milwordy had done for me. There have been times during this challenge when I wanted to give up—in part because it’s hard, but also because I just wasn’t sure if it was getting me anywhere. Now I’m convinced. Taking up the Milwordy gauntlet was the right choice. I hope that the last 500k words will be as helpful as the first 500k, but even if they aren’t, I genuinely think this challenge will have been worth it.

If you want to read more about my Milwordy journey, you can start here. You can also check out my monthly wrap-ups starting in September, or my weekly thoughts like this one from last week. And feel free to keep coming back to see how I do with the final 500k. I’d love to see you again!

Let me know down in the comments if you have done, are doing, or are considering doing the Milwordy challenge. What has your experience with it been? Also, let me know about any other challenges you’ve given yourself. I’m always interested in hearing about how other people are working toward their personal goals.

If you are enjoying this blog, please like, follow, and share it. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram as well @ramblingrobinj in both places.

-Robin

Published by Robin J

I’m an aspiring novelist who hasn’t quite figured out this whole writing thing. I’ve been scribbling down stories since I was a little kid, but only dared to dream that I could write something worth reading as I became an adult. At 33, I still feel like I have a lot of progress to make before I’m ready to try publishing, but I’m getting better every day. Typically I write Fantasy (of both the Adult and YA varieties), but I have dipped my toe in Romance and Sci-Fi. When coming up with a story to write, all I care about is that the plot grabs my attention and the characters tug at my heartstrings. The genre is an afterthought. I tend to set myself lofty goals. Mostly I fail, but occasionally I surprise myself and succeed. Either way, I enjoy being pushed beyond the limits of what I thought I could do. That’s what I’m hoping to accomplish with the Milwordy challenge. I may or may not reach the full million words, but I know I’m going to learn a lot along the way. I hope you will, too!

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