I Don't Actually Want to Write A Million Words...
Here we are again! Another week is in the books!
The video update for week five is posted:
As before, if you'd prefer to watch on youtube, here's that link: https://youtu.be/I8wxO2d8k8A
And if you would prefer to read the text of the video, I've provided that down below.
When I set out to write one million words in one year, it sounded like a lofty goal to some of the people I mentioned it to.
But here's a secret. My goal is not to write a million words.
The Million Words Project isn't a goal, really. It's a tool I'm using to reach my goals.
Stick around, and I'll explain what I mean.
Welcome to the Million Word Project update for week five! We are wrapping up the first full month, and we have a big milestone to celebrate after five weeks!
I'm Eric Sheridan Wyatt, author, writing instructor, and creativity coach.
I've challenged myself to write ONE MILLION WORDS in twelve months. Each week, I'm going to give an update on my progress and share some of the ups and downs of this challenge.
Along the way, I'll share some things I've learned—and am often STILL learning—about my writing life.
My hope is that these videos will ignite YOUR creativity, light your entrepreneurial fire, or otherwise inspire you to take on a challenge, that BIG THING you've been putting on the back burner for too long.
I believe small steps lead to big results.
Let's start this week's journey.
Week five was a solid effort, coming in a little more than two thousand words ahead of the weekly pace of 20,000 words.
If we start with the graphs, you'll see I added some new graphical representations to the mix.
I'm still playing with how I use the data I'm collecting to best effect, so I'm trying to figure out which of these I like.
On the lower left, you can see my weekly performance versus the steady target pace of twenty thousand words a week. And on the bottom right, a comparison of the overall cumulative pace versus actual words written. After five weeks, I'm about eleven thousand words ahead of the million word pace.
But, you may notice, I've hit my first celebratory milestone! One Hundred Thousand Words this week. I took a minute to celebrate, and did a little dance around the home office.
Don't worry. I didn't film my dance, so you won't have to avert your eyes.
One hundred thousand is a solid start, and progress toward the successful completion of the challenge, so it was good to take a minute and celebrate the small win!
Moving on to look at the numbers in a little more detail: The distribution of the words is quite a bit different from previous weeks. I'd like to discuss that for just a minute.
A typical journaling week for me is between 4,200 and 4,500 words. Sometimes I write more in my morning pages, sometimes less. But, on average, for the last dozen years, I've written about 750 words a day, six days a week.
Monitoring my journaling habits is an important barometer of my overall creative health. Having one week below 3,500 words isn't a big red flag, but I know when I go for long stretches with low journal counts, something's wrong internally.
This week, my daily routine was interrupted for four days, and that contributed to the dip in journaling, at least partly. It was one of those "sometimes life throws you a curveball" instances where I ended up driving to Lexington and back four times, when I had anticipated ZERO trips to Lexington.
Sometimes, Life Happens.
If we skip all the way down to the Life Document total for week five, we see a significant dip in that number. As I said in prior weeks, the higher-than-anticipated totals I've had in that column have been mostly circumstantial, and I'm attempting to re-balance the overall word totals to something closer to my idealized balance.
Going back to the non-fiction and platform column, we see a lot of the words that had been in the Life Document column found their way into a couple of non-fiction projects this week. Which is good! I needed to redistribute some of my energy.
We are going to skip over that big, ugly zero in the Fiction column for one more week. At least I hope it's just one more week. Because I actually have some big things brewing on the fiction writing front, they just haven't bubbled up into new words written yet.
I also had some work to do for a client who I am ghostwriting for, and that is reflected in the 500 words logged in the Client Projects column. Now, I actually spent many hours on this client's project this week, giving it two rounds of revisions and a line edit.
But I only added one small, brand new section, and the point of the Million Words Project is to track my production of NEW words, or NEW writing, so revision and editing don't count toward these totals.
Revision and editing are both very much an important part of writing, but that's not what I'm tracking here. I'm only tracking one very narrow, very specific aspect of my writing and creative life.
In fact, that is a good segue to this week's...
My goal, as a writer, is not to write one million words. That may seem strange, considering I have a video series called The Million Words Project, in which I give updates about my progress in this challenge to... write one million words.
And, if you've seen earlier episodes, you'll probably have caught me saying I have a GOAL of writing one million words in one year, on more than one occasion.
But, the truth is, this Million Words Project is a tool that I am using to help me reach toward several actual goals.
The Million Words are not the end product, they are just a way for me to monitor my ongoing progress, in one specific area: Writing NEW words.
This is important for two reasons.
First, if you saw the earlier episodes, you know that I was struggling with the idea that I wasn't writing enough. And what writing I WAS doing, wasn't focused in the right areas. Tracking my new words written helps me debunk that false narrative, and it helps me make decisions about how I am balancing my creative life.
Second—and this is equally important—many of my personal, creative, and professional goals—the goals that really matter to me, that have meaning, that I am pursuing with purpose—require me to write new essays, new books, new scripts, and new teaching materials.
All of those things require me to write NEW WORDS.
Given these two reasons, I wanted to come up with a way to encourage myself to write new words, and have something approaching a balanced plan of attack.
I decided that I would use some very un-creative methods to spur my creativity. If you've spent much time in a professional business environment, you have likely heard of concepts like task tracking, and activity logging, and phrases like "time on task" or "prioritizing work flow."
For big projects, there's a concept of "reverse engineering" the project, where you start with the ideal end result, and then work backward to construct a timeline, waypoints, mini-goals, etc.
So, I started with my end goals in mind, and began to work backward, trying to find action steps that would propel me toward completion.
In this case, I knew I needed to write more words, write more often, and write with specific projects in mind. I needed to generate hundreds of thousands of words to write the essays and books and other projects I want to complete.
Which led me to the idea of setting a weekly mini-goal for new words written. That gave me something to keep track of, and a way to measure progress week-to-week.
I played around with several ideas, but I knew from studying goal setting, that I wanted my mini-goals to be aggressive, but reachable. I wanted to encourage myself to actually make solid progress, but I didn't want to make it so I would fail on a regular basis.
How many words per week, then?
I've been writing a long time. I know how long it takes me to write different kinds of materials, and how sometimes things really kick into a high gear, and other times every word is a slog.
I know that my most productive week, ever, I wrote 45,000 words in seven days. That's about 6,500 words a day. But, I also know how RARE that sort of flow state is.
The most I've written in one single day was about ten thousand words, but that day I spent fourteen hours writing, in total. Again, that sort of sustained flow is super rare. At least, for me.
I knew averaging two thousand words per day was on the low side. Five days a week, that's only about 10,000 a week.
So then I said to myself, "Self, what about 20,000 words per week? That sounds like a solid, challenging, but not overwhelming number, given my past experience!"
Doing some quick math, I realized 20,000 words per week would give me one million, forty-thousand words.
And I said to myself, "Self, give yourself two weeks off, and you have a million words." That number seemed...catchy. One Million Words. What a fun challenge.
And thus, the Million Words Project was born.
Why do I tell you all of this? Do I think YOU should start your own million words project?
Yes, and no.
Of course, if you want to set a million word challenge for yourself, by all means, if it fits your bigger goals, then absolutely do it! Join me in the fun! The more the merrier!
But what I'm actually hoping my description of the birth of the Million Words Project will do is encourage you to consider how you can reverse engineer your own big goals, given your own skills and abilities, and considering the roadblocks, hurdles, and pitfalls you either may experience, or are already sidetracked by.
The principles I'm sharing with you are applicable to whatever your BIG THING is.
Unlike my BIG THING, which requires a lot of writing, Your BIG THING may not require you to write hundreds of thousands of words, or even millions of words, in the next three to five years.
But you can start to identify measurable, actionable baby steps that will get you closer to your desired end result.
And one last concept I want to share with you.
There have been times, in the past when I've been in a creative funk, that I have done what I call "ramp up goal setting." This is a stair-step approach.
For the Million Words Project, I was already in a place where writing twenty thousand new words in a week on a consistent basis would be a little bit of a stretch, but not impossible.
However, had I been at a rock bottom of not writing at all, I could have done a ramp up method, where I would spend two weeks with a 10,000 word target, and then two more with a 15,000 word target, and then moved up to 20,000 a week.
I've done this sort of stair-step method with any number of "getting back on track" tasks over the years, and it can be an effective way to go from zero to steady pace.
Perhaps your challenge will be something like "spending ten hours a week painting." And maybe for the first few weeks, you'll set a smaller threshold of four hours, and then increase it to eight, and then step up to ten.
Whatever metric you decide on, make sure it is achievable, but not too easy. Challenge yourself to make more progress.
Decide what it is you want to measure, and how you'll track it, so you know when you're making progress, and when you might need to light the fire to get more done.
And then, start keeping track, so you have the data you need to reach for your BIG THING.
There is a funny-but-true quote attributed to Lily Tomlin, the comedian. She said: "I always wanted to BE somebody. I should have been more specific."
It seems counter intuitive to impose structure on your creative tasks. We like to believe creativity comes from inspiration and freedom and a lack of restraint. And, on one level, that's very true.
But taking a creative idea or unique concept or innovative thought and putting it into a form that is useful to you, and to others, takes actual work.
What is true for me, both in my personal writing and in my fiction writing, is this: I am more likely to feel the lightening strike of creativity and inspiration, if I am actively engaged in the things that at least approach the end result I hope to achieve.
If I'm actively pursuing my BIG THING, I am much more likely to someday catch it.
Imposing structure is, for me, my effort to be more specific about the creative somebody I want to be, moving forward.
Deciding what to track, and how to measure your progress isn't always an easy thing to do.
But finding a way to encourage yourself to consistently chip away at your BIG THING—and then give yourself the data to adjust your creative practices and improve your work—is a key component to progress.
The challenge goal isn't the end result. It's a piece of a bigger puzzle.
For me, my real goal is not to just write One Million Words. Writing new words is an important aspect of the work I want to accomplish in the next five, ten, maybe even twenty more years, God willing.
But the million word challenge is what I need now, to help move the needle and get me closer to those things I most want to accomplish.
The objective is to CREATE MORE, not just check off a box that I did something, or hit a target for this week. The challenge is simply a tool that propels me forward.
Points to Ponder
As we wrap up the video update today, let me give you a couple of points to ponder.
First, ask yourself what are the key behaviors you have to exhibit in order to realize your BIG THING.
Maybe, you're a photographer, so taking pictures would be one of those behaviors. Learning to edit photos and print them might be another. Practicing using lights, or filters, or other photo gizmos might be part of your process.
Second, when you've identified some key behaviors necessary for whatever artistic or creative pursuit you want to achieve, assess your strengths and weaknesses. What parts of the process are you naturally more inclined toward than others? What areas are lacking?
A good way to think of this is to finish the sentence, "Wouldn't it be great if...?" in relationship to your Big Thing.
Wouldn't it be great if I could do X? Wouldn't it be great if y happened?
Finally, if you can identify areas that are keeping you stuck and not pursuing your dream, ask yourself if there is a way to break that behavior down into something you can measure and track, and if there is a way to challenge yourself into action.
That's all for week five! Whew. I may have been a little long-winded this week.
If you made it this far, I'm hoping that means you got something useful out of this video.
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If you wouldn't mind, please like, subscribe, and all the good things.
You can engage in the comments section, ask a question, give a rebuttal to my ramblings, or offer some encouragement. It's all very much appreciated.
And, most importantly, if you know someone in your life who might benefit from this video series, send them a link and invite them to join us, won't you? Sharing is caring.
You can find information about me, Eric Sheridan Wyatt, and my books in the show notes.
If you are joining this video series part way through, and want to know what is going on, who I am, and what this Million Words Project is all about, you'll find a link to the first episode which can answer those questions.
Until next time, remember: Your words matter. Make them count.
Credits and Contact
The Million Words Project is a production of Words Matter Creative Writing.
©2022 Eric Sheridan Wyatt, for Words Matter Creative Writing
Contact Eric@WordsMatterESW.com or see the show notes for more information.
Week Five: Written, filmed, and hosted by Eric Sheridan Wyatt not far from the banks of the O-HI-O, in lovely Northern Kentucky.
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Find all of my links here: https://linktr.ee/ericswyatt
My main website: www.WordsMatterESW.com
My Amazon Author Page gives you quick access to my books: https://amzn.to/3Ux5X83
Link to episode one, in case you're new to the Million Words Project.