How to Write a Novel in Only 500 Words a Day

So if you follow me on Twitter or have liked my Facebook page, you might have seen this tweet enter the world of the internet a couple of days ago:


I did the math, and figuring that every blog post averages somewhere around 500 words, that means that after today, I’ll have written somewhere around 100,000 words in blog posts, and it really got me thinking. Because I almost didn't start this blog. I almost talked myself out of publishing that first post and announcing it to my (then) 100 Twitter followers.

I almost missed out on an opportunity to add 100,000 words to my writing experience in a relatively simple way.

It really got me thinking, because writing 500 words three times a week is really not that difficult—sure, choosing a topic isn’t always butterflies and rainbows, but the actual writing part of putting 500 words to paper? Not so hard.

It really got me thinking, because 100,000 words is longer than some books—and it’s definitely longer than most of my WIPs.

It really got me thinking, because I’ve often heard people say things to the effect of, I’d love to write a book, but I don’t have the time and truth be told? Time isn’t really an issue when it comes to writing a book.

Let’s just say that you’re working full time (like many writers) or going to school full time (like many writers) or have children (like many writers) or all of the above and you only have a couple hours of free time every day. That’s fair. A lot of people are busy and aren’t really swimming in an ocean of time to spare.

But there’s this misconception that writers must be drowning in extra magical free time because it takes hundreds of hours to write a novel, so if you’ve written a novel, you must have hundreds of hours to just throw around. But truth be told, most times writers don’t have that much more time than anyone else, and the dirty little secret is that you don’t need it.

Photo credit: Wiertz S├ębastien on Flickr
Sure, it’s nice if you have free time, and I’m not going to pretend I don’t love the days when I can sit down and dedicate the whole day to putting in a few thousand words into the current WIP. But that’s not every day, and that’s ok.

Because all you need is enough time to write a few hundred words a day, and if you keep at it, before you know it you’ll have a novel sitting on your hard drive.

Let’s look at the math:

If you write 500 words a day five days a week, that’s 2,500 words a week or 10,000 words a month. At that rate, it’ll take you anywhere from six to ten months to finish the first draft of a novel, depending on how long your WIP is. If you write six days a week, you can finish in five to eight and a half months. That means if you write 500 words a day and take a one or two day break, you can get that novel written in less than a year.

Let’s up the ante. If you write 750 words a day five days a week, that’s 3,750 words a week or 15,000 words a month. At that rate, it’ll take you roughly four to seven months to finish first drafting.  At six days a week, you’ll be finished in three and a half to five and a half months. Not bad at all.

Writing 200 blog posts has really reminded me about the power of working in small doses. You don’t need to put in ten hours a day every day to accomplish something great. All you need is enough discipline to chip away at that novel or whatever it is you’re working on a little every day, and before you know it you’ll be looking back in awe of what you managed to accomplish with thirty minutes a day.

And let me tell you—it feels pretty good.

How do you manage your time? Do you have a specific daily writing goal or some strategy to help you progress with your WIPs? Share your experience—I’d love to hear about it.   

35 comments:

J. A. Bennett said...

Happy 200th post! I try to write wherever I can, but i do my best writing when I can be completely focused and that means kid-free. not always easy especially when I've had to take it really easy with this pregnancy. hoping I can get back into the writing groove soon!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you! I've also found that I oftentimes do my best writing when I'm totally focused and able to block everything else out (including the music I'm listening to).


I wish you the best with your pregnancy! :)

Yesenia Vargas said...

Awesome post, Ava! This really got me thinking as well. My very first blogging anniversary is coming up in late October. Now I'm wondering how many words I've written just in blog posts. This really encourages me to just sit down and get those 500 words at least a few days a week. Instead of here and there. Thanks!

Grace Robinson said...

Loved this post. :) Thanks for breaking it down so logically--it's just about doing a little bit every day. That's really how anything worthwhile is accomplished, because few worthwhile things can be done in a day. The discipline to do a little bit every day--thanks for reminding me that's all it takes!


And congrats on 200 blog posts! :)

Ava Jae said...

You're very welcome, Yesenia! It's pretty amazing when you look back and see just how much can be accomplished in small increments. :)


And happy early blogoversary!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Grace! I absolutely agree with what you said about worthwhile accomplishments--they often take time, discipline and a lot of hard work, but thankfully we don't have to try to tackle the whole thing at once.

Fallon Brown said...

I stay at home, but have 2 kids(almost 5 and almost 2), so, yes, time is limited. I wake up before they do(most of the time. slept in yesterday, so that cut into my writing time), and can usually get in close to an hour of writing time. This usually gets me anywhere between 500-1000 words, sometimes less, sometimes more. If that gets me to my daily word goal, which depends on my deadline(self-imposed) and how many words I have left to write, then I'm happy. If not, I can usually get another hour or so during my son's afternoon nap to get the rest in. I usually end up with more than my word goal, and that makes me happy too. :)

Margaret Alexander said...

I just realized all this time I wasn't even following you on Twitter. One of those "duh" moments. Baby steps are certainly the way to go. You don't have to write a chapter a day, but it's certainly possible. Do what you can and you'll definitely finish. Sometimes my editing goes as slow as a page a day (that may be all I have time for) but I'd rather do one page than not do it at all, since before I know it, I'm done with the whole novel. Big congrats on your 200th post, you've come really far :)

David Fuller said...

I totally agree -- my goal was to write a couple of pages a day (roughly 500 words), with more on days I had extra time (few and far between). And by sticking to that more or less, I got about 110K words of a new draft done in seven months -- which floored me. Like, what had I been spending all my scraps of time on before? :P Plus, it could be just me, but having time to think in between my writing periods turned out to be valuable brainstorming time. I would still like to have more time to write, but I've given up the idea of "writing days" -- every day has to have a bit of writing in it, that's the only way I can move forward.

Author Steven said...

First of all CONGRATS FOR THE 200th POST! :) And when you put it like that it is absolutely insane that you've written the equivalent to a 400 page book! It's also rather encouraging when you put it in the numbers like you did. Granted, like you said, the whole part about getting an idea that you are excited enough to stick with the whole 100,000+ words may be more of a challenge, but when you get that 1 in 100 great idea and roll with it you can indeed truly do great things. And I'm glad that you didn't talk yourself into not making this blog because it has helped me (and I think I can speak for many others) a lot throughout the past several months. Thanks again! :)


~Author Steven! :D

Ava Jae said...

It's such a fantastic feeling to meet your daily writing goals--especially if you start to do it consistently and it sounds like you've worked out a schedule that works for you, which is especially fantastic. Keep up the great work! :)


Thanks for stopping by, Fallon!

Ava Jae said...

No worries, Margaret! Glad you found me on Twitter. :)


As for what you said about editing, I absolutely agree with you. Even if you only get a page edited, it's a page that wasn't edited yesterday and progress is progress! With enough patience, discipline and determination, you can finish anything you set your mind to.


And thank you! It's all been a very exciting journey. ^_^

Susan Silver said...

Using your math, I realize that I have written more than 50,000 words since June 2011. Killer. Congrats at reaching 200. I am just over 100 posts and one year into having a regular blog.

Wendy Scalfaro said...

Ava ~ You have no idea the impact this post had on my way of thinking. I will not complain anymore that I don't have time to do any writing. True, I get frustrated if I'm in the middle of a scene and one of children needs my attention or my husband calls me from the other room. However, now I realize that it doesn't matter. Whatever I'm able to accomplish in a few moments is just that: an accomplishment. Thank you for helping me see this. And Congratulations on your 200th post!

Catherine Noble said...

I love this post! I'm going to give it a go and break my work into 500 word increments, 3 times a week, and take it from there. I'm sure some days I'll feel compelled to write more! At the moment I blame work and housework for not getting enough writing done, but it's a shallow excuse. So many successful writers out there had less time than me when they started out.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you so much, Steven! You're very kind. ^_^


I was a little astounded myself when I realized just how much I'd written for this blog--it certainly didn't feel like 100,000 words. But when you break it up into smaller chunks of work, suddenly an enormous task of writing 400 or so pages doesn't seem so difficult. :)

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Susan! And congratulations on your 50k! It feels great to realize just how much you've accomplished with small chunks of work, doesn't it? :)

Ava Jae said...

You're absolutely right--whatever you manage to accomplish in the moments, whether it's fifty words or five hundred is absolutely an accomplishment. As I like to tell people on Twitter--progress is progress!


I'm so happy to hear that this post really resonated with you. I wish you the best with your writing, and thank you for the congratulations! ^_^

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Catherine! I've found that it's much easier to get work done when you break it up into chunks and work out a routine. As long as you complete your goal, you feel fantastic, and on the days that you complete more than your goal feel even better. :)

Ava Jae said...

It's truly amazing what you can accomplish with just a little work every day. As long as you're diligent and keep progressing whenever you can, you'll one day be able to look back and smile at all the work you've done. We don't need huge amounts of time to accomplish something great--we just need discipline and the determination to continue to progress during our free moments.

Emily said...

I think that's why most people don't write novels - because it just sounds like so much! But, like you said, if you break it up it doesn't seem so bad. The other thing that spurs me to write more is my awesome writer's group - we've never met each other in real life but we still all motivate each other to GET IT DONE. I think you really need other people to spur you on, otherwise you'll never finish your WIP.

paperprosciutto said...

Nice post! I love how you use the site to bring useful tips to writers and encourage them while they're going through the writing process. A novel gets pretty scary when you look at its sheer size, but after cutting it up into 500 word pieces it suddenly looks a tad bit more doable. Thanks for reminding me that writers don't have to sit in front of a typewriter 24/7! God knows how many people have that sort of time nowadays.

Ava Jae said...

I wouldn't say that it's impossible to finish a WIP without a writer's group to spur you on, but it is certainly helpful for many reasons to have support and encouragement from others (not the least of which, is the emotional support).


I also think you're right--writing a novel sounds like a lot of work because it is--but breaking it up into chunks makes the task considerably easier to handle.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Emily!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you so much! I'm glad to hear this post served as a helpful reminder. As it turns out, most large tasks are easier to handle when broken up into smaller chunks and novel writing is no exception.

Leslie S. Rose said...

Math has never been my favorite subject, but I like your take on it.

Ava Jae said...

I've never been a big fan of math myself, but in this case it proved useful. :)

Margaret Alexander said...

Brainstorming is so important. In some ways, I find "storming" through a book less productive than taking mini breaks, because you always think of more interesting ideas when you walk away from the story.

Ava Jae said...

I think it certainly helps to occasionally take a step back and evaluate where the story can go from that point. As you said, you can come up with some pretty interesting ideas if you take the time to pause and think while you're writing.

Robin Moran said...

I've always been one to feel bad if I haven't just sat down and written a thousand words or more a day. But this post has really helped me see that even a few hundred is nothing to feel bad about. This is fantastic advice and something I'm going to try for now on. Thanks!

Robin Moran said...

I've always been one to feel bad if I haven't just sat down and written a thousand words or more a day. But this post has really helped me see that even a few hundred is nothing to feel bad about. This is fantastic advice and something I'm going to try for now on. Thanks!

Ava Jae said...

You're very welcome, Robin! Having a daily writing goal can be extraordinarily helpful, but even if you write and don't meet your goal for the day, you should still try to celebrate the progress you made. Even if you only wrote 300 words that day, it's 300 words you didn't have yesterday! :)

David Fuller said...

I totally agree with this. Don't know if it's because I've trained my brain to write in one-hour spurts (because that's generally all I have free at a time), or if I just need time to mull things over and get rid of the first-idea cliches and look for something better before I start typing again. One day I'd love to have time to write in four-hour chunks and have the level I usually get during my one-hour chunks. If that makes sense.

Ava Jae said...

Makes sense to me! Those first-idea impulses can sometimes be helpful, but many times they're only the tip of a better idea.

Jennifer M. said...

This is a good point. I read a book written by the NaNoWriMo guy, and that's exactly what he said. He pointed out that if you wait for "free time", you'll never find it, and in fact if you do have lots of free time, it's easy to waste it not writing. Sometimes having to force yourself to find the time to write can actually make your writing better than if you had unlimited free time for it.

Ava Jae said...

Exactly right, Jennifer. I couldn't agree with you more. :)

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