What 1,000 Words a Day Taught Me
Lessons and reminders from Jami Attenberg’s mini #1000wordsofsummer challenge.
Last week, I wrote 1,000 words every day. This is not something I ordinarily do, and I am so glad I did it.
If you’re on Twitter, you’ve likely come across Jami Attenberg’s #1000wordsofsummer, a writing challenge she hosts each (you guessed it!) summer. Lately, I’ve noticed #1000wordsofsummer transcending the Internet—for instance, in the magnificent novel Nightbitch, author Rachel Yoder goes so far as to cite it in her acknowledgments, noting that she first drafted the book during Jami’s challenge.
I’ve done my fair share of self-led writing challenges, but for some reason, I’d never signed up for #1000wordsofsummer. It’s a free email newsletter program, one in which Jami sends daily nudges and words of encouragement. When I saw that she was hosting a mini version of the challenge—just six days long—I thought I’d give it a shot. Why not? I can do almost anything for six days.
I’ve been rewriting a novel for about a year now after drafting the project for about half that time. For me, the goal of a draft is to get it all down, no matter how it looks. The goal of rewriting, however, is to get the right things down. I’ve found that rewriting often includes more deep thinking and decision-making than actual writing. But whenever I make a decision to rewrite a section—say, if I’ve decided that one scene would be better suited taking place in a garden center than at someone’s kitchen table—it requires rolling up my sleeves and getting back into drafting. And when I’ve been out of it a while, drafting mode starts getting scary. I get too precious about what I’m writing.
It was my hope that writing 1,000 words of day for just six consecutive days would help me dive back into drafting mode. If it went poorly, it wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things—just six writing days.
Some days last week, the writing felt like flying. Others days, it felt like a slog—there was one day where it took me an hour just to get 50 words down. But Jami made it feel simpler. She began each note by saying, “Today we will write 1,000 words.” She’d punctuate this simple nudge with words like, “Write your fucking heart out today.” “We are the only ones who can do it.” “Now write the fucking book.”
It was only six days, but I’m blown away by how much more manageable it feels now to return to drafting after this challenge. Here are three things I learned from the mini #1000wordsofsummer.
When in doubt, start by getting your shit together.
Two days before this mini challenge started, Jami sent an email telling us, “Get your shit together.” She followed with a list of literal shit we needed to get together:
your sense of humor
a book of poetry to refer to on occasion for inspiration
your belief in yourself
some sort of gorgeous treat for the end of the day, as a reward for having written all those words, the ones that will shift your life ever so incrementally forward, because there is no going back, and that’s how life works, there is only forward, one word at a time.
I use a lot of this stuff regularly when I write but decided to gather it together in one place anyway because Jami told me to. Here’s the shit I got together:
I found unexpected power in getting my shit together before getting started on this challenge. For me, it was a visual cue that I really did have everything I needed to write my fucking heart out.
The biggest discoveries arise while you’re getting words down.
I recently read mystery novelist Elizabeth George’s book Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel, which touts the essentiality of writing as a means of discovery. Writing. Not thinking or pondering or considering. Actual writing.
I discovered three (three!) missing pieces in my book while writing 1,000 words a day last week. One discovery elevated tension like crazy. Another helped me combine two chapters into one. But my biggest discovery last week helped me understand my protagonist better. What better thing could I ask for in a writing session than that?
Perhaps you do this, too: you think too much about the story you’re trying to tell on the page instead of just trying to write it. We think we can outsmart the page and process by looking before we leap, when really, most of the time, the writing is all we have.
If you set the bar low, you’ve still set the bar.
Like I said, six days of writing isn’t a marathon. But I came out of it 6,000 words richer.
Have you had success writing with a daily word count goal? Leave a comment and tell me how it impacted your writing life.
Interested in writing with Jami Attenberg during next year’s #1000wordsofsummer? Subscribe to her newsletter.
How do you get in the zone (and, most importantly, stay in the zone) when you write?
“Background coffee shop ambient noise mixed with a lo-fi study playlist drummed into my head with noise cancelling headphones. And I’d that doesn’t work, I turn off my wifi and set a 25-minute timer. Time to WRITE.” —Chelsea
“Let it out as soon as it comes in.” —Pete
“My ritual is turning on an antique Japanese poodle lamp. It’s cheesy, but ‘if the poodle is lit, I cannot quit.’” —Brooke
(brb buying an antique Japanese poodle lamp rn)
Tell me about your own writing process by answering a few questions in my reader questionnaire.
Really Digging This
Here’s what I’ve been reading and loving lately.
Nightbitch — Oh, wow wow WOW. I refuse to stop gushing about this phenomenal book. The story of a mother who’s left her career as an artist behind and worries she’s turning into a dog (no joke), this novel takes a fierce, piercing stab at answering the age-old question: can women have it all? This book will be hard to beat for my favorite of 2021. I can’t wait to read Rachel Yoder’s next creation.
Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol — Lately, I’ve been taking a good, hard look at my relationship with drinking. I tell myself that I imbibe because I enjoy it, but do I? Who is really calling the shots when I pour myself a glass of wine? Quit Like a Woman was the perfect book for me to read during this time of self-reflection. With an emphasis on social justice, author and activist Holly Whitaker breaks down the role of alcohol as oppressor, one that so often gets a pass within our society. If you’ve been curious about the role alcohol plays in your life, give this book a try.
Tell me about your lonely victories.
“A dear friend and fellow poet died recently after a long, protracted battle against cancer. When I received the news, I sat down and drafted an elegy to remember him. After some minor edits from my first reader, I submitted it to a highly selective journal, and it was accepted for their upcoming September issue. It feels great to honor my friend this way.” —Michael
What a lovely tribute. Congratulations, Michael!
I want to hear about your writing achievements, too! Answer my reader questionnaire and I may include your response in future issues of this newsletter.
A Quick Note About This Newsletter
Lonely Victories began as a twice-a-month newsletter. This was a good pace for me to maintain when the pandemic first broke out—in fact, starting this newsletter in the thick of 2020 helped me find my creative footing during such an uncertain time. Now that things are (maybe?? *laughs nervously*) getting back to normal, Lonely Victories will be an occasional missive. Thank you so much for your interest in what I have to say about writing and reading.
“Writing alone can give you a very deep sense of satisfaction and lonely victory.” —Greta Gerwig