Challenges, and Buckets, and Writing, Oh My

Today in one of the podcasts I enjoy listening to, Portfolio Life, Jeff Goins talked about the importance of developing a daily writing habit. I’ve been trying to spend at least a little time every night doing just that. My ears perked up, and while nothing he said was completely revolutionary to me, nothing I haven’t heard or said myself, it still inspired me. Some of the key points that stuck with me were how he developed his own daily writing habit, some of the tools he used, and the Idea Bucket.

For developing a writing habit, Goins stressed having a goal, say 500 words, or 30 minutes. Whatever that goal is, it needs to be attainable. If you’re looking to start a daily writing habit but 500 words seems too intimidating, you could either aim for a word count that you feel more comfortable with, or aim for a time limit instead. The trick with time limits though is that you do NOTHING but write. No Facebook. No email. No household chores. No cleaning your desk. No organizing your writing files. (I’m guilty of that one.)




I’ve heard at least one other writer say that when working with time limits, they would just sit and stare at the blank screen, even if that meant just sitting there for their full time limit. Eventually either an idea would finally hit — sometimes at the last minute — or the blankness of the page would become so compelling that they would write something just to get ANYTHING on the page. You could even write “I don’t know what to write” for the entire time limit if nothing else comes to mind. The thing about time limits is that something usually eventually comes to mind. The great thing about word count and time limit goals is that if inspiration hits, even at the last minute, you don’t HAVE to stop at the end of your word or time limit. Many writers talk about how using this tactic, they would often find themselves writing well beyond their time or word limit.

He spent a full year devoting time every day to writing at least 500 words — and then publishing them on his blog. Gulp. That’s a little scary. It’s also pretty hard core accountability. If you say you’re going to write a minimum of 500 words a day AND publish them to your blog, then you miss a day, EVERYBODY knows. Even if you think that nobody is reading your blog — even if that’s actually true — the IDEA that everybody will know is often a pretty good motivation. He specifically mentioned the site, as one way to do this sort of writing challenge. There are other ways as well: is less public, but it gamifies daily writing by keeping track of your writing streak. The Magic Spreadsheet does the same thing. For more public accountability, there are also many writers who participate in Blog-a-thons within their own communities.

After this year of “public practice” Goins not only improved his writing, but also noticed that he was able to write faster. By the end of the year, he was able to get his 500+ words done in 15 minutes. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine setting a fifteen minute time limit for yourself and starting out the year staring at a blank page for fourteen of those minutes — and at the end of the year being able to consistently produce over 500 words a day for your blog, or your story, or just your own personal amusement or edification in the same amount of time? One of the ways he accomplishes this is by using the Idea Bucket. I used to call this my Compost Pile — just some place where you store ideas. Then every day when you sit down to write, if you can’t think of anything, you just reach into the Idea Bucket and use something you find there as a prompt.

Can you guess where this is going? Yup. I’m joining the 500 Words challenge. Tonight as I sat down to write this, I couldn’t think of anything. I searched for a writing prompt. Then realized that I was really just procrastinating. (Remember the first rule? You do NOTHING but write.) So I opened a blank Scrivener page and started writing. And here’s what came out. This may be bending the rules a bit (are there even really rules?) but one of the first things I’m going to do is fill up my Idea Bucket. If you’d like to do this too, you can put anything in this bucket you like. You could literally cut out random words from a magazine, or you could spend ten minutes brainstorming ideas. You could fill it with story ideas, characters, settings, pieces of dialog (you could even sit in a coffee shop and write down random bits of conversation that you hear). You could fill it with topics for essays, articles, anything you like. You could do a little bit of both.

Tomorrow will be my brainstorming day. And true to the challenge, I’ll post those ideas.

Will you join me?

Drop me a comment on my Facebook page to let me know what your daily goal is going to be. I’m going to stick to the 500 words. That feels attainable to me. For today, this is over 900 already. So 500 should be easy, right? (Somewhere, the Universe is laughing at me, I know it. That’s okay though.) has a facebook group if you’d like more fellow writers to share community with during the challenge. You could post your daily writing to your blog as well, if you’re feeling brave. I’m not feeling brave, but I’m going to do it anyway. You could also just post your word count if that feels less intimidating. Hope to see you soon!