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Writers: How Far Can You Get on Just 250 Words?

I’ve interviewed creative women with young children at home who are desperately unhappy because they can’t get their creative work done with any kind of regularity, or even at all. Probing more deeply, I often learn that so-and-so writer mother can’t consider working on her novel if she doesn’t have four hours to herself. When I suggest trying to be more flexible with work opportunities, she resists. So then the question becomes, gently: “Do you want to get your novel written on your own terms, or do you want to get your novel written?”

It’s important to remember that nothing lasts forever. Eventually, she will again be able to enjoy four-hour stretches of solitude for writing. But if that’s not feasible right now, and the creative work is how she makes meaning, it’s more important to loosen up on those ideals and develop skills that enable more spontaneous and flexible creativity.

It’s not terribly hard to write 250 words a day. With the exception of mothers with newborns, most of us can pull off 250 words without making a major time commitment or feeling like we’re neglecting our family. The four paragraphs you’re reading right now total exactly 250 words. If you wrote 250 words a day, you would have a full-length novel written in just over a year. Does that sound like a long time? It’s not. And if you don’t write those 250 words a day, the year will pass anyway, novel or no novel. Word by word!

This piece was reprinted from the last issue of the Creative Times, our monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe!

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I definitely utilized a version of this to finish my first draft, but i find editing the middle of a novel really does needs regular big fat chunks of time to ‘stay in it’ and really make effective edits.

    for draft two, i tried the above approach and found i pecked my way through on tiny edit problems, grammar variety, but doing the real shifting around that the manuscript needed – major cuts, chapter merges, pov clean up, making characters concise, writing out much beloved characters who didn’t serve, filling in new substantive areas, i need the big hunks of time alone, and out of my house. i’m not saying that is true for everyone, but the constant state of distraction for me be it housework, gardening, true self-care in exercise or meditation eats up the day, and yes, sometimes internet jumping, but that basically happens because i have to remain connected for emails from #2’s school b/c of his special needs and that’s when the kids and mother-in-law are at home. i can’t maintain in my head where i was before, where i’m going with my notes in a way that makes the story arc clean.

    I really do need the time to myself to do a good job of editing draft three. i did a read through last week, and had two good chunks of time to work on it, and i finally broke through on a part that was necessary, but holding the book back. it wasn’t until i was able to really ‘live’ in the work that that change was possible. this was after two weeks of trying really hard the above way.

    *having said all of the above, because it is where i am now, i DO recommend that smaller portion of writing for getting to the end of a first draft, for short stories, poems, articles, blogs.*

    just for now, for this draft, i really need more singular immersion to reach effective concentration. in the meantime, i photograph, i blog, i play, i garden to keep creative.

    May 3, 2011
  2. ugh, way in there, there is a necessary to fix typo – when the kids and mil are NOT in the house.

    May 3, 2011
  3. Thanks – I needed this today!

    May 3, 2011
  4. A good point. On a slightly different track, since I’m not a novel writer but working on mixed media projects, I find that having an array of projects on the go was vital when I was out-and-about with my son. I had portable projects for the playground, mini tasks which I could fit into 20 minutes, longer and more involved work which I saved for a (hopefully) longer nap time, and then work which fit into the evenings after the bed/bath routine – either really creative, brain-storming stuff if I was in the mood, or grunt work which required me to be there in body but not mind. With these methods I managed to feel creatively accomplished most weeks.

    May 7, 2011
    • Hi Pomomama! I would love to hear more about how you structured these projects. Would you be up for writing a blog post on this topic?

      Also, on Facebook the question came up of how to break a larger visual art project into mini stints (as opposed to working on other creative projects that aren’t directly related to a bigger, primary project). Would love to know your thoughts on that too!

      May 9, 2011
  5. alisonwells #

    Yes this is a very interesting post. I have to agree with Cath C about when you really need to get to grips with your novel and do restructuring etc you need some head space. However staying with a novel over time even in short burst does help with staying connected and getting it done over time. For me doing the nanowrimo challenge was ideal. One month where I would stay focussed and family knew I needed to stay focussed to do 1667 words a day helped me get a chunk of a novel done. Without that impetus it is hard to keep going when there are so many distactions. Sometimes flash fiction is easier to do or short stories where you can come and go more easily.

    May 9, 2011
  6. Katie Jane #

    “If you wrote 250 words a day, you would have a full-length novel written in just over a year.” Love this.

    June 24, 2012
  7. shasasomnomnom #

    I have been wanting to start a book for so long, this may have just been the inspiration I needed!

    July 12, 2014

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