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Twenty Mile March: What I Learned from 500+ Words Per Day

About two weeks ago, I announced I was going to complete a “Twenty Mile March” goal of writing 500 or more words every day, except for Sundays. I committed to being accountable for my word count on social media each of those days. 

As a quick rehash, the Twenty Mile March was a mindset coined by Jim Collins and shared with me by writer Jeff Wheeler based off of two explorers racing to get to the south pole. One explorer went a set twenty miles per day no matter the weather, and the second traveling as much as he could only during the best days. In the end, the first explorer was the first to reach the south pole because he put in a consistent number of miles each day. I wanted to apply this concept of marching “twenty miles per day” with my writing to see what the effect would be. 

I’m excited to report, I reached my goal with flying colors and I learned and grew a lot as a writer from it.

The Stats

Over these last two weeks, I:

  1. Wrote a total of 7,551 words, which has equated to about two chapters total
  2. Brought my main character into the meat of her climax build up
  3. Wrote an average of 686 words/day
  4. Wrote 11/12 planned writing days

What I Learned

Creativity Really Is a Muscle

In my first Twenty Mile March blog post, I wrote that Jeff Wheeler found if he kept up a steady minimum word count on his writing days, his creativity strengthened like a muscle, so on the days he felt less motivated, inspired, or felt blocked, the muscle memory kicked in and enabled him to still get his writing done for the day.

I felt the exact same thing.

The more days I worked hard to hit that 500 word minimum, the easier it became. At first, I had to force myself to sit in the chair for two hours before I was able to eek out my target word count. But as time went on, I found myself able to complete the 500 words in about 45 minutes. I really did find my creative muscle strengthening.

Knowing I Had a Word Count to Hit Encouraged Me To Plot Ahead

I came to a point where I realized that I was writing all the wrong stuff and I knew that if I didn’t take some brainstorm time before the next day’s writing session, I wasn’t going to make my goal. So, I sat down and worked through some problems in my brainstorm notebook, which informed me that I had to delete almost two days worth of work and start a scene completely over. But the result was worth it. After I began to rewrite, I found myself more able to get into the flow and hit 500 words quicker.

I Don’t Need National Novel Writing Month to Motivate Me to Hit a Word Count

I have struggled so much with keeping up high word counts after NaNoWriMo. I’m never quite as motivated, and I always slip into the mindset of “I deserve a break,” shooting myself in the foot every time. I’ve never been able to get myself to stick to a set word count outside of November.

Until now.

I guess the combined realization of the benefits of the Twenty Mile March mindset and the increased accountability on social media helped me overcome the idea that I’ll only be able to make specific word counts during NaNo. I broke whatever block there was in my head preventing me from doing that and I now feel enabled, excited, and encouraged to continue hitting set word counts.

Social Media Accountability is a Double Edged Sword

I learned two things from being accountable on social media for my daily word count.

First, I found that it encouraged people to join me in my Twenty Mile March. One of my writing friends reached out to me as I was reporting my daily progress and we ended up direct messaging back and forth about how many words we had written that day. It was the coolest thing to see how they were progressing as well and it encouraged me to keep going.

The second thing I found is it put a block in my head that I couldn’t write any more after I had been accountable for that day’s words. I tried to wait until the end of the day to report, but that was excruciating because I had the weight of being accountable on social media hanging over my head all day. 

Moving Forward

Keep Up 500+ Word Cadence

I’m definitely going to keep writing 500 words minimum a day, minus Sundays. But in an effort to level up, I might try to commit myself to writing 500 words minimum each time I sit down for a writing session in order to work up to my ultimate goal of being able to write 2,000 words per day. It will take a lot of work, but I think I can build up to it using these 500+ word milestones.

Continue Plotting Ahead

On multiple occasions, I caught myself working through plot and scene problems in my down time. One day I was suddenly working through character motivations or trying to choreograph the next fight scene while I was eating lunch or while I was just sitting and looking out the window. It helped me get through those writing sessions so much, I’m going to do that intentionally.

Additional Social Media Accountability

Overall, I loved being able to share my progress online. But going forward, I think I’m going to be accountable about different things less frequently. Instead of recording a daily word count, which became unwieldy and annoying, I’ll probably consider posting a progress update when I finish a new chapter, or something of the like. That way I’m posting significant and consistent milestones without putting undue stress on myself or feeling like I’m being absolutely obnoxious. 

I want to hear from you! What lessons have you learned from goals you have set in the past? What did you learn from the successes? What did you learn from the failures? Let me know in the comments below.

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