What You Can Gain by Challenging Yourself to Write 20000 Words in One Day #20000wordchallenge
And what IBM Watson Artificial Intelligence has to say about it
The other day I spent roughly 10 hours and had 3 Red Bulls, and 5 Jimmy Dean Sausage Pancakes on a Stick and challenged myself and wrote 20,000 words in a single day. I published it on Medium titled My 20,000 Word Day #20000wordchallenge, and it includes various time stamps if anyone is interested in proof.
I think of it like a Spartan Race (as someone else who read the article put it). I think of it as one of those ambitious challenges you set out to do that is highly rewarding, but it’s ok if you don’t finish.
A lot of people can write 20000 words in a day if they want to, so it isn’t necessarily something that is out of reach for a writer. Just as the Spartan Race is within reach for anyone who puts in the time and has the desire to get their body into shape to complete it.
And here’s how I got started on tackling 20,000 words in one day, along with what I took away during the therapeutic experience.
Getting into Action
I challenged myself to write 20000 words on a whim.
I woke up the morning thinking, “how am I going to write 2000 words?” My mind was blank. I had plenty of ideas, but none of them were “good enough.” For the past couple of weeks, I set writing goals for myself of a minimum of 1000 words each day.
But then I asked myself, “what if I forget about trying to focus on fancy headlines, trending ideas, and what popular listicle can I make? What if I just sit my butt down and pump out 20,000 words?”
And then I got started.
The first thing I learned from that was the value of changing up how I challenge myself. It isn’t about trying to create a pop-viral article idea with a catchy headline, but putting in the work and” doing the pushups.” As Jim Rohn once said, “you can’t hire someone to do your pushups for you.”
Sure, you can hire people to do other things that aren’t important for you, but if you want to write something, you must write.
And for me, I was spending more time trying to come up with headlines and catchy ideas than writing itself.
Now don’t get me wrong. The headline is arguably the most critical piece of any article or advertisement because if people don’t care about your headline, they might not see the rest of it. So, putting in the work to understand how to craft those carefully is essential.
But from what I learned, to get out of a writer’s block slump, I had to try something else. And my 20000-word day was a solution, at least for that day — who knows what the future holds?
So, with all of that, I had to do something that felt like a worthwhile challenge for myself. And here is one of the first major takeaways that I was concerned about when I began…
Doubts and an Easy Way Out
Right from the beginning, some doubts started to sink in, and I was already planning an easy way out.
I thought to myself, “ok, if I get tired of this at 15000 words, I can just title it my 15000-word day.” Before I hit my first 1000 words, I was already giving myself an out. I was already creating excuses.
Fortunately, I didn’t let those doubts define my experience. I focused more on how I could make it happen, and all these ideas started to flow from my fingers.
But if I had let the easy way motivate my writing, I think I would have focused on the wrong thing.
You might even say fear prevented me from challenging myself to write 30,000 words. But I also wanted to create a challenge that I could share with others. I wanted to do something that was more like a race anybody can take part in, as opposed to a world record.
And I don’t know who will ever take up the #20000wordchallenge, but at least this is something I could try again as a once a year writing exercise or something.
And here’s what got me moving
Setting the Goal Motivated Me
I haven’t personally done one of those online challenges like “14-day challenge to do this” or “30-day xyz challenge.” They felt externally motivated as if I were pushing myself to do what someone else wanted. There is a time and place, but something about 20,000 words got me going.
Something about the goal and the number itself got me fired up. Given that I had little to do anyway because it was a Saturday and we’re amid a pandemic quarantine, and I had to find something exciting to accomplish.
It made me realize how important it is to set a goal that doesn’t just motivate you but also gets you into action. And it wasn’t something that I would put off and say, “I’ll try this another day” or “I’ll get started tomorrow.”
The timing was right to sit my butt down at that moment and start without delay.
Haven’t you ever set a goal and felt like you could put it off or do something about it later? I’ve had a lot of those goals. But this was one I just could not put off.
And here’s where I had to shift my thinking to write 20,000 words in a day…
Managing Your Judgment Zone
I imagine we’ve all heard of free writing, which is the act of just putting your pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and pumping out your words. You let the stream of words flow from your mind and just lay it all out.
This is sometimes done for journals, articles, or even just for brainstorming sessions. I wonder why I didn’t do it more. But free writing is usually not used for things you are going to publish because the ideas aren’t always styled perfectly, and grammar can be an issue. Also, you don’t always want to share the private ideas that come about during freewriting, which can result in taking extra time to complete the #20000wordchallenge.
And that is part of the beauty of the internet today. There is no one to tell you what you can or cannot publish. Only you can make that choice.
And that’s what sometimes makes our work tougher as writers. We hear of the first draft, second draft, third draft, passing an article back and forth between editing sessions to different editors. We aim for near perfection, and that can sometimes block us from progressing.
Sufficed to say, the 20000 words were a free flow of words and ideas without editing. Sure, I moved a few paragraphs or sentences around, or even explained how I wanted to remove a section but didn’t for the sake of sticking to the goal.
But the hard thing wasn’t so much just getting out words that made sense in sentences.
It was getting rid of the self-criticisms like “this idea isn’t good enough” or “no, you can’t talk about that!” or “ hey, you need to explain yourself better here” or “the title of this section isn’t good enough!”
So, I just wrote and wrote.
And from that, writing came a great experience. There was no purpose while writing except to hit 20,000 words and publish them.
Naturally, your ideas flow so they make sense, but occasionally, your sentences and paragraphs mesh together to be confusing, especially after hour 6.
The writing exercise itself felt liberating.
I was letting all my ideas flow without stopping too often to judge and evaluate and modify. If you think about how the mind works (or at least how my mind sometimes works), that probably isn’t a highly effective way to write at all!
It’s like multi-tasking. Where one part of you wants to write, the other part wants to evaluate, improve, delete, add, and more.
How often do we allow ourselves to write without spending too much time analyzing what we just said to see if it makes sense? There was a feeling of freedom from that.
And the freedom came from not overly evaluating everything that was put on the paper.
This doesn’t mean that you should not edit or update your ideas as your writing as you see fit. But for the sake of putting in the miles to write 20000 words in a day, you need to let go of some judgment.
It was a great mental release, at least for me. And I also experienced…
What It Means to Let Ideas Flow
While a lot of the sections I wrote throughout 20000 words were based on ideas I’ve had before, there were also a lot of great and exciting spontaneous ideas.
Outside of judging the writing, the benefits of pounding away at the keyboard helped put some new ideas out.
Dozens of new ideas sprang up, and I even uncovered some new ways of writing things.
The exercise allowed me not just to put down ideas I’ve already turned over in my head before but also to create new ideas and explore. And it feels great when you’re writing, and suddenly you come across something new to add value to what you were just saying.
I think writers’ block can often come from both judgments and stopping yourself from just writing. We may say things like “that idea isn’t good enough” or “I can’t think of how this should go right now” or “darn, it’s been a few days since I came up with an idea worth writing.”
And there is a benefit from getting rid of limitations, and there is a benefit to placing them. If you are writing an article about seafood for a restaurant, it is important to stay on topic and not start doing a stream of consciousness style writing. But the act of pulling up another file and starting to write freely on that could help spark new ideas.
And the ideas in this article won’t prevent writers’ block as much as it allows the creation of new ideas and an opportunity to explore different ways to write.
And the final bit to wrap this all up…
It Gets Easier
Things in life can only get easier if we choose to challenge ourselves to do something harder.
When you’ve bench pressed 250 pounds, you will probably not lose the confidence to bench press 100 pounds. If you feel running 3 miles is challenging, yet you take a day or two and try to push yourself for 5 or 6 miles, 3 miles will start to feel less of a chore.
After writing 20,000 words in a day, I wondered to myself, why did 1000 words feel so difficult on some days?
Now I don’t see myself doing 20,000 words per day for more than a few days because it is exhausting and borderline unhealthy (10 hours of sitting per day fueled by unhealthy food and energy drinks is terrible).
But the experience itself has created a new plateau. And with that plateau, I feel more confident in the other things I can do.
And if you’re reading this, and you’re writing 250 words per day, and can’t fathom writing 3000… I say the #20000wordchallenge is easier than 3000 (highly edited) words per day for a whole week. You’ll have to free yourself from the limitations you place on yourself such as the ones we just discussed.
And all of this comes over time of course, and the best time to start or improve anything, is now.
Here’s another fun thing to do if you challenge yourself to write upwards of 6,000 words or more. You can get some writing personality insights from IBM Watson Personality Insights. It is a tool where if you plug in anything you’ve written, preferably between 3,000–6,000 words or more, it will give you an “accurate analysis” of what your text says about you.
And here’s what mine said:
You are inner-directed and tranquil.
You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. You are authority-challenging: you prefer to challenge authority and traditional values to help bring about positive changes. And you are uncompromising: you think it is wrong to take advantage of others to get ahead.
Your choices are driven by a desire for discovery.
You are relatively unconcerned with both tradition and taking pleasure in life. You care more about making your own path than following what others have done. And you prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment.
Some of it feels accurate, but who knows with these prediction things?