The accountability hacks I used to blog 30,000 words in 30 days, and what it taught me about writing

If Aristotle was on point and "We are what we repeatedly do", then to be a writer all you need to do is write.

It sounds easy.

But, as any fledgling writer will tell you, it's not. 

Perhaps it's because we don't have time. (Hint: this is not a good excuse... for anything).

Perhaps it's because for many of us, the last time we did any kind of creative writing was back in school. It could be years or even decades since you’ve been faced with a blank screen or piece of paper, and the task of filling it up with words. 

Perhaps it's because, with your fingers poised over the keyboard or curled around a pen, you still have to find something to say that is worth saying.

The technology may have changed, but things haven’t gotten any easier since Ernest Hemingway’s day:

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Yup. Writing is damn hard work.

So I think it's better to start with your motivations for wanting to write, rather than with your excuses for not doing it.

Why write in the first place?

Writing for an audience makes you smarter. Or in other words, sharing your thinking with other people improves it:

I’d argue that the cognitive shift in going from an audience of zero (talking to yourself) to an audience of 10 (a few friends or random strangers checking out your online post) is so big that it’s actually huger than going from 10 people to a million.

So now I like to think of writing as thinking in public.

As well as helping you crystallise your thoughts, writing can help you to make peace with something that happened in the past. Anything that's made you distraught, angry or joyously happy will make for a great story. And the best thing is that sharing these experiences (as honestly as possible) will bring people closer to you.  

Writing also gives you authority. Writers become authors or speakers, the experts in their field, and the go to source for the latest thinking on their topic.

If other people are doing it, why can’t you?

My desire to write regularly was first ignited by the output of some seemingly-unstoppable bloggers I follow, who are pumping out hundreds of words on a daily basis.

The 1,000 words standard is that I commit to write at least 1,000 words a day of something. I don’t necessarily think all 1,000 words are good enough for publication; in this case, the discipline is more important to me than whatever the final deliverable is.
Chris Guillebeau

I write at least 500 words a day, every day, no exceptions. I've done this for at least a year. I do it especially when I don't want to or don't feel inspired. Why? Because I want to increase my odds of writing something good. Some days what I write is utter garbage, and that's okay, because that's not the point. But unless I show up to work at what I do as often as possible, there's no hope that inspiration will show up as well. And some days, when I think I'm horribly uninspired, my best work flows out.
Paul Jarvis

I made a commitment that changed my career: A simple task, completed every day, that skyrocketed my blog and allowed me to make over $30,000 in 6 weeks. Ready? Here is the exact commitment I made: “I will write 1,000 words every day.
Nathan Barry

But even after reading these inspiring stories about writing, I wasn’t doing it myself.

The blank slate is such a daunting prospect that many people never make a start.

There's a primal part of our brain that gets scared, makes excuses, ducks and dives when faced by something new.

I decided I needed to make writing a habit, an automatic response, so that like runners who set their trainers and shorts out the night beforehand, I could spring out of bed in the morning to pound my keyboard. 

And I dreamt up a plan that would force me to write at gunpoint — with a financial penalty to my head instead of a bullet.

How I held myself accountable

First, the easy bit: I wrote a blog post announcing my plan to write 1,000 words a day for a month.

But I realised that this wouldn’t be enough on its own.

So I set two failsafes in place:

Firstly, I created a public Google document in which to log my daily word count.

Secondly, I set myself a financial penalty: on any day where I didn’t write and publish 1,000 words, I would donate £100 to charity. 

Then I started writing…. knowing that not writing could potentially cost me thousands of pounds.

It worked.

Some days I knew exactly what I wanted to write about, and other days I’d shut up like a clamshell. A couple times I resorted to other ways of reaching my word count: transcribing a video or doing an online interview.

But I got there.

And boy did it feel good to see the words and the articles stacking up on my blog.

What I learned during my writing experiment

  1. You have more to write about than you think. But you won’t find out what it is until you start.

  2. Writing standing up increases focus. (And you don’t necessarily need an expensive standing desk, putting your laptop on a stool on top of your desk works too)

  3. Try to write at the same time every day. I like to do it first thing, and before breakfast, when I can. No words, no breakfast!

  4. Do your research before you start writing — this prevents you being distracted by the internet when you start googling for quotes or facts whilst writing.

  5. On which note: if you can’t write for 30 minutes about something without referring to external sources, you might not be ready to write about it yet.

  6. Write even when you don’t feel like it. (If you run a 30 day experiment, you’re going to have to do this). Creativity is a habit, not a feeling.

  7. Be an ideas magpie. Collect links, quotes, snippets of articles. Save them in a spark file for future reference. (I use a single Google doc for this).

  8. Read as much as you can, non-fiction especially. You don’t want to be reading what everyone else is on Medium or Hacker News. Good writing is timeless so don’t be afraid to reach for older books. (The collected essays of George Orwell, for example).

And it turned out that my writing was helping people other than just myself...

Unexpected benefits of writing daily

  1. Several of my design-related posts were featured on Heydesigner and retweeted to their 20,000+ of Twitter followers.

  2. Before I started, I didn’t think I had much to say about design. But it seems I was wrong. (Several of Adobe’s Twitter accounts also tweeted about my articles.)

  3. Google started to like my site, and I jumped to the first spot for “James Greig”, above another James Greig (who confusingly also lives in London, is crazy about bikes and works as a designer).

  4. One of my favourite brands, Hiut Denim, featured an article of mine in their newsletter

  5. Organic search traffic landing on my site went up massively. And continues to rise steadily so long as I keep writing.

  6. A leading design blog approached me to request guest articles — the first time this has happened to me. (Note to self: time to write that guest article).

Still think you don’t have time to write 1000 words day?

A week into my 30 days of writing I landed a freelance gig which meant I was working fulltime for the rest of my experiment.

(I had figured I would ease off on my design work to do more writing, but this wasn’t to be the case).

It was tough, but I still managed to write my 1,000 words on 28 out of 30 days.

I wrote in the morning before breakfast, or on my lunch break, or after work. I kept a notebook that I scribbled ideas on whilst I was on the bus, or when I woke up in the middle of the night with a brainwave.

And I’m sure that my chosen charity (Re-Cycle) will be glad of the £200 which I’m about to send their way for the two days where I missed by target.

My 30 days of writing in numbers

Here’s my final word count for each day:


If you’re still not convinced, I’m going to leave you with quote from someone who knows what's what when it comes to writing, novelist Haruki Murakami.

Here are his thoughts on daily routine and the importance of repetition:

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.

Stop talking about writing, and go write!

Get my free companion guide "How to write every day for a month" It's packed with extra tips on working out what to write about, and a handy spreadsheet template you can use to track your word count as you go. (NOTE: This is currently being reworked — please email me and I'll send you a copy when the new version is ready)