What I learned from writing 1 million words in a year

With my year of writing and milwordy challenge over, it’s time to reflect on the entire process of writing for a year. While I have spent a large chunk of my life writing, I have never focused as heavily on it as I did in 2021. This was the year I wanted to truly push my writing to a new level and challenge myself to write 1 million words. It was an insane goal, but I was willing to give it a shot. The year was filled with ups and downs, and a whole lot of words, yet in the end, I hit that lofty goal. Now that it’s over, I wanted to share what I learned from writing 1 million words in a year. Was it worth it? What was the hardest part?

What I learned from writing 1 million words in a year

Quantity leads to quality

Much like any other skill, the more time and effort you put into it the better you become at it.

This quality through quantity didn’t always get reflected in my work. There is a form of writing I affectionately call ‘word vomit’ and during those times quality goes completely out the window. The point of word vomit, to me, is to get those thoughts down before they slip away. Grammar, spelling, and sentence structure no longer exist in those moments. Fleshing those ideas out is where the quality comes into play and that comes much later in the writing process. Once those words have been frantically pilled onto the page, then I can breathe a sigh of relief, refocus my mind and once again work on creating good content.

However, after getting a good chunk of those million words written, I began to see the quality of my writing improve. I still had many days filled with word vomit, yet when I slowed down a bit I noticed how much better my writing was compared to earlier in the experiment. I was thinking more about the structure of each sentence and paragraph, which led to some amazing rough draft work. Of course, in order to hit that million-word mark, a lot of what I wrote had to be chaotic. But, it did make me realize that you can have quality first drafts if you slow down and focus on the words.

Writing is what I was meant to do

I’ve known this all along. Writing has been a passion of mine for most of my life, yet I needed this challenge to remind me of that. I lack confidence in many ways, and that includes my writing. Despite my desire to be a writer, I have always felt I wasn’t good enough at it. Even my husband telling me that I was meant to write doesn’t always sink in, so a challenge like this was another reminder.

My words give me the freedom and strength that I lack in other aspects of my life. On those days when I am trapped in my home, by choice I will add (I am an introvert after all), my words and stories are a way to escape the confines of myself. I can be anything or anyone I want to be when a keyboard or notepad is in front of me. In turn, embracing those words gives me that push and confidence to leave my home. Which of course creates a vicious cycle. I’m most comfortable at home, where I can be alone and create words, and yet, leaving my home can often inspire different stories.

Did I ever get sick of writing?

If you had asked me this on December 1, 2021, the answer would have been a huge resounding Yes! Granted, there were days throughout the year that I did hate the idea of writing more. Most of these days were in the final 4 months of the challenge. By this point, I had gotten over the halfway hump but the finish line was so far away that I was beginning to question my sanity in choosing this challenge. Plus, I was also quite behind on my word count in the final quarter of the challenge and that made it even harder to find the motivation to write some days.

December was an especially panic-filled month and by the mid-point, I really didn’t want to write anymore. I was so sick of sitting at the keyboard pounding out words that I considered, more than once, giving up. However. being so close to finishing, despite tens of thousands of words still left to write, I knew giving up would lead to regret. Though many days I struggled to get the words down, I made sure to put plenty of time into fun activities, mostly playing video games, to offset the drudgery of writing. I think this was the key to getting those that final sprint to the finish line.

What was the hardest part?

Ignoring when my hard drive failed and I lost 2 years’ worth of writing, including everything I had written that year up until mid-September, I would say that tracking was the most difficult aspect. The writing, while difficult at times, felt like a breeze compared to tracking it. You might think that tracking writing is easy. Admittedly, it is. Especially when writing digitally. Most programs have some word count aspect to them. Then you merely need to add this up for that day and you’re done. Of course, there’s social media, where you need to copy and paste all those words into a word document to keep track of them. Again, not that hard to do as a whole, but certainly time-consuming. And when you forget to do it for a day or two, it really messes things up. Your only choice is to go back, find those tweets or posts and then copy and paste those words.

Then, there is the monster known as handwriting. This was by far the most troublesome aspect of tracking. Counting every single word written, whether it’s a journal entry or a grocery shopping list was a total pain. Yet, skipping this could easily lead to being behind over the course of a week or a month. So it was a necessary evil that drove me crazy! In fact, the annoyance of this made me give up journaling part way through the year – even though I had worked out the average number of words that I wrote in a day in my journal. So while this cut down on the number of words being contributed to writing 1 million words, it was a necessary step to keep my sanity.

Things I wish I’d done differently

As much of a pain tracking all the words were, there is one thing I would change. When I did this challenge, I only wrote down the total word count each day. However, looking back on it on wish I had done a breakdown of each day’s words. Yes, it would have meant more work tracking-wise, but I would have loved to have seen exactly where all the words come from. How much came from blog work versus novel writing? What percentage was texting or random notes? Being able to see the breakdown and ratio of words created throughout the challenge would have been exciting.

Would I do it again?

Yes and no. I would absolutely push myself to try to write 1 million words in a year again. However, I wouldn’t track it. Yes, I realize that without the tracking I wouldn’t know whether I hit the goal or not, but now that I’ve done it once, the tracking is less important.

That’s what I learned from writing 1 million words in a year. Would you ever try to write 1 million words in a year?

20 Comments

  1. I’m astounded and in awe; writing one million words in a year sounds absolutely incredible! Congratulations on achieving this goal and thanks for sharing the ups and downs of it!

    1. Author

      Thank you. It was quite an experience and I highly suggest all writers give it a try.

  2. Wow! Congratulations on achieving your goal of writing 1 million words in a year! That’s awesome! I love the tips you share and the lessons you’ve learned.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much! Sharing my experience will hopefully help others who may be considering this challenge in the future.

  3. I’m very tempted to give this a try. This sounds like quite a challenge.

    1. Author

      It is quite a challenge but worth trying if you love to write.

  4. The dedication required to write 1million words is astonishing. Thanks for sharing your honest reflections about your Milwordy experience. I probably won’t ever try it, but now I can say I know someone who did! Congratulations on reaching your goal.

    1. Author

      It was certainly a lot of work but I’m glad I gave it a try. I know some people try half or quarter milwordy challenges as 1 million is a lot even for prolific writers. Thank you!

  5. Wow such an amazing challenge. It sounds like you learnt so much through doing it.

    1. Author

      It really was an eye-opening challenge and made me appreciate writing even more – even if some days I hated creating words.

  6. 1 MILLION WORDS! Very impressive. I assume you blog full-time. This blog is inspirational. Thanks for sharing your blog journey.

    1. Author

      Thank you. Yes, I blog full-time and write on the side as a hobby.

  7. This is incredible. I’ve often wondered how many words I write in a normal year but reading this has made me realise it’s probably not as many as I think it is!

    I’m tempted to try it, but like you I think I’d be fed up by December XD

    1. Author

      Thank you. I think we all write more than we think we do, but yes writing a million words takes a huge effort so it’s not for the faint of heart. You can always give it a try simply to see how much you can write, even if its not a million.

  8. One million words is an outstanding achievement, Sarah, massive congratulations! It’s certainly not a goal I would ever set myself, I’d be far too daunted. That’s interesting about you finding quality improves the more you write – I guess it’s like exercise, the more you do the easier and more efficient it becomes. Congrats again!

    1. Author

      Thank you so much! I’ll admit, even though I completed it, it was a daunting task for a lot of it and even now I keep thinking how crazy I was to even attempt it, let alone hit that number. Writing is like most skills, it improves the more you do it.

  9. What an awesome achievement. You must be so proud of yourself. It sounds like it has been a learning experience. Good luck with all your future writing!
    Thank you for sharing your achievement.

    Lauren

    1. Author

      Thank you. Yes, I am still proud but admittedly still exhausted from my experience.

  10. oh wow, congratulations! That’s such a great achievement and glad to hear that you reached it even in between the ups and downs! It sounds like a great challenge to try out!

    1. Author

      Thank you. It was certainly an interesting experience. It’s certainly a great challenge for anyone who loves writing and wants to see how far they can take their writing in a single year.

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