The Ritual of the Magic Number

Writing a novel is a daunting task. Beyond inventing a story and characters that you feel are solid and that you’re willing to spend a lot of time with, it’s a long haul. Thousands and thousands of words stand between you and your finished novel. Writing the first paragraph seems like a commitment to finishing. It’s scary. “I don’t have time,” you say. Do you watch television dramas or sports? Do you play video games? You have time to write a book.


This is how I do it. This is my ritual that is working for me. I can’t promise it will work for you, but I guarantee you’ll be closer to finishing your novel by writing than by sitting on your sofa staring at Kardashians.

1. Open up the Word document that contains my novel.

2. Make the hand-written corrections from yesterday’s writing in the doc.

3. Review the chapter outline and notes for the next scene.

4. Write 500 words.

5. Make a few notes on next scene I’ll write.

6. Print out the pages with the day’s writing. If it’s the end of a chapter, print the whole chapter.

7. Before bed, go over the day’s writing with pen in hand. Make corrections.

8. Repeat.

That’s it. Simple, right? Sometimes writing 500 words takes 45 minutes. Sometimes it takes 4 hours. But I’m not allowed to say “I’m just not feeling it today,” and quit. If the words aren’t flowing, tough shit. I have to sit at the computer until I’ve written 500 hard-fought good words, or I can dash off 500 shitty words I know I’ll change later.

Why 500? I don’t know, it seems like a do-able yet still respectable amount.

Here’s my confession though: 500 is never enough. I’m actually not satisfied unless I hit 1,000 words each writing day (I don’t usually write on weekends). My 16 year old asked me, “Why don’t you just make 1,000 your goal for the day then?”  I said, “Because then I’d have to write 1,200 before I can feel good.”

Pick a number. Make it happen. Little by little that stack of 500 words piles up into a novel.



  1. I love this post. I think one of the harder things for new writers to do is figure out what works for them. It’s great to see not only what works for you, but to have you explain it. I go through sprints of writing, then sprints of editing, then I’ll just read for a bit and write very little. There are just so many ways to write.

  2. I have been trying to set a writing routine for myself for a very long time. I found this post to be incredibly helpful. Just one question. Do you map out an outline for every single chapter before you begin to write?

    1. It’s a very loose outline. It’s more a short bullet list of “stuff I need to accomplish this chapter”. This is looser earlier in the novel and as I get nearer the end the list gets more strict like “find missing evidence” “arrest of suspect A” etc. One thing I’ve found super helpful is to write just a sentence or two of the next scene before closing up Word for the day. Not ‘real’ writing, but notes; just some impressions or scene-setting cues that will help kick start the ext writing session.

      Most important though: Just get those fingers tapping away. Delete and revise later. Momentum is the most important thing!

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