How long does it take to write a book? 10 years? 2 years? 8 months?
I wanted to prove things take as long as the amount of time you give them, so I gave myself one day to write a book.
On Monday, July 1st, 2019, I set out on an ambitious goal to write 100,000 words in a day.
If you’re wondering why in the world I would do such a thing, I explained the reasons in my original post: Writing 100,000 Words in a Day.
In a follow-up post, I laid out How I’m Preparing to Write 100,000 Words in a Day—which included my plans for how I would dictate the words and have the audio transcribed.
In this post, I recap how the Write100K event went.
Watch the Write 100K Live Stream Replay
You can watch the archived live stream in the two video parts below (we had technical difficulties part way through and had to create a second video):
Why I Created Write100K
There were a few reasons I set out to write 100,000 words in a day.
The primary reason for the Write100K event was to write the draft of my next book, which is called Sabbatical, in the most efficient manner. I’m quite happy with the results (more on this later).
The second reason for the Write100K event was to “create the news”. If I do something newsworthy, then I have your attention. When I have your attention, I can direct it toward anything I want.
- Step 1: Create the news: do something newsworthy and attract attention.
- Step 2: Direct the attention toward a cause you believe in.
In my mind, I set out on an ambitious goal to write 100,000 words in a day as a way of creating the news. I then directed the attention toward a cause I believe in (sabbaticals).
The third reason for the Write100K event was to prove to myself that I’m thinking too small. I can do big things when I set my mind to it. I wanted to challenge you to think bigger as well.
I Wrote 55,614 Words in a Day
I’ll rip off the band-aid and tell you now:
I stopped short of 100,000, and I wrote 55,614 words in a day.
I did not meet my goal of writing 100,000 words in a day. In a literal sense, I failed to reach my goal.
But I’ll explain in a moment why I’m not disappointed.
I managed to write the majority of the first draft of my next book, Sabbatical. This was actually the reason I stopped when I did: I’d accomplished my primary goal.
What surprised me was how much lower the word count of my first draft was than I’d anticipated.
The draft of my first book, Overlap, was 80,000 words. I didn’t think Sabbatical would be quite as long, but I estimated the first draft would be somewhere in the vicinity of 60,000–70,000 words.
After I’d written what I did, I found the draft didn’t need to be as long as I thought it did.
I’m okay with this. I think a book like Sabbatical benefits from being something easily digestible.
Why I Stopped Short of My Word Count Goal
I’d crunched the numbers and knew it was mathematically possible for me to write 100,000 words in a day. The main concern would be whether my voice would hold up.
I had a large outline, and even included some extra bonus material to help me close the gap if I needed more content beyond the book to reach the word count goal.
When I prepared this bonus material in my outline, I was thinking in terms of potentially needing another 10,000 or 15,000 words at most. I would resort to writing this extra material, in the case where I wrote something like 85,000–90,000 words for the book draft, as a way of helping me reach 100,000 words.
I found I spoke slower than I estimated I would. Instead of my estimated 8,000 words per hour, my average was closer to 7,000 words per hour. However, in looking over the transcript, the quality of the words I wrote on July 1st is remarkably good. It’s much better than I thought I’d be able to produce. There is virtually no filler content whatsoever. The 55,000 words I wrote are comprised of complete, coherent sentences.
The downside of speaking so concisely is it doesn’t lend itself to reaching arbitrary word count goals.
Visualizing the Book Outline
To help you understand what I saw in my mind when I reached the point where I decided to stop, I created this illustration:
This tentative outline is likely to change, but it shows you what I knew on July 1st and how much of the book I’d completed by the 55,000-word mark.
I may end up titling the three sections differently in the final book, but for the purposes of the first draft, I refer to them as: Why, How, and Now.
You can see in the illustration above, I’d nearly finished the “How” section, which comprises the majority of the book. All that remained in the “How” section was the chapter on Seventh Year Sabbaticals.
“Seventh Year Sabbatical” (Remaining Section 1 of 2)
While the main focus of the book is on Seventh Week Sabbaticals, my original inspiration came from the idea of taking off every seventh year as a sabbatical. While I didn’t initially think I would ever take off a full year as a sabbatical, I came back around to the idea some time later and decided to commit to taking off a full year: 2020 will be my first Seventh Year Sabbatical.
Given that I have not yet taken a Seventh Year Sabbatical myself, I originally thought that I would wait to write the Sabbatical book until I’d had that experience.
But I recognized that as an excuse. I decided instead to write the Sabbatical book in 2019, based on my 5 years of experience taking Seventh Week Sabbaticals, with the idea that I’d update the book to a second version in 2021, following my Seventh Year Sabbatical experience in 2020.
In the meantime, I intend to include a short “Seventh Year Sabbatical” chapter in the book that lays out the idea, covers a few of my initial thoughts and considerations, and opens a loop for my 2020 sabbatical year. I will point people to sabbatical.blog, where they can following the journey as I document my first sabbatical year.
In version 1 of the Sabbatical book, the Seventh Year Sabbatical chapter will be quite short. There won’t be much to it other than encouraging people to follow along as I document my first sabbatical year in real time. Most of this content is already written.
“Now Schedule Your Sabbatical” (Remaining Section 2 of 2)
The only other remaining section of the book was the “Now” section.
This section will be a series of straightforward steps to follow, depending on which situation you’re in:
- If you’re in a day job, you’ll follow the steps for taking Weekend Sabbaticals.
- If you run your own business, you’ll follow the steps for taking Seventh Week Sabbaticals.
- If you’re looking to take off a year, you’ll follow the steps for taking Seventh Year Sabbaticals.
The reader is given a clear call to action regardless of what situation they’re in. Every person who reads the book will schedule a sabbatical. No person leaves the book without having scheduled their recurring sabbatical. Sabbaticals prevent burnout, and burnout prevention is a necessity, not a luxury.
I’ve already written on, and spoken about, these three scripts in other places. It wasn’t necessary to write them again while live on the air.
Why Didn’t I Keep Going?
I’ve established that there were only two remaining sections of the book left to write. The first was a short chapter opening a loop on the concept of Seventh Year Sabbaticals, and the second was the “Now” section with clear calls to action.
Most of these two sections were already written in other places from which I can easily copy/paste.
But let’s just say I dictated these sections again, live, for no reason other than to inflate my word count and get closer to my Write100K goal.
I estimated that would likely add no more than 5,000 words, bringing me to a grand total of 60,000 words—still 40,000 short of my original goal.
Again, I had some extra material outlined (such as random blog posts I could write), but really only in the amount that would help me close a gap of something like 10,000 words. It wasn’t anywhere near what would make up a 40,000-word difference.
To Destroy My Voice or Not?
After 3 or 4 hours, I began to really feel my voice, but 9 hours after I starting, my voice was hurting.
Could I have continued to push? Yes.
I think I could have realistically gone another 3 to 4 hours. If I pushed myself, and went until I did real damage, I could have probably squeezed a few more hours out of it.
But at this point, I’d written the book. All that remained were materials I already had in other documents from which I could copy/paste. I’d accomplished my primary goal.
If I’d have kept going, and kept pushing myself, I would have certainly lost my voice (and possibly done long term damage).
- I started thinking about the 4th of July party I was going to, and the friends I wanted to see. I wouldn’t be able to talk to my friends.
- I started thinking about the fact that I hadn’t talked to my wife in 4 days (because I spent 3 days in silence leading up to the event—I didn’t talk to prepare my voice). If I lost my voice, I wouldn’t be able to talk to her for even longer.
- I started thinking about my own physical health. As it was, I estimated I’d need at least a day to recover physically. If I continued until I completely lost my voice, who knows how many days (or weeks) I’d be out of commission. What would be the cost of time lost in recovery?
Did it really make sense to abuse myself further, and come up with random blog posts to write, just to inflate my word count?
I decided no.
Write100K Was Always a Stunt
I don’t recommend anyone try what I did. You’ll probably damage your voice.
I regularly record 2–4 hours per day on average. I have a lot of experience speaking for extended periods of time. Even still, this was pushing it in a big way.
I must underscore: I don’t recommend doing what I did.
Is writing 100,000 words in a day possible? Yes, it is. I still think I could have done it, but it would have taken a physical toll that wasn’t worth it for me.
Writing 100,000 words in a day isn’t practical. It’s not realistic, and it’s certainly not necessary.
But I’m glad I set a big goal.
I’m also glad I stopped where I did.
The most important thing for me was collapsing time and writing my book. I did that. The word count goal was always secondary. Write100K was a way to make a game out of something I already wanted to do: write my book.
Write100K was always about “creating the news” and inventing an event that would get attention.
There are times in life where you need to be unreasonable. There are times where you should be irrational in pursuit of your goals and ambitions.
But you need to have a good reason for doing so.
A Spectacular Failure
55,614 is not 100,000.
But now I have 55,614 words I didn’t have one day prior.
Had I set a goal of 50,000 words, I likely wouldn’t have achieved it.
The very idea of writing 50,000 words in a day sounds crazy.
Had I set a goal of 50,000 words, I would have thought that sounded “big”. I would have set out on a pace to write 50,000 words in a day, and I would have probably come up short. Maybe I would have written 35,000 words.
It’s much better to set a big goal and fail than to set a small goal and achieve it.
I wrote 55,614 words in day because I set a big goal of 100,000. I failed in the best way possible: I failed spectacularly.
Writing 55,614 words in a day is a spectacular “failure”. I’ll take a failure like that any day.
Failure is a matter of perspective.
In my first post about Write100K, I mentioned Dan Jacobson’s blog post and how it was what inspired me to write 100,000 words in a day (click the link to read the original post).
Dan said it wasn’t possible. I wanted to prove him wrong.
I didn’t do it, though. I didn’t write 100,000 words in a day.
But it was encouraging to later see this message from Dan in the seanwes Community. He wasn’t gloating in his rightness. He got it. He understood the point of the stunt.
Originally posted by Dan Jacobson in the Community on July 1st, 2019:
Dan JacobsonMon, July 1st, 2019, 3:35 PM
I’ll be fascinated by the reactions to this challenge and its outcome. I predict a big split:
- People who get it: How long does it take to write a book? A decade? A year? A quarter? How about a day? We’re all capable of way more than we think. It takes practice and planning, but if Sean can dictate 55,000 words in 9 hours… what might you be able to do?
- People who don’t get it: 55,614 < 100,000 = U FAIL
I have a lot of respect for Dan. If my attempt did nothing other than make him alone rethink what’s possible, then I’ve done my job.
Whether you think this was a failure or success says more about you and your mindset than it does about me and my attempt.
In my mind, I successfully achieved all three reasons I set the goal in the first place:
- ✅ I wrote my book in a day.
- ✅ I created the news and got attention.
- ✅ I pushed myself (and others) to think bigger.
I’m happy I set a big goal.
Setting a big goal forces you to think differently and ask “how”?
If your goal doesn’t provoke you to wonder, “How in the world could I possibly do this?!” you’re thinking too small.
I want you to think bigger, and I want you to challenge your assumptions and limiting beliefs.
But I don’t want you to wait until you can do something “big”. You can start today and you can show up every day.
My attempt to write 100,000 words in a day was in addition to writing every day. I still wrote the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.
I write over a million words a year—which sounds like a lot—but you need only write 2,740 words each day to write a million words in one year.
If 2,740 is too much for you, write 1,000 words.
If 1,000 is too much, write 500 words.
The point isn’t the number, the point is consistency.
You can show up every day and write.
Today is day 194 in a row of writing every day for me (I track my habits in Streaks app). I don’t have to write 100,000 words every day. I only need to write some, because consistency compounds.
Building a daily writing habit will change your life.
If you find yourself overthinking, breaking the chain, feeling bad, and not wanting to start writing again because you’re tired of starting over…
You’re not alone.
You just have to get out of your own way.
When you write every day, you will have clarity and focus. You will understand yourself and your message better. You will learn what you have to say to the world. You will develop your voice.
A writing habit is a superpower. You will become unstoppable.
Don’t wait until you feel like writing. You’re not always going to feel like it! Most days, you won’t want to write.
You have to get to the point where you know you will write every day.
30 Days to Better Writing
I produced a course called 30 Days to Better Writing. It has helped hundreds of students build a writing habit in 30 days.
You don’t write because you don’t know what to say. You don’t write because you can’t find the time. You don’t write because the words that come out just aren’t right.
This course will take the thinking out of it for you.
You’ll read a short lesson and follow the writing prompts.
Writing has never been this easy.
It’s like magic. You didn’t know you had it in you, but suddenly, you’re writing!
- Read the lesson (less than 5 minutes).
- Follow the prompt (write for 20 minutes).
- Take the quiz (solidify what you learned).
Give me 30 days, and I’ll give you a writing habit.
Or just grab the guide below with One Year of Topic Ideas so you never run out of things to write about: