My 500 Words: A Writing Challenge by Jeff Goins
The challenge is to write 500 words per day for 31 days. Don’t edit or critique yourself. Just write. The following are the challenges/prompts, and the links go to my posts for that day.
1. Commit to the plan. Announce it on Facebook. Write a blog post. Tell your neighbor. Do something to declare to the world your commitment to write for 31 days straight.
2. Set some goals. Do you want to finish that novel? Start a blog? Just get into the habit of writing? What kind of change do you want to see happen in the next month?
3. Get up an hour early. Most of us feel like we don’t have any time to write. So make time. The best time to write (for many people) is in the early hours of the morning, before distractions take over. Writing first thing in the morning allows you to have the “writer’s high” all day long. You know you’ve done something good even before breakfast.
4. Learn to free-write. Free-writing is writing without worrying about editing or punctuation or anything. Get into the habit of doing this, so that you can crank out 500 words every day. Otherwise, you might get stuck endlessly editing the same 200 words and never hit your mark. Save editing for later.
5. Write about the most important day of your life. If you need help getting started, consider this prompt: write a short scene from your life. Try writing about graduation or getting married. Show us what it felt like to become a parent for the first time or to win the homecoming game. Grammar isn’t important (for now); instead, focus on repainting a scene for us.
6. Tell someone else’s story. Another writing prompt. This time, tell a friend’s story, or rewrite the end to a popular novel. You could even put yourself in the shoes of your neighbor.
7. Write a letter to your kids (or your younger self). This writing prompt is more instructional. It’s a rant, basically. Write something that you wish someone would have told you 10 or 5 or even one year ago. Pay it forward. Share your best advice with the world. It can be for your children or just posterity in general.
8. Make a list. No thinking or planning. Just write a list. It could be a series of steps to take, a list of best tips for something, or your to-do list. Just write, don’t edit. And make sure it’s 500 words. Who knows what could come from it?
9. Teach something. Maybe it’s a description of how to replace the oil in the car or why you think every college should study abroad. Whatever it is, put the reader’s needs first; enter his/her worldview the best you can, and communicate something important.
10. Write about writing. What do you love about the craft? What do you hate? What’re you struggling with, when it comes to this challenge. Write about it, all of it. Channel your inner Lammott or Pressfield or Dillard. Share your passion, your agony, your love for writing. Maybe it’ll inspire you to write even more.
11. Persuade me. Write a letter or appeal, something that persuades your reader to join the cause, take sides with your movement, or simply try something new. It can be political or religious in nature; it can be about dieting or exercise or you favorite food to eat. Heck, it can be about anything you want. What it can’t be is disrespectful or libelous. Use your charm and charisma to get someone who doesn’t share your beliefs to change their mind. Or at least, do your best to try.
12. Lie. Not in a dirty and deceptive way, but in a way that invokes imagination. Just for this, it’s okay to stretch the truth a little. Rewrite history, imagine an alternate reality, or just plain lie. Whatever you do, have fun with this, and let us know (in your writing) how much you’re enjoying it.
13. Tell us about your day. Save this assignment for the evening — or write about yesterday. This is, basically, a journal entry but with a twist: make your day sound interesting. Write a page from your own autobiography, and make it worth reading. Don’t just list the events of the day; wrap a compelling narrative around the events of the day and tell us what were the most significant moments in it. Feel free to take some liberties in predicting your future (e.g. “And that’s when they served me the cappuccino; I sipped it gladly, ignorant of how much caffeine I’d imbibe over the course of my life and how this would habit would lead my into my life’s work as a professional coffee taster.”) If it doesn’t work out the way you prophesy, you could always blame the butterfly effect: that somehow in writing about it, you caused it to not happen. Again, have some fun.
14. Write about food. Tell us about food: what you ate today, your perfect meal, your favorite seasonal foods. You can talk about junk food or health food. You can rant and rave or even apologize for over-indulging at dinner last night. You can confess an addiction to sweets or a nasty drinking habit. Of course, this isn’t about just what we imbibe and consume; it’s about life and conversation and the people we meet around the table. Don’t just tickle our taste buds; invite us into the experience.
15. Evaluate. You’re halfway done. How do you feel? Are you tired, worn out? Or more energized than ever? Write about it all. No judgment or expectation. Just share how you’re feeling and what this challenge has meant to you so far. Are you a better writer, or a worse one? What changes do you notice in your attitude, in your actions? Share it all—and of course, do it in at least 500 words.
16. Give hope. We’ve crossed the halfway mark. Now is when the Resistance rears its ugly head. Now is when people fatigue and consider quitting. Now is when you must persevere. But how? You’re tired. The baby kept you up all night. And isn’t what you’ve done so far enough? Can’t you just take a break? No. You can’t. Because this is when you’re just beginning to see the habit form: when it hurts, when you’d rather give up. When you’re about to quit. True skill is built when you push yourself just past the place you think you can go. Perseverance prevails in defiance of what we think is possible. In other words, amaze yourself. Keep going. Don’t quit. And what’s the challenge for today? Write about hope. Take whatever fears and insecurities you have, your internal questions and doubts, and turn them into words that inspire. Don’t give up. And don’t let others. The cost is too great. We can’t miss out on what you have to say.
17. Pick a fight. Pick a Fight Today, you need to write a manifesto. A short statement of purpose that represents what you believe in. This needs to be a hill worth dying on, something not everyone will agree with (but some hopefully will). Ask yourself: what’s wrong with the world? And then address that problem. Pick a fight with it, and invite others to join your cause. Keep it short (500 words) and punchy and to the point. Make it actionable, so that others know what to do once they’re done reading it. And then… Viva la Revolucion!
18. Write about waiting. Everybody waits. At the traffic light, in line for the bathroom, or for the waiter to come around. Today, write about one of your times of waiting. Even better, write WHILE you’re waiting. Take whatever downtime you have that you might otherwise waste and try to get to 500 words. Writing about the experience as it’s happening may even add a layer of realism to the experience.
19. Write in someone else’s voice. Borrow the style of your favorite novelist or create an alter ego version of your own voice. Get creative, and have fun. Take all kinds of liberties and explore what it’s like to walk — ahem, WRITE — in the shoes of another person. And when you’re done, see if there’s anything about this new voice that might be worth keeping.
20. Write about justice. Write about Justice Today, I want you to write about an important cause. Write about Gandhi or MLK; quote Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama. Help us see what you see — what’s broken in the world that needs fixing. This is different from a manifesto. It should be a personal appeal to our emotions, a stirring of the spirits more than a call to action. Tell us why your cause or organization matters. Help us connect with what it takes to make a difference. And then, yes, you probably should call us to action. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get on with changing the world.
21. Write a confession. Time to get honest and vulnerable. Share with us an embarrassing fact, an awkward truth, something you wish didn’t happen but did. Or tell us about failure, a time when you totally messed up, and what you learned from it. Use this opportunity to help your audience grow — and tell the story in such a way that makes us trust you. Make it funny, even amusing, if you can. Entertain us, so that we’re glad it happened to you and not us. And then once, you’ve got us, share a little bit of truth that could change us.
22. Write about fear. What’re you afraid of? What makes you anxious? Write about that. Tell us your deepest fears or concerns, your greatest worries. But don’t just stop there — this is more than a confession, it’s a battle you’re waging with fear itself. In other words, you can’t just wallow. You have to do something with this fear. Will you fight it, give in, cleverly outwit it? What will you do with fear? And what, as we read your writing, can we do with it ourselves? Get as creative as you want with this. It doesn’t have to be a top 10 blog post. It can be a story you write about your neighbor, a piece of narrative nonfiction, even a poem. Write in your voice and in your way, but make it about fear. As it turns out, this is one thing we all have in common.
23. Write the end. Whether you’re writing a novel, planning out your autobiography, or working on a short piece of nonfiction, forget about all the details and begin with the most important part. The end. Think ahead of how you want this thing to wrap up. What do you want the reader to walk away with? What’s the big idea or one-liner you want people to remember forever? Start with that, and when you’ve got 500 words, you can go back and fill in the rest. There will be plenty of time later for the middle and even the beginning. Today, though, we’re going to focus just on how this thing ends.
24. Cut the fluff. Write 500 words without using the word “that” or “very.” Try to use absolutely no adverbs (hint: “absolutely” is an adverb). See how much stronger your writing is when you just get to the point? Why not just do that all the time? Don’t worry. You can have your fluff back tomorrow, but see what you can learn from this exercise.
25. Write about travel. Whether you’ve sailed the seven seas or simply done a road trip with the family, think of a time when you went somewhere. Anywhere. How did it change you? What did you see? What did you learn? Write about it. Describe the scenery, the places you met and people you saw. But also tell us about you, how you changed and grew and became a different person.
26. Write about disappointment. When was there a time when you had an expectation that didn’t get met? Maybe you set a goal for yourself and totally blew it. Maybe you promised something to a friend and had to let them down. Maybe life just didn’t turn out the way you expected. Write about that. Tell the story, confess the failure, and help us learn with you. How can we, even in the midst of disappointment and despair, still find hope? How can we continue when all seems loss? Don’t just talk about heartache; give us hope for change.
27. Write about work. Tell a story about your job or the worst boss in the world. Make up your dream vocation and write about it. Tell us how you spend your days stuck in a cubicle or raising five little rug rats. Whatever work looks like for you, write about it.
28. Give your own eulogy. A little morbid, but this is an important exercise. Without a life to write about, the words we craft become somewhat empty. How are you living a story worth telling? Imagine what someone might say at your funeral if you were to pass away unexpectedly. What would you WANT them to say? If that day were today, what would you regret? So take some time and write the ideal eulogy. And then go live like that. Make it true.
29. Write what you know. This is basically a free day. Write about anything you know well that you don’t have to research. It can be academic or informal, but just make it something you could do with ease. And write it in such a way that even though we don’t know what you know, we can relate.
30. Write about innocence. “Remember when you were young? You shone like the sun.” —Pink Floyd Write about childhood. Write about ignorance. Write about dreams and hopes and when you still believed in Santa Claus. Tap that part in all of us that remembers what it was like to be innocent. Don’t speak to the jaded adult; communicate with the child within. And help us find that person again.
31. Write about finishing. This is it. Day 31. You’ve done it! Congratulations. Write about what it feels like to finish something, to be victorious in a goal. This was a marathon, not a sprint. Who cares if you missed a day here or there, or if it took a little longer than you expected? The point is you finished. And that’s worth celebrating. So write these last 500 words with joy, knowing you’ve run the race and done the work. And hopefully, when these 500 words are finished, your work will not be. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.