Check it out: https://write500.net

Whenever I’m not deliberately concentrating on a given task, my mind tends to wander in a very specific way: It tells me stories. All day, every day – characters, worlds, twists, inventing and reinventing themselves.

One of my perpetual New Year’s Resolutions (since roughly 2008) is to write more – almost entirely to pin some of those stories down on paper, and if I turn out to be any good at it, polish one or two up and publish them.

Good theory – much harder in practice.

A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

~Thomas Mann

Writing, I’ve learned, is every bit a skill as software development. Sure: anyone can read someone else’s work, see the logic in it, and gain the (false) confidence to create something like it – but the moment the pen hits the paper, that evaporates completely, leaving you facing the sober reality that, actually, you have no experience.

This has been my problem for the last few years, and I suspect it’s not unique. Any writer who’s read more than half a writing craft book should know that writing every day is one of the critical components – that you need the ability to produce sheer quantity, before you can start obsessing about the quality.

So with the new year coming, I had the idea of setting up a system for 2017 to help me exercise that muscle. I know I can write 500 words pretty easily – this blog post, written on the spur of the moment, is 586 words – and so long as I have some sort of guidance as to what to write, I shouldn’t find it difficult at all.

500 words per day, for 365 days, is over 180’000 words. Sure, they’re not all congruent words, and I have no hope of getting a novel out of it – but if I can manage it, I’d have written a novel’s worth of words, and I’d have built up routine, momentum, and (hopefully) a bit of confidence in my ability.

On that theory, I grabbed a domain, and started building a system to deliver me a writing prompt every morning at 9am. I figured the workflow would be no different from managing my inbox – I get an email, I respond to it, and I carry on with my day. And if I can do that every day (and let’s be realistic, we spend way too much time on email anyway), then I could start developing a writing habit.

About a minute after that thought, it clicked that other people might also benefit from a system like this, so I’ve spent the last few days producing a polished version I could share. It still needs a ton of behind the scenes work, but I’ve got time over the next 10 days, and I intend on hitting the ground running on 1 January.

That system: write500.net

For now, it’s basically just a mailing list. I’m working on a batch of thematic writing prompts (not just the random nonsense you find via Google), and if I can finish this off as intended, I’ve got some other feature ideas to throw in. But right now, I shouldn’t get distracted 😉

(Interestingly enough, while Mailchimp (the list provider there) does have an automation system, setting up a chain of 365 emails would push it to its limit, so I’m working up a completely custom system, using Amazon SES and my own list management. I might do a write-up on this at some point, assuming I can get it all off the ground!)