Writing a Novel One Hundred Words at a Time


I first heard about the One Hundred Word Challenge at lunch after an RWA chapter meeting in March 2007.  The object:  kick start a sagging writing schedule.  The method:  commit to writing at least one hundred new words on one project for one hundred consecutive days. If you miss a day, you start over at Day 1.  Emails, journals and grocery lists don’t count.

That sounded doable.  It wasn’t a book in a month.  It wasn’t even a chapter a month.  It wasn’t a large block of time.  It was one hundred words a day.

And it didn’t require a lot of planning.  I guess I’m a pantser at heart.  I usually know the beginning and the ending of a story, a little bit about the characters and the setting, but in the middle?  Well, stuff happens.

I’m not good at prewriting.  I don’t do character interviews or detailed outlines.  I don’t know a heck of a lot about my characters until I’ve written about them for a while.  I don’t care about their favorite flavor of gelatin or where they went to junior high school.  But somehow I think I’m supposed to do all that work before I start writing.  Talk about a roadblock.

When we (about twenty writers, most of us members of one or more of the three Houston RWA chapters) set up a Yahoo group for our challenge, I had a story in mind.  I’d had it in mind for a couple of years, and hadn’t done anything with it.  I had the opening page, part of the first scene, a few ideas about plot and character, but no ending.  I was convinced I had a worthwhile idea, but I had no handle on it.

But what the heck, one hundred words?  I could write a hundred words any old time, and worry about the next hundred another day.

Because I work at a computer at my day job and spend at least an hour and a half a day driving, I knew I couldn’t make myself come home and face another computer monitor every night.  And although I’m writing this on an AlphaSmart, I’ve never developed a knack for writing fiction on it.

But I’m used to writing longhand in a journal every night, and I had a stack of notebooks I’d picked up at a back-to-school sale.

So I sat down with my stack of spiral bound notebooks (seventy-page, college-ruled) and a supply of pens (I’ve recently become a fan of Pilot G-2 gel pens–they feel like you’re writing with flowing ink, and they don’t bleed through the paper) and started writing.

Writing in notebooks has its drawbacks, of course.  There is no FIND function, no REPLACE, no BACK UP.   I find it difficult, if not impossible, to edit handwritten pages, even though I write on only one side of the sheet, leaving the back for notes and insertions.  Sometimes it’s even hard to read back.

But night after night, sitting on my living room couch, TV playing in the background, I wrote at least one hundred words: about two thirds of a notebook page.  Others in the group watched their exact word count on the computer, but I just wrote.  If I was really tired, I counted twenty lines.  Other nights I wrote several pages.

The ground rules of our group favored slow writers.  We weren’t allowed to report more than “100+ words” per day.  Some people folks found the method didn’t work for them and dropped out.  Some left after finishing a project.  A few new members replaced them.  The core of the group is still together after sixteen months.

Many of us hit the one-hundred-day mark.  Others have started over many times.  Some are no longer counting days, and some are editing rather than writing (counting time rather than words).   But those who remain have developed a solid habit of working every day.

And me?  Well, I won the (non-existent) prize for most determined writer. (Feel free to substitute your own adjective: single-minded, obsessive, anal, and obnoxious come to mind.)

I wrote for 440 consecutive days, filling nine notebooks and a bit of the tenth, 649 pages.  I’m still transcribing and editing.  What I produced is definitely a first draft.  But it’s all there, the whole story, and I did it one day at a time.

Two thirds of the manuscript is safe in my computer now (Note:  Jinn & Tonic is now complete and has been a finalist in several contests).  I’ve replenished my supply of notebooks, enough for two more novels.  I have a drawer full of pens and a few ideas for the next project.

 I’m still recording the days on a small calendar, although I don’t feel guilty if I skip one now and then.  After more than a year, the daily writing habit is pretty well established. 

Whether you gather a group for support or make a commitment to yourself, one hundred words a day might be the way to finish your work-in-progress, start a new one, or just build your writing habit.

Kay Hudson’s search for the perfect writing technology begin in elementary school, when she was required to write with a fountain pen and carry a bottle of ink in her book bag.  She has owned numerous typewriters, some of which did not plug into the wall, and bought her first computer in 1984.  Technology changes, and she keeps writing.

15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mauratest
    Apr 11, 2011 @ 14:57:10

    Love this, Kay! I heard about the 100 word challenge a while ago and launched a similar challenge in my local chapter. I called it 28 in 28. For February, participants had to write a minimum of 28 words each day. It went well and each month since we have altered it a little – the current challenge is a minimum of 1500 words per week with a twice weekly check in. These challenges have definitely helped me to become a more consistent writer! And good for you on filling up all those notebooks! 🙂



    • Kay Hudson
      Apr 11, 2011 @ 15:10:07

      Maura, I’m still writing that way–I’m somewhere around day 180 on my current run. After I finished the book I was working on when I wrote this piece, I used the method to finish Paper Hearts, which is now a Golden Heart finalist. Now I’m working on the follow-up to the first hundred-word book. And still piling up notebooks.



  2. mauratest
    Apr 11, 2011 @ 16:05:48

    Congrats on finaling in the GH!! Good for you! Good luck in June!!



  3. Vicki
    Apr 12, 2011 @ 12:19:47

    We use this a lot in our chapter with our book challenge. It’s great and I love the fact that if life is really in the way, I know I can get at least 100 words in. Funny thing, is more often than not, I write so much more than that.



    • Kay Hudson
      Apr 12, 2011 @ 12:46:23

      You are so right, Vicki. I often think, “Well, I can force myself to write a hundred words,” and then I get into it and write a couple of notebook pages. Usually very late at night.



  4. Jacey Faye
    May 20, 2011 @ 07:26:10

    I adore this idea! I’m a creature of habit at heart, and I’ve known for a while now something like this was exactly what I need. This post has reminded me of that and encouraged me to get started already, so thank you! 🙂



    • Kay Hudson
      May 20, 2011 @ 07:30:46

      Jacey, I took a “short break” about a month ago, and now I desperately need to get back with the program myself! I was heard someone say “being a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life,” and I’ve been on spring break way too long!



      • Jacey Faye
        May 20, 2011 @ 07:42:48

        Haha, the lifelong-homework comparison is too apt! And I can certainly sympathise on the whole spring-break front, as well.

        If nothing else, however, even though I’ve just stumbled across your blog, I’m very excited to see what else you come up with! So feel free to consider this comment your proverbial cheerleading squad. 🙂



        • Kay Hudson
          May 20, 2011 @ 09:48:45

          Cheerleaders and stumblers are all welcome. I’ve been blogging largely for my own entertainment, but I’m delighted if anything I post here sparks an idea for someone else.



  5. Trackback: Weekly Wednesday Writing Wrap-Up #9 | The Happy Logophile
  6. rinkoo wadhera
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 09:33:28

    What a perfect and inspiring idea. I am going to give it a try.



    • Kay Hudson
      Oct 16, 2011 @ 10:39:39

      It’s made a big difference to me. The longest I’ve stuck with it was 444 days, finishing Jinn & Tonic. Now I take more breaks, but it keeps me going. Today is day 99.



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