500-50-5 Or How to Write a Novel in One Year

500-50-5 Or How to Write a Novel in One Year

Main Points

• Write a novel in one year using 500-50-5.
• Write 500 words a day for 50 weeks a year, 5 days a week, and you’ll have written 125,000 words by the end of the year.
• 500-50-5 gives you 2 days off a week and 2 weeks off a year to either relax or make up for lost time.
• Enjoy the journey by consistently throwing time at your writing instead of focusing on the end result.
• Succeeding at doing small goals every day will help keep you motivated.

I was sitting at work one day, struggling to figure out how I was going to complete my first novel. I had already written a good chunk of it, but making time for writing can difficult, especially when your full-time job requires you to study for math exams whenever you’re free. I asked myself if I was ever going to finish my book. I’d heard the concept of writing 500 words a day, but getting all the 5’s together (500-50-5, or 555 if you like) was new to me. The concept was born out of two eternal tasks that were significant in my life.

The Parable of Trimming the Plants Focus on enjoying the work, not the end

As a kid, I got a side job trimming a neighbor’s plants. I had to cut each individual stock one by one at their base and there were thousands of these things. When I first started, I figured the faster I worked, the quicker I’d be done, and the higher I’d get paid (at least in terms of total pay / time it took me). While true mathematically, forcing myself to go faster was driving me crazy. I made more mistakes, I looked back more often on my minimal progress, and it required a lot of focus to work that fast. I loathed it. So for the next day I decided to switch things up.

I brought a CD player (no iPod for me back then) and put in a Lord of the Rings soundtrack, deciding that I would just focus on the work, enjoy the music, and not worry about going too fast. The music made the work epic (I’m cutting down orcs at Helm’s Deep!), and I forced myself not to check on my progress so frequently. I lost track of time, getting into a state called flow, which is the best feeling for when you’re writing or doing just about anything. After a time, I reviewed my work, trying not to judge it by “I’m going too slow,” or “this is going to take forever.” Turns out, I had already done a lot. So I put my head back down and started working again. And the time passed MUCH more enjoyably. At the end of the day, I was happy, not stressed. I was proud of what I had accomplished and was eager to come back the next day and finish everything.

It was 1,000 times better than the first day, and it was entirely due to the fact that I had chosen to focus on the work and just enjoy it.

The Parable of the Bagpipes When goals are hard, throw consistent time at it!

I got into bagpipes when I was a kid, mostly because I liked the oddity of the sound. The practice bagpipe (it’s like a recorder) was easy to learn–few notes and few intricacies–but when I started playing the full bagpipes it was excruciatingly difficult. It was like rubbing your belly and patting your head while juggling on a unicycle. Bagpipes are a combination of playing music, squeezing air out of the bag while blowing air into it, praying your lips have the strength to stay on the blowpipe, and marching in neat lines while not tripping.

I didn’t think I’d ever be able to play. My lips would literally give out and I couldn’t blow into the bag after a while. Sometimes I would lean against a rock to let gravity squeeze the bag for me so I could eliminate one of the tasks. It was a nightmare until I remembered my plant trimming experience. I decided to try that. Instead of focusing on whether or not I was going to ever learn to play the bagpipes, I started focusing on just throwing good, consistent time at practicing (note the good part. Practice actually has to be focused). I started practicing 30 minutes a day and didn’t care about progress. I only cared about making a worthy effort and doing it EVERY SINGLE WEEKDAY.

You know what happened? After about a month of utter frustration, I learned to play the bagpipes. I even joined my teacher’s band and had a great time with them at parades, graduation ceremonies, weddings, and marching around with a kilt. Even if I didn’t enjoy practicing, just throwing consistent time at my goal worked.

500-50-5 Bringing it all together
Cut back to me in my cubicle at work, wondering how I’m going to finish my novel. I’d tried the consistent writing thing, but it felt aimless and didn’t get me anywhere. I needed to throw time at it, but I needed to know I would accomplish something. I also needed a simple enough plan to keep me on track and give me space for breathers. So, 500 words a day. It wasn’t terrible. And maybe I could take weekends off, so 5 days a week. I liked the ring of 500-5, so I figured, maybe take two weeks off a year for writing. 500-50-5. Writing 500 words a day, for 50 weeks a year, for 5 days a week. It was simple, memorable, and had a nice ring. What would that accomplish?

Turns out that 500x50x50=125,000 words in one year, which is definitely novel range. Could I do it? ABSOLUTELY! I’ve wasted plenty of years where I didn’t accomplish what I wanted, but if I just stuck to this 500-50-5 plan, I’d have the novel in one year, guaranteed by MATH! And it came with breaks!

I knew having a consistent time would also help me with my goal, so I started writing during my lunch break. Hitting that daily goal of 500 motivated me to keep going and I could always catch up on weekends AND take off Thanksgiving/Christmas, because I knew what was coming at the end of that year: my first novel.

500-50-5 inspired me to write, so I made a video of it with my buddy, Sam, to espouse the virtues of the ‘program’ (video above). Many thanks to him for pulling together everything in the video. I wanted it to be fun and crazy, something that would remind you that YOU can write the novel you’ve been wanting to in one year (assuming of course that it’s under 125,000 words long).

All it takes is just writing 500 words a day, for 50 weeks a year, 5 days a week. So what are you waiting? Start writing 500-50-5 and get that novel done.

Word Count Reference For comparison to 500-50-5
Most authors think in terms of word count since number of pages really depends on formatting. Agents, publishers, authors, and editors sometimes define word count differently, but here’s a ballpark of word counts I pulled from a few other places and




Harry Potter Book 1


The Hobbit


The Hunger Games


Ender’s Game


Wuthering Heights


The Golden Compass




Pride and Prejudice


YOUR NOVEL using 500-50-5


The Fellowship of the Ring


Crime and Punishment


Mistborn: The Final Empire


A Game of Thrones


Atlas Shrugged


War and Peace


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