50,000 Labours or Why you should write 50,000 words worth of short stories.

This is not for those who want to write. It is for those who want to have written.

Part 1 - learning to draw 50 thousand hands.

Why do people want to write a book when they have free time? What’s their reason for not pursuing bodybuilding or professional sports? It’s fucking hard to do those things. It’s much easier to write a book - right? Compare it to drawing, painting, illustrating, etc. Take 30 minutes and anyone can figure out just how bad they are at drawing. It’s forgiven though you’ve never practiced. You never even tried a still life, let alone proper anatomy studies, or filled a sketchbook. Can you even draw a hand?

It’s okay, cause no one could in the beginning.

Learning to write a good story is like learning to draw a good hand. You’ve written before, might of even gotten some great grades on essays written hours before they’re due. You’ve read a book, maybe even more than one. A few were so good they inspired you to write because, damn it, you can do it too. But you spend hours, days, sometimes weeks and you’re not even done but you can tell, it’s pretty bad.

But back to the hands. If you’ve drawn a lot or know someone who draws a lot, you’ve seen a sketchbook filled to the brim with practice drawings, filled to the brim with hands. We call that deliberate practice and study. Sketchbooks are filled up and stuffed away, far more about quantity than quality.1 It’s just practice! Everything requires it. Knowing that it may never be seen, writing a book is difficult. But that’s writing’s very essence. You need to learn lessons when writing, so your next project is that much better. This is the point of writing 50,000 Labours.

When I devised this plan, I wanted a sort of personal bootcamp to focus on one aspect or my craft for the entire process of writing a story. Then do it another 10 times. Like a hyperbolic time chamber to dedicate time to deliberate practice and study.

Part 2 - it’s like going to the gym 50 thousand times

Do you know the best part of starting to work out? Newbie gains. New gym goers have never actually used their muscles before. So when you start, your muscle growth sky rockets. You don’t even need to optimize! It happens as a physiological consequence of moving heavy shit around.

The second part of newbie gains extends beyond muscle growth. Your bench can go up because your nervous system is learning to lift. The strain of oh shit, this might kill me!” lessens and you can lift more. I am grossly over simplifying, but also not the point. To even get newbie gains, start from consistency.

It’s more or less the same with writing. You’ve only ever written in huge bursts of inspiration (or stress to meet deadlines) and afterwards immediately petered out. This isn’t writing, it’s manic energy. Writing is a habit. There’s an ocean of ways to build habits. You’ll need to figure what works best for you. To start, pick a simple and attainable goal and build it up. That’s how you connect the neurons and get your newbie gains for writing.

For the gym, it could start with just putting on your gym clothes. For writing, it can be just opening up your text editor. Write 500 words a day. Or a week. Or a month. Set aside 2 days a week to write. Or 2 hours. Or 2 minutes. Whatever is attainable. It’s about creating a process. Not unlike strength training, you build that habit up.

Yes, you should write every day but you’re not a professional, take it easy on yourself. Eventually, you’ll either be taking this all seriously enough to write every day or you’ve moved on. Don’t feel bad if you do! Or keep that weight of guilt squarely on your shoulders. Just don’t count it towards your squatting max. That’s cheating.

Part 3 - learning to write 50 thousand words

Okay, the actual meat and potatoes of this entire program. Writing 50 thousand words. Believe it or not, they can be any words you want. I’d recommend putting them in an order that’s both compelling and sensible.

The number itself is largely arbitrary, stolen from nano room. It’s a rough estimate of a first draft and is about the length of Great Gatsby. It also gives us a nice round number of short stories to write 10. Sometimes less, sometimes more. It’s more impressive sounding to say write 50,000 words” rather than write a handful of short stories.”

It’s also largely arbitrary how you count them. Personally, I use the final draft. A lot can change between the start and end of a project.

This program focuses on those 50 thousand words being practice. If you sit down and crunch out 50 thousand words, you’re miles ahead of anyone else thinking: I should write a book.”

Let me emphasize that I don’t recommend you start by trying to write a book in this program. Instead, start with short stories. But you do. You I’m not your boss.

p3a - the 50 thousand meats and 50 thousand potatoes.

So the actual meat and potatoes of good writing can be broken down into a few things: Character, Plot, Themes, and Prose. There are some other spices you can put in there… but let’s focus on the potatoes and meat of your story stew.


This is the most important part of your story. Without em’ nothing happens. Without good characters, no one cares about your story. The only thing needed” is that your characters do something and change. They can not passively wait for things to happen. That’s not very compelling. Bilbo Baggins starts the story off as a mild-mannered hobbit and ends the book having braved dragons, arms, and losing friends and allies. He returns with a heroic story to tell and a ring that won’t be of any significance until a few retcons later. But he’s not the same.


Do not confuse Plot with Story. Plot is a sequence of things that happen because of your character’s actions. Not because it must happen. Trey Parker, writer and creator of South Park, puts it best by using but” and therefore” instead of and”. Bilbo tricks Smoug and escapes with the treasure, but Smoug attacks Lake Town. Luke Skywalker’s home is destroyed, therefore he leaves with Obi-wan. Things don’t just happen in a proper plot, things happen because your main character makes them happen. Things can also happen too” your protagonist and the plot is how they deal with it. Either way, your plot must be driven by a character’s action.


When it boils down to it, this is why your story has any legs to begin with. Do you think Tolkien sat down and wanted to make a story about little folk running around a vague Britain like contentment? No, he needed to get off his chest how shitty war was. Back in his day, his only platform was writing down the bedtime stories he told his kids!

A story for the sake of the story isn’t memorable. Why are you telling the story? It has to do with your own thoughts on a certain subject. We aren’t writing for silver age comics where we could throw a guerrilla on the cover and it would sell. Shit, the good issues of Action Comics were still about something.

Figure out what your story is about. The reason why your characters are doing what they are doing. The good writers expertly weave it into the very prose of their books.

You can either be subtle about it or you can beat your audience over the head with your immaculate themes like war bad” but if you ever become popular nimrods will still misinterpret it. But, a good theme compelled them to finish and discuss the book anyways.


Prose is of two parts, and prose is of two minds. Your prose needs to be readable. They don’t need to be good. Your grammar, syntax, and spelling need to at least not by distracting. There are writers out there that sell millions of copies of drivel to this very day. I bet they’ve still sold more than you. Die-hard fans will call them accessible”. Which has its strengths with retaining readers. They won’t get distracted by flowery sentences and can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Good prose boils down to the intentionality of your word choice. Words are the fundamental particles of writing. It’s your voice on the page. Like porn, you’ll know good prose when you see it. It requires not only reading twice as much as you write but also challenging your reading. Either way, someone will say your prose is shit.

P4 - the point of writing 50k words with of short stories

There’s no correct” way to write but there is a correct way to get better at writing. It’s a constant cycle of: Write -> Rewrite -> Write Something New.

So focus on short stories. This lets you have shorter lengths of time between the write -> rewrite -> write something new” cycle. Experiment with each new story. Try to change POVs, outlining, panting, poetry, even your software. Give yourself the freedom to write in new ways. You don’t have to waste your precious good” ideas 2 or fear trying a long project outside of your typical writing habits. Embrace it all. By the end of this you can have 5-10 short stories, which is far more than most.

Let’s assume you want to write 5 short stories at 10,000 words each:

This all helps you discover how you write. Maybe you’re scared of outlining but that’s what was holding you back or that using google docs was too distracting. There’s a great number of things that you might do wrong” because you don’t know what your right way” is.

p4a editing 50k words.

Editing is the most important part of making your writing good”.

The major of edits are (generally):

  1. Structure: Does the story flow well?
  2. Continuity: Is the world consistent?
  3. Character: Are the characters consistent and going on their arch.
  4. Line: Did you grammar good? Did prose good?

I’m not telling you to hire a professional editor for all these projects, but maybe one of them you can! However each of these projects needs a complete read through focusing on just one edit. Again, this is why there’s a focus on short stories. You can get each of these edits done in an afternoon on a 5,000 word story. Some of the editing steps may require more than just one pass each. That’s okay and even preferable! It’s all just practice. Just make sure you finish. The difference between wanting to write and having written is the simple act of finishing.

One must imagine Sisyphus happy when writing 50,000 words.

In the end, this comes from a frustration I had with myself. I’ve wanted to write since I was little. It was a hard lesson to learn that wanting” wasn’t enough. Everyone wants to write. Only a few can say they have written”. I’ve written my 50,000 words and then some, but have very little to show for it. That’s okay, cause I’m the most happy when I’m writing. I’m the most happy when I’m improving. I’ll keep pushing the boulder up the hill until that changes or until I die. I hope that after you’ve written your own 50,000 words and stuffed them away - you keep going too.

  1. College application sketchbooks are lies! It’s just a lo-fi portfolio!↩︎

  2. Depending on how new you are at writing, it’s probably not that good.↩︎

Posted on February 4, 2024

Next post 50,000 Words in Different Editors A quick primer to my 50k project: it’s a personal writing workshop dedicating a handful of short stories throughout the year to experimentation,