How to write 1000 words (time-lapsed video)

I spoke at Ignite 12 in Seattle and presented this for the first time. It’s time-lapsed video of me writing an essay, called How to Write 1000 words.

I was inspired by Picasso’s movie The Mystery of Picasso (discussed in the Myths of Innovation), and Matt Wiley’s video of page design, where they bravely work, and makes mistakes, in front of a camera, showing what creating things looks like.

Here’s the video with audio commentary: flip to the HD version, which makes it easier to see what I’m doing.

And here is the live version (different commentary), performed at Ignite Seattle:

Stats on the essay:

  • The final essay is here: how to write 1000 words
  • It took ~150 minutes to write.
  • I wrote it over 2 days.
  • Yes, this is a hack of the ignite format. Hacks are good, as I’ve explained before.
  • The video is 30x normal speed.
  • Michael Pick helped tremendously with doing the time-lapse capture and production.

For more advice on writing:

43 Responses to “How to write 1000 words (time-lapsed video)”

  1. Livia

    Thanks for sharing this Scott. I noticed that at points you create these lines of dashes in the body of the text. How do you use that and why? I am curious because I do that a lot while I am writing. It usually signals I reached a point where the ideas have taken a better direction and what I wrote before goes below the lines so I still have it, sort of like “still good raw material to use, but not quite right as is to be in the main text” and I revisit it to get what’s good out. Then the carcass, what is left, is then deleted :) Do you use that differently?

    1. Scott Berkun

      Hi Livia: Good question. In the actual talk I gave at Ignite I think I talk about the line.

      Whenever I find a sentence or paragraph I like, but doesn’t fit, I put it below the line. Then I don’t have excuses for leaving things in – I want to encourage myself as much as possible to rip stuff out.

      Often by the time I’m finished I have about 20 or 30% of the entire length under the line, and didn’t reuse a single word of it.

  2. Alison

    Great video. I’ve often wondered the same thing – what it would look like to watch that process of writing/editing in motion. I’m always editing as a write too, so in 30x speed, your process looked very familiar. I do a similar line trick too. I put a heading at the bottom of the page called EXTRA and put cut info down there. Sometimes I end up pulling bits of it back in for conclusions or transitions, but usually it gets deleted at the end, or I’ll archive a whole EXTRAprojectname document, just in case.

  3. Drew @ How To Cook Like Your Grandmother

    There was what looked like a progress bar near the bottom. It didn’t seem to match up with the time of the video. Was that some sort of real-time progress toward a word count?

    Whether it was or not, I’m sitting here now thinking over whether that would be a good idea or a bad idea for someone writing to a target length.

  4. Kristan

    I had the same question as Drew: What was that bar near the bottom of the screen?

    Loved seeing the time-lapse and hearing your process. Thanks for doing this!

    (Here via Writer Unboxed, btw.)

  5. Scott Berkun

    Drew / Kristan: This video was made to be presented at Ignite 12, a live presentation format where you are supposed to use 20 slides, that are on screen for 15 seconds each. The progress bar was used to help indicate where in the 5 minutes you currently were.

    When the video was combined with a new audio track for putting it online, I simply didn’t remove that progress bar.

  6. Jelliana

    Thank you for writing your many websites and blogs (was it around 10 with each around 50,000 words or more? ;) I don’t know, just guessing), it has helped me write so much. I’m much younger than all the people who have responded to your website (lets go waaaaay young, no, I am not in elementary school though) and I seem to fall victim to one problem. I keep changing topics.
    I want to write a fantasy novel and I’ve probably created thirty different outlines for thirty different stories. Each I have written one to three chapters before giving up and finding a better idea. I know the answer to my question “How can I stop myself from doing this?” is “Keep working and don’t stop, don’t doubt”, but I still keep doing this. My longest story was 12 pages (not double-spaced and 12 size Times New Roman font). But I don’t know what to do? I can’t mash together all my stories, and I can’t seem to get caught up in one either. I know the good parts, but there seems to be a lot of “fat” in between there too. Delete? Re-try? Continue?
    I don’t know if you’ll ever get this or reply, but it would be helpful. You can email me at the email address I provided to add this comment. Again, thank you for helping me in writing.

  7. Sue

    Thank you for sharing this. I hit the “Like” tag and I’ll tray to share it on my Facebook page. I’ve often wondered how other people write e-mail responses that are about 1/2 page. My e-mails typically involve receiving an inquiry or request from a constituent or supervisor then I contact my staff and ask them to assess something and take appropriate action. I then follow up with them and perform research on the topic too. Then I write the response to the person that inquired or made a request. Perhaps you can write and e-mail and share that too.

  8. Lankin


    I started a comment… It is too long I find, so I will go and spam my own blog instead.
    Short: A great video; it also reminded me of the Picasso movie ;)
    I will rather NOT take screenshot while I try and write something that is not totally no-nonsense science, that’s for sure :D
    The most important thing, as you said, is to get your point across. For me, as I’m not a native speaker this is especially hard in English. I think this is what costs me the most work and time. This is not even bound to a certain subject or genre.
    Thanks again ;)

  9. Abella Jucy Arthur

    I just met you. I just met you on your blog. :)

    Within two articles, I formed these opinions about you:

    1. There’s an “honesty” (being direct) that I really like.
    2. You like to share your sources and resources of inspiration and they are good ones.
    3. Your writing is clear and flows. I don’t have to struggle to figure out what you want to tell me.

    Fair assumptions?

    Thank you. I’ll be sharing you.
    And, I’ll be back! :D

  10. Chiwah Carol Slater

    I enjoyed what I saw and heard of your video, but it sticks so badly that the second half of it came out in tiny two-syllable bursts. Pretty hard to make sense of, especially since you were trying to show speed of writing. What can you do about that?

  11. Victoria

    That was fabulous. You need to get together with the guys at Khan Academy!

  12. Dugaldo

    I have boxes full of years and notebooks. This kinda inspires me to bust them out. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Ian Timothy

    Hi Scott, loved this, I seem to work in a similar way, so its helps me to know that I am on the right track.
    Many Many Thanks

  14. Paul

    Hi Scott,

    cool vid – if you would like to do it again:
    use the screen capture as you did already PLUS use a webcam to capture your posture, face impression while thinking, stand up…

    compile it into one vid: one side text document – other side your face

    :))) just thought this would be very interesting


  15. José

    Wow, interesting video! I think it’s usually interesting and useful to watch yourself doing things, so I’m definitely going to try this with my own writing.

  16. akted

    Very interesting, 5 minutes! I enjoyed the commentary/reasoning/justifications you made along the way.

    I might have missed it earlier, but towards the end there, it looked like you saved your document. Did you really wait that long to save? By my (quick) calculations, that was about 2 hours into your writing. If so, brother, you live dangerously.

    1. Scott

      I’m not sure exactly what i did, but I know the command keys for save so it’s likely I did it many times along the way.

      Also for the sake of the video, these were screencaptures taken automatically every second so even if the document wasn’t saved, the video would have been.

  17. anaya

    Hadn’t seen this before a few days ago – writing tool that autorecords all your changes.

  18. J.

    That was great ^_^ I’m going to read through my book more often. I started this book as a pantsier (I don’t know. *shrug*) so there was not an outline of some kind and I’d get confused, so back to the start read all the chapters again, make some notes change a few things around like you do. And yep, back to the stuck chapter and it isn’t stuck anymore.

    It’s different this time, though, as the book is almost “finished” but it’s still a mess and so many loose threads, ideas that went that away and this away, but not following the plot so they got ripped out, back to page one and fix all that. Yeeek!

    The next book is getting a frekn’ outline omg.

    But yeah, reading it all over again helps a lot. :) Editing works for this too. When looking for glue words I can see where something isn’t matching up to a later chapter, stuff that needs to be added in and the like. Try editing the book to stuff will pop out.



  1. […] The above video is of Berkun speaking at Ignite Seattle 7 December 2010. He provides commentary as the audience watches a time-lapse video of Berkun’s computer screen while he writes 1000 words. The video is in his blog post titled How to Write 1000 Words. […]

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