3 Lessons Learned from Tracking my Writing Time

I’m used to tracking my time. In my day job as a technical writer, I am responsible for reporting what I’ve accomplished in a given time period. Until this year, I never really thought to apply this concept to my personal writing life.

Why? Because I’ve always HATED tracking my time.

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Image source: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=255406&picture=time-losing-time-clock

So why did I start?

I actually can’t remember. I started tracking my time in January probably as a sort of exercise to see what I would get out of it. Also, when you’re working on a long project like revising a novel, it’s difficult to actually see progress. People ask you how it’s going and all you can say is “still working on it,” and sometimes you think to yourself, “well, how is it going?” Sometimes, I didn’t know the answer to that question. I think that tracking my time became a way for me to measure progress, and to measure effort.

Now, please understand that just because this worked for me, it doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Writing routines are extremely specific to the individual and I would never suggest that this is the best or only way in which to conduct a writing practice. But as for my personal experience, the short answer to “Was it worth it?” is a resounding “Yes!”

I’m continuing to track my writing time because it’s become a valuable practice and an important part of my routine as a writer. Here’s why.

1. Looking at my tracked time made me feel better about what I’d accomplished.

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Image source: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/trophy-icon-winner-win-cup-award-1674911/

Instead of looking at all the rejections for short stories, or looking at the chapters in my book that I have yet to edit, I’m able to look at a long list of solid writing practices over a course of months, and I’m able to tell myself that I’m doing a good job because of this, no matter what other external feedback I’m getting. You know that thing about only needing to be better than the person you were yesterday? It turns out there’s something to that. But the catch is that it’s difficult to try to do better than your past self when you aren’t being really conscious about gathering data about what your past self has been doing.

I’m a working mom with a lot of responsibilities, so if I see that I’ve spent just 11 hours of my precious little free time in a month working on my book, I think that’s something to be really proud of. Nobody can take that from me. No rejection affects this.

2. It gave me an opportunity to chronicle and write about the writing experience itself.

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Image source: https://pixabay.com/photos/diary-ipad-write-blog-workplace-968592/

In my template for this, I included a Notes column for each time entry where I could express how I felt and what I was thinking during and after that session. This turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the entire process. It gave me a place to vent, a place to admit to the fact that I was avoiding things, and a place to complain/brag about the fact that all I wanted to do that day was to watch television or play video games but that I wrote anyway!

The entries in this little Notes column have started to form their own narrative over the course of the year. I love looking back at them, and it’s encouraging to see past times when I’ve struggled and overcome. I also noticed that I started writing to myself in an encouraging or motivating way, depending on what I needed, such as “I edited 5 chapters in January. Can I beat that this month? How bout EIGHT. Come on, girl,” or “Not as productive as I could have been. But it’s okay. I put more hope into my world with this query!”

3. Tracking my time helped me focus on what’s important.

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Image source: https://pixabay.com/photos/lens-camera-lens-focus-focusing-1209823/

As many of us already know, we writers have many tasks, and writing is just one of many. If you’re wanting to be published, you might be spending time researching agents or publishers, working on your website or social media, networking, or any other number of activities that are often quite valuable. There are many aspects of my writing career that I want to fit into my schedule, but I want to make sure that no one single aspect steals the show.

With the spreadsheet, it was easy to see when I’d last submitted short stories or poems to markets, when I’d last spent time on querying agents, and, most importantly, when I’d last spent time doing the actual work of writing/editing.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it can be tempting to always go to one of these activities over another if you prefer one over the other, but it’s more difficult to do that when you are making conscious decisions about how you spend your time. Looking at 3 sessions of “social media networking” in a row can sometimes be a wake-up call that you’ve done enough of that activity for now.

4. Tracking my time helped me let go of some of it.

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Image source: https://pixabay.com/photos/balloon-heart-love-romance-sky-1046658/

I don’t know if you can tell by the fact that I began tracking my time outside of my day job, but I tend to be on the workaholic side of things when left to my own devices. Thankfully, I married a fun-loving guy who makes sure I take a breather every now and then, but I’ve also learned for myself what it takes for me personally to be able to take a break and feel that I’ve truly earned it.

If I’ve tracked my time for the week, and I see even a good couple of hours devoted to my project, I can justify some time for something enjoyable to myself. Sometimes my default, when faced with a large project with no finish in sight, can be to withhold all goofing-off activities until it’s completely done. But guess what? When a novel takes months or even years, you can’t just do that if you hope to keep your mental, emotional, and physical health intact.

There must be small, frequent checkpoints for success. This goes back to point #2. The tracked time makes me feel more successful, which makes me feel like I’m more entitled to the occasional break from working.

So, when I’ve tracked my time and I feel like I’ve made a good effort for me (nobody’s “good effort” will be the same), sometimes I can give myself a break and do something just for me that perhaps I would not have felt justified in taking otherwise. And I think this makes the long-term effort more sustainable overall.

Disclaimer!

Now, a disclaimer.

I’m not perfect. Nobody is. A lot of my entries that I’m about to report to you are near-estimates.

Did this method increase my overall writing time?

I don’t really think so. If you’re looking for an instant way to suddenly become prolific, you might want to stop reading here.

Here are the monthly totals. And please don’t judge my small numbers! Like I said, I don’t have a lot of free time. Most of this time is during my kiddo’s naps on weekends or when I have someone to watch him. Or on the occasional early, early morning*.

*I HATE early mornings.

January 12.5 hours
February 5.5 hours
March 11.25 hours
April 12.5 hours

Looking at these four months, time tracking did not seem to increase my writing time.

Yet.

It remains to be seen if this strategy would help me get more hours over a longer period, with practice.

However, it made me feel prouder of what I did accomplish. Additionally, it gave me a sense of peace. Except for February, when you can probably guess life happened and things got crazy, you can see that I was always getting about the same amount of work done each month.

That both brings me a sense of peace in knowing I don’t need to be constantly stressing about how hard I’m working, and also a baseline against which to compete when I feel emotionally able to push harder than normal. Both of those are hugely valuable to me.

It also makes me feel more professional. My husband walked into the room one day while I was inputting my time and my initial reaction was the embarrassment that he saw this crazy thing I was doing. But he just seemed really impressed by it (I know – he’s a keeper!), and mentioned that it’s cool that I’m taking my writing so seriously. And that’s another thing that I think time tracking gave me: the feeling that I’m finally taking my writing seriously as a business and not just an idle hobby.

Now, I also want to add that I did not personally set any goals while I was doing this. If I had set hour goals for myself and stuck to them, perhaps I could have increased my writing hours over time, but that wasn’t really what I wanted to get out of this for now. I may feel ready to do that one day.

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If you think you’re up for the crazy challenge of tracking your writing time, or if you’d just like to see if it helps you as much as it helped me, it’s easy to give it a try.  I thought I would share the simple table I’m using that you can recreate in pretty much any spreadsheet or writing software. This can be in a hand-written journal, even!

I filled in the first example with what I might write in regard to the time I spent working on this blog post:

Date Time spent Accomplishments Notes
5/5/20 8:00-10:00 (2 hours) 1 blog post written & posted to author website. I almost used this time to goof off, but I just felt like I wanted to post about my time tracking experience on my blog. Plus, it’s been forever since I posted something. This feels a little bit vulnerable for me to share part of my writing process and my hours written and I worry people will judge how few hours I have, but I think it could also help a lot of people if they decide to try it out! Now that I’ve written something on the blog, I guess I can go back to ignoring it for a while.. 😀

I hope you found this helpful or at the very least interesting! Would you ever consider tracking your writing time?

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Image source: https://pixabay.com/photos/hourglass-time-hours-clock-620397/

 

Wins and Whirlwinds

Oh my goodness! Since the last blog post, I have so much to share. I moved again, and I’m living out of boxes. Which is a big, exciting thing but also a big, stressful thing!

Professionally, I have some acceptances to tell you about:

For one, I have a short story that was accepted to the Monsters We Forgot anthology sometime soon with Soteira Press (Release details TBA). This win is a lesson in not throwing any work away, because the story is one that I wrote at least over a year ago and had practically given up finding a home for. Originally, it was just a weird, fantasy, cautionary fairy tale. But when I saw the call for submissions from Soteira, I thought I could rework it into horror with a little editing. I stayed up late one night after my kiddo went to bed to do the editing (my kind husband got up with the kiddo the next day so I could sleep in!), and now this weird little story has a home!

Secondly, I’m super duper excited that I wrote a children’s story that’s going to be published in the Mother Ghost’s Grimm anthology produced by a group of authors I network with online. This was really fun to write, and I’ve always wanted to write for children, so I can’t wait for this book to be a reality.

All of my published works so far tend to fall in the horror/creepy genre, and I’m really grateful for it, but in the next year I’d sure love to get some fantasy or science fiction out there! I hope to get some of those stories out too.

But you’d better believe I have a TON more creepy stories brewing in my mind, so there will probably be more horror as well. Turns out, being sort of an anxious person lends itself to imagining those things I suppose!

Recently, I participated in another #pitmad Twitter event, and although I didn’t get any interest from agents, I did get some interest from independent publishers. Although I am holding out for an agent, I did still appreciate the indie publishers reaching out and showing interest in my books. It helped me not feel left out in the crazy deluge of pitches that makes up #Pitmad.

Thank you for reading this and following my journey. I appreciate you!

Two Books In…

Something interesting happened this month. I wrote a second book! Well, almost. I wrote about 57,000 words of a young adult novel that I hope to be about 60,000-65,000 words by the time it’s completely finished. This was an amazing accomplishment for me for several reasons.

I have a toddler now, and I managed to write a book. I had been afraid until now to try starting a big project because I didn’t think I’d be able to find time to do it between working full-time and being a mom. This month blew that assumption completely out of the water. I guess it’s really true that if you’re looking for an excuse, you will find one, but if you’re looking for a way, you will find it.

Another reason why I’m really excited is that I now have two books under my belt. Two! I mean, writing a book is great, but I had this inner fear that perhaps the first book had been a fluke and maybe I wouldn’t remember how to write when it came time to do the next one. These thoughts sound really silly now, but I think it’s something we probably always struggle with as artists. We shrug at our past accomplishments, looking our good efforts in the face and say, “Sure, I did it once, but I’ve surely lost all my capabilities for some completely irrational reason, right??”

This book was also different because I used extensive planning this time, with an outline, instead of “pantsing” (writing the plot as you go). I think that I found my preferred work style, because the outline really helped me fly through things and I finished writing my 50,000 words in 18 days.

I just wanted to give anyone following an update on my Nanowrimo journey. I’m very proud of my effort and also extremely exhausted. I need a break! And a maid. Oh, gee, my house is wreck.

Thanks for the good vibes and well wishes.

Some Thoughts about Nanowrimo

Here I am, writing to you from the jungle of Nanowrimo. I’m in the middle of it. In the weeds.

I’ve been doing great. Every day so far, I’ve written above the suggested goal. I’m learning a lot about how to incorporate writing into my lifestyle as a parent and about how to just level up my writing speed overall.

But I think the most valuable thing I’m getting out of it is what I am doing this very night.

You see, I’ve been sick since yesterday. I have a monster cold and I ‘m stuffy, coughing, and incredibly tired. I didn’t get to write until after my kid went to bed today, and when everyone in the house was asleep, the last thing my exhausted body wanted to do was sit at a computer and type. I knew that it was possible that my kid would wake up several times in the night, and the mere thought made me even more exhausted. I had a word buffer of several thousand words, after all. I was ahead of my Nanowrimo word goal. I could afford to put it off for one day.

But I won’t.

Because this Nanowrimo, I have something to prove to myself. I want to prove that I can do this writing thing, no matter what. I don’t want to wimp out just because I have a “buffer.” I don’t want to let myself get cozy because I’m ahead of schedule. I want to challenge myself to write every  day.

I want to bring it. Every. Single. Day.

And it really stinks, because I want to go to bed right now, but I have 1000 more words that aren’t going to write themselves.

Stay strong, fellow wrimos! You can do this.

I can do this.

ApolloPad Mini-Review

This is going to be short, but I just wanted to share a new writing tool with you that I’m really enjoying. It’s called ApolloPad, and it’s completely free (for now)! ApolloPad is a word processor and novel/story management software that is completely online, and they even back up your data. Because it’s all online, you can access your stories from any device. It has many feature similarities to Scrivener, which is an excellent product also, but is not free. I have purchased Scrivener but never really adopted it into my writing process because of its complexity. The main advantage I see for ApolloPad, aside from the fact that it’s all online, is that it felt much, much simpler to use and less overwhelming. Maybe you should give it a try! That’s all for now.

Major Definite Purpose

Hola! It’s been a long time, friends. I’ve moved yet again to a new home, which is making me think of the early days of this blog when I discussed moving into a tiny apartment in order to pay off our debt. Our family went through many changes recently, including my son starting daycare. I took a break from the blog during this time to adjust, but now I am back and ready to continue chronicling my writing journey.

Continue reading “Major Definite Purpose”

I’m Looking for an Agent!

I’m currently seeking agent representation for my 169,000-word science fiction. My hopes are high and I’m ready for this next big step.

I have ideas for 2-3 other novels at the moment, and I’m excited to get some time to start working on those in the future, as well as a few dozen short stories that have popped into my head over the last few months! It’s been an exciting journey so far with this first book and I know that it’s only the beginning. I’m enjoying writing, and the writing community, so much.

This is the verdict after writing and editing my first novel: I want more! I want to do this more, and on and on, for the rest of my life. I want to improve, learn, and meet other writers. I want to fill up with reading and life and the company of writing colleagues, and then I want to pour it all out into writing. Wash, rinse, repeat.

If you know of any agents (or if you are an agent visiting), feel free to send me any leads.

Featured photo in the public domain, courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.Net

The Daily Grind

I guess it’s time to talk. I’ve been avoiding you, reader. Not because you’ve done anything, no. Just because I haven’t had much to say. Just because I am working my tail off at a lot of things that are really important, but at the same time are not all that interesting to hear about because they involve small actions done consistently over time.

No dramatic announcements or updates. Just dirty, boring, sweat. Just showing up every day and doing the things I need to do. Not glamorous. Not interesting.

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Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net.

But it could lead to things that are more interesting.

Continue reading “The Daily Grind”

Thoughts on the Store-Bought Cake Draft

On New Year’s Eve, I finished the second draft of my novel (yay!), which is also the reason why I did not post here in December. All of my creative efforts were funneled into that draft.

The Importance of Multiple Drafts

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of revision in writing. It’s a huge milestone to create a second draft because it signals a fundamental change in the status of one’s manuscript. Instead of being as substantive as a puddle of unset jello, it’s looking more like the consistency of a beautiful cheesecake!

Or, to use another metaphor, a piece of writing is like a cake. Your first draft is pretty crappy, kind of like your first attempt at making a cake from a box mix. Maybe only your loved ones are willing to look at it, and even they have to reach a bit to compliment it. “Oh, it looks so nice,” they say. Really, though, a child probably could have done it. And maybe that child wouldn’t have confused salt for sugar. Oops!

You’ve definitely accomplished something, though, and a crappy cake from a box is better than having no cake at all. This draft is crucial. You have to start somewhere or you can never get better!

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On second thought, maybe strawberries weren’t the best garnish for a bubble-gum flavored cake. Don’t worry! You’ll figure it out in your next revision. Image from publicdomainpictures.net.

 

Your second draft is really something to be proud of. It looks like the sort of cake you might order from a big chain store. Nothing mind-blowing to be sure, but it has the look of something professional. The design and other choices make sense. You started using some proper tools, and it really shows up on that icing. People will probably be really excited to consume this, and they might be pretty impressed that you created it!

 

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After the second draft, things are looking pretty nice. You won’t have as much trouble finding people to eat this cake! Image from publicdomainpictures.net.

So what happens if you persevere and keep improving upon that draft until you get to your 3rd+ draft? That’s when you end up with something that has finesse and artistry. The draft has a cohesive theme and style, and you can tell that every choice was made deliberately and executed beautifully.

There are layers upon layers of complexity: the cake might have tiers and multiple fillings and realistic-looking sugared garnishes. You start using phrases like ganache when describing your creations. No regular person could make a cake like this. It takes skill and years of training. It might even have a simple design, but it will nonetheless be executed with expert precision. This is the final draft.

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When you finish your final draft of your creation, people will start clamoring for your cakes. Your friends will be jealous. Rose petals will appear out of thin air because your cake is just that magical. Yum. Image from pixabay.com.

If my predictions and hopes are correct, my journey from second to third draft will be a bit less strenuous than the immense jump from the first draft to the second draft.

I Finished my Store-Bought Cake Draft!

My goal for December was to finish my second draft. And lo, right on the 31st, I finished those edits. I had pregnancy-friendly sparkling grape juice and my husband cooked my favorite food (steak!) in support. There was much celebrating and feasting in the Bennett house that day.

But something that surprised me, something that I haven’t heard many other people or writers discuss, is how I felt after finishing that draft. For months and months I’ve been striving toward the same goal: to get my draft ready for other eyes (finish the 2nd draft) before my baby arrives. I’ve used all kinds of different tactics to achieve that goal: I’ve been waking up early, squeezing in writing time during lunch breaks at work, and staying up late. I gave up several of my downtime activities like playing video games or watching much TV during the week. I even scaled back some of my involvement in certain writing critique groups in support of my one goal.

With all those sacrifices in mind, I think I expected to feel a sense of relief when the great effort was over. I imagined I would feel a tremendous sense of achievement and that my whole being would be able to relax in knowing my goal was met and that my book was solidly on its way out into the world. I thought I would feel less stressed knowing that the hard work of my book would be already done before my child arrived and upended all my routines.

I am incredibly happy and proud and relieved to have met my goal, but the overwhelming feeling that was biggest after finishing that draft was something else. The word that best describes it is emptiness.

Post-Draft Ennui

Emptiness upon meeting my big stretch goal. Is that bizarre? In the week after I met this goal, I felt as though I were missing something or someone in my life! I felt like a drifter with no purpose. My new free time felt more like a chore that I had to take care of somehow rather than a freedom.

I missed the crazed, deadline-induced mania of putting my all into something and to have a clear purpose for every unused moment. I realized that the process of creating this second draft, which had been so difficult, was something that I would actually miss.

I know the obvious answer to this feeling is to start working on the third draft, but I think it is important to give the draft some time to breathe, and also to let myself recover from the tremendous sprint that was finishing it.

So I’m living in this slightly uncomfortable moment and allowing (read: forcing!) myself  to do some things I have not had time to do for a while (not to mention relax during my last month of pregnancy!). Movies, shows, games, play, leisure, and socialization. These things are important too.

That’s why I’m dedicating at least this week to relaxation and reconnecting with the parts of my life that have been pushed out of the picture for a while. After that, I’ll be looking for beta readers and turning this average little store-bought cake draft into a refined, tiered, wedding-cake draft!

What about you?  Do you ever have a sense of loss after finishing a big project? Did you ever have an experience where you expected to feel one way and ended up feeling something completely different? If you’re a writer, what metaphor would you use to describe the unskilled, glorious mess that is your first draft?