I’ve tracked my writing in various ways for years and years – but generally only in sheer number of words drafted, which (I’ve mentioned before) has always led to me feeling as if I’m not making progress when I do anything but draft, and that is no good! So in late January 2015, I decided to track a lot more: dates, times, lengths, and locations of writing sessions, what project I worked on (BBB&S or its sequel, which I’m like 85% sure I know the title of but it hasn’t been made official yet), what kind of work I was doing (drafting, revising, etc), word count (when relevant), and other notes (what chapters I worked on, any issues I encountered, etc).
So now I have a full year I can look back on and say… wow. I’m sharing this for two reasons: first, because I’m always fascinated when I read posts from other authors, pulling back the curtain; second, because in any given week I always feel like I’m not doing enough – not drafting fast enough, not revising enough chapters, not…whatever. I always feel behind. Looking at actual data, though, I probably shouldn’t.
So here we go, information gleaned on how one particular writer works.
Writing sessions: I don’t write every day. I have a full time job and a few other commitments, so my schedule just doesn’t allow for it. I do aim for at least three writing sessions a week, though – generally one evening after work at some point during the week, and both Saturday and Sunday. But hey, life happens; that isn’t always feasible for a bunch of reasons. On the other hand, life happens the other way, too, and some weeks I find myself with startling amounts of free time that I can fill up with writing.
So, how did I do with that 3x/week goal? I came pretty darned close. I had 150 writing sessions recorded (though there are a couple of gaps, alas), which averages out to writing every 2.4 days.
Next, let’s look at session lengths. This is not entirely accurate either – when I was drafting, I only recorded the time spent making words, not the time prewriting beforehand (usually ten minutes). I break my writing into 30 minute stretches (and literally stretch between them), a habit I picked up from BFF Jess (who is also frequently my writing date buddy). I also didn’t count time spent sitting around checking twitter and whatnot before getting started or between writing chunks, etc. So a 60 minute session is usually closer to two hours spent sitting Starbucks or wherever. (Okay, look, I need to check twitter a lot before I get into it. But once I turn on my timer I really don’t let myself get distracted until it goes off.)
With all that said, I spent 159 hours writing. My average session was just over an hour (66 minutes), with my longest at three hours (while doing a massive chunk of copyedits) and my shortest at 20 minutes (‘cause some days you try and just aren’t feeling it).
Word Count: This sometimes feels like the be-all, end-all, of writing, even though it isn’t. Everyone seems to want to write more and write faster. So the bottom line here is: I wrote 122,000 words last year…and then some. As I was delving into BBB&S revisions, it became harder to track new words written, so a lot of that stuff I just didn’t count. But between the new scenes and chapters I wrote in the revision process, plus drafting book two (false starts and all), 122k was what got recorded on the sheet.
Surprisingly (to me, anyway), only 66 of my 150 sessions have a word count associated with them, which means that I averaged about 1,848 words per session when I was actually writing new words. If I look at just those sessions, it was about 54 hours, which means I write at about 2,259 words per hour. Which is just about what I expected on both counts. (I’m not strict about targets when it comes to drafting, but I generally assume I’ll write about 2,000 words/hour.)
What strikes me here is that I don’t consider myself a fast drafter – but I am a quick writer. By which I mean, I don’t draft an entire book in a matter of weeks or a bit over a month, but I do write at a pretty consistent pace on a regular basis. I started the full draft book two on August 15, and finished it on November 28 – about three and a half months. (It was about 73,000 words.) That, for me, is a non-frantic, reasonable, sustainable pace.
(But that’s just me. I tend to think of fast drafting as 3-6 weeks, which I can’t do. But then again, for other people, three and a half months might seem like a super short time period to write a draft. Everyone differs here.)
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So what exactly did I work on? Wellp. I mentioned it in super short form: revising BBB&S, drafting Book2. But in a bit more detail…
- Only about 80 of my sessions (plus the lost time) were spent on BBB&S. Over the course of the year, I did two major rounds of revision with my editor. The first started in late January and completed in early May and the second started in mid-June and ended in early August. Then about two-thirds of October were spent on copyedits.
- The rest of the year was spent on Book2, which has gone like this: outlining (early January, before I was tracking) and then pausing for BBB&S revisions; drafting in May and June and then pausing for BBB&S revisions; realizing the draft was not working, re-outlining, and starting a fresh draft. I continued that through the end of November (breaking for a few weeks to do the BBB&S copyedits), and then, based on discussions with my agent and editor, and after rereading the draft and seeing some pretty major weakness, decided to start again. Re-re-outlining began in early December. I began writing the current draft on 12/20 and obviously it is still in progress.
Now, there’s a whole heck of a lot that I could say here about drafting under deadline for the first time (terrifying!), second book syndrome (real), zero drafts and writing tens of thousands of words that never see the light of day (ha … ha … ha), and so on. But I feel like that’s a different blog entry. Which I will probably never write, because, you know, I’m a terrible blogger. But here are some things I have discovered through all this.
- It takes me two to three weeks to outline a novel (not starting from the very first seed of an idea, but starting from knowing at least a couple of plot points, who the key characters are, and some of the worldbuilding — the process of getting THAT far takes much longer). A lot of this time is spent writing incoherent notes, with lots of MAYBE and THIS COULD WORK?? messages scribbled in the margins. Spoiler: things labeled “this could work” rarely work. “Maybe” means “probably not.” I also draw charts and pointy-line graphs of what the story structure is. These also mean nothing and go nowhere. But after a couple of weeks of this nonsense, I tend to go “…OH” and then spend a few super-intense hours writing an actual, coherent outline.
- Similarly, I have a few writing sessions that were just labeled “revision planning.” These were spent copying and pasting my editor’s notes into various different text files, color coding them, rewriting them into my own words, crying into my coffee, moving them around again, pulling out my hair, labeling every chapter with keywords and characters, moving the notes around again, and then finally sitting down one day and writing a list of the major stuff I’m going to cut, change, move, or write anew.
Basically, it takes me between a couple of days and a couple of weeks of doing stuff that looks a lot like procrastination to get ready to tackle drafting or revising. But what those sessions actually do is get me thinking critically, trying and discarding ideas, and working past all of the “but I don’t WANNA kill my darlings” / “but I don’t WANNA write this again” type whining. I come out of it charged up and ready to go. So it’s worth the time it takes.
So that was 2015. I suspect that in 2016 I will get to add a fun new category of marketing type stuff to this list, and doubtlessly other aspects of debuting that I don’t know about yet. And hopefully next fall, once BBB&S is out there and Book2 is between revisions, there will be some drafting of a shiny new project – we’ll see. I am counting no chickens before they hatch.
But honestly, overall, before I looked at this data I had no idea what I’d actually done in 2015 – or how productive I was. (Very. TAKE THAT, BRAIN.) If I can keep this same pace in 2016, I think it will be a good year. (Fingers crossed.)