Oh boy. Okay. So part of me is tempted to not do my writing numbers round up for the year, because my writing numbers for 2017 were…not great. But actually, as subscribers to my newsletter know, my 2017 as a whole was not great. So I guess acknowledging that even though I was waaaaaay less productive than usual, writing-wise, is not a bad thing — it shows that even when the world is an unending nightmare (on both a personal and global scale), I can still get stuff done. At least, some. A little.
Okay, not much.
Let’s start with some context in these numbers: 2017 is the first year in awhile that I didn’t have any deadlines. All of the real work for Freed by Flame and Storm had been finished in October 2016, and because the series was a duology, that was the end of it. It was time for a new, completely unrelated project. I began work on that in November, but for this blog entry all I’m counting is work from January on.
Writing sessions: I only did 57 writing sessions in 2017. For comparison, in 2016 I did 97, and in 2015 I did 157. But it’s not like those 57 represented a full year’s worth of work. Those all happened between January and August — for the last third of the year, I did no writing at all. (Of course, if we assume that in some hypothetical world I kept working at that same pace through December, it would only have brought me up to 75 sessions — so I did fewer, comparatively, even in the months I was writing.) Of those 57 sessions, 43 were spent drafting. The rest were outlining and brainstorming and things like that.
In total, I spent a bit over 52 hours writing, which averages out to sessions of a bit longer than an hour — which is consistent with previous years. Except if I look at just sessions where I was drafting, that average drops to about 36 minutes per sessions — because my non-drafting days were often a few hours of work each, where the actual drafting was like pulling teeth and I frequently stopped before my timer. I didn’t grab the data on that in previous years, but I suspect that’s way lower. But hey: each new book is its own beast, and as I reminded myself all year, writing for 35 minutes instead of 60 is still better than not writing at all.
Word count: I wrote only 76,845 words in 2017. That is also much lower than previous years. In 2016, I wrote 115,000 words; in 2015, I wrote 122,000 words. And unlike previous years, that isn’t really low-balling it — in previous years I didn’t count new words that were written in revisions, and this year, I didn’t, uh, revise anything. That draft is really all there is.
But once again, I can dig in and find a tiny bit of consistency. When you look at the amount I wrote and the time I wrote it in, I averaged a drafting speed of 2,211 words per hour. That is pretty much exactly in line with the previous two years. So basically, I may have written for way fewer hours, and fewer words overall — but when I did sit down to write, I was producing words at about the same rate. That’s something, at least!
So what did I work on? (Sigh) I’m not just going to say “I don’t wanna talk about it…” but honestly, the hardest part of this is looking back at 2017 and feeling like I have nothing to show for it. And look: obviously that’s not quite accurate. I did, after all, finish a rough draft of a manuscript. But… it was a giant mess.
To be clear: it is okay for a rough draft to be a giant mess! Mine pretty much always are, and I also have always ended up doing ground-up rewrites. (Even under deadline for Freed, which was… exciting.) But where my 2017 draft differs from other messy drafts I’ve done is that I finished it, read through it, and have no idea how to fix it. My agent and my crit partners provided some really helpful feedback, but at the end of the day it comes down to the fact that this doesn’t just have to be rewritten, it’s something where I have to find which of several competing ideas in the manuscript is actually the best, and use that as the seed to grow an entirely different project.
I like the core concept of the thing I wrote. It’s very near and dear to my heart. I really want to come back to it — to nurture that seed and let it grow it something that will, someday, be awesome. But I don’t yet have a vision of what it will grow into, which means I can’t really work on it yet. It would just be rewriting one mess into another.
So I’m not going to do that. And I’m not going to worry about it. Maybe — hopefully — someday that seed will take root and start to grow, and I can come back to it then. (That seed metaphor is now officially overextended.) In the meantime, I’ve started fresh in 2018 with an idea that is more ready to go. I’m trying to let go of the ways I feel like 2017 was a waste and a loss, and instead build back up the focus and good habits I had in previous years. I want to not just write more, but write something better; I want to challenge myself to level up.
So will I write a new manuscript this year that’s a big mess? Probably. But with a little bit of luck, and a lot of hard work, plus some tweaks to my process, I am hoping it’ll be a much better big mess, and I won’t end this year feeling like I’m just treading water.