Hello! First a reminder that I only update this blog once a year for this very word count post. If you want to know what I’m up to more often, try my newsletter (though even that isn’t too frequent…).
After everything the horrors of last year took from us, perhaps the pettiest complaint is that it doesn’t feel appropriate to make a 2020 vision joke for my annual look back at what the heck I did last year. Last year sucked.
I did, however, make it out alive. And I somehow managed to claw out a decent amount of writing work in the process. Honestly I’m surprised by that, looking at my annual numbers – as I was going through it, it felt like I was doing nothing and getting nowhere. Perhaps that’s because I’ve barely left my apartment in a year, though. What a shitty year.
Anyway, here’s what I did, despite it all.
I had finished out 2019 strong. After a period of actively working to recover from burnout, and a few messy drafts and another false start, I finally had an outline that felt right and a ton of progress, with nearly 25,000 words written that December. My goal was to carry it into 2020, to keep my pace up at about 20,000 words a month until the draft was done, and then to plow through revisions.
I did… some of that.
The pandemic hit as I was breaking into my third act. My third act did not go quickly, but I finished it up feeling really motivated and dove right into revisions. Then I sputtered and stalled for awhile. When I finally picked it back up quite some time later, I realized I needed to rewrite my entire first act, and that took even longer. Then, finally, near the end of the year I was able to get back to revision and I finished my more coherent second draft on January 1. It’s still a mess, but it’s at least got a story arch in it.
Here’s how all of that breaks down.
Writing sessions: In 2020 I somehow managed 105 writing sessions. That’s largely skewed toward early in the year, while I was plowing through the draft, and later in the year, when I was plowing through revision, with a big empty period in late spring and then a sprawl of once-a-week sessions through the summer into the fall.
Of those 105 sessions, 52 were drafting – which in this case includes re-drafting my first act. 32 were revision, both my aborted first attempt before that re-drafting period, and my eventual successful second attempt after. I spent 11 sessions on research and outlining, and seven on just rereading the whole shebang, and the rest were miscellaneous.
Word count: According to my spreadsheet, I wrote 92,197 words in 2020. It’s not as exact as that makes it sound, since a lot of new words come out of revision and I didn’t really account for those, but it’s also nothing to sneeze at.
This year I also tracked the length of my manuscript after every session, so that as I revised I could see if it was growing or shrinking. The first draft clocked in at 78,636 words, which is novel length but pretty short for fantasy. After I rewrote the first act, it was 81,843 words. The final total, post revision, is 91,132, which feels a lot closer to what it should be.
One more tidbit, whenever I find I’m cutting more than a paragraph or two I paste it into a document so that if I ever want to reference it later on, or I think I’m going to put it back in somewhere (something I have never actually done but always think I might). The word count on that document is 13,260 words, which means that in that big revision I didn’t just write the roughly 10,000 words that make the different length, I also deleted and replaced 13,000. So even that big revision was still a lot of rewriting.
Writing speed: Every year I say, look at that, my writing speed remained steady. And guess what? Without doing a ton of more detailed math, my average drafting session was 42 minutes long, and my average word count is 1,515 words per sessions. Which is pretty much exactly the same as it is every year.
Trying to dig anything more interesting out of the data… well, let’s see. My average drafting session is 42 minutes, but my average revision session is 52 minutes. That skews longer in large part thanks to a few marathon revision days, when I did a solid few hours – but that’s something I pretty much never do for drafting. I really enjoy drafting, but it’s a bit more mentally taxing – revision is a little easier for me, which I think is why I can do it for longer chunks of time.
Other notes: I miss writing in coffee shops. I’ve been a coffee shop writer for a long time – since before I started tracking my sessions. I started it because I didn’t have a desk at home, and when my wrists began aching, typing on a stable surface hurt a bit less than on my lap. I continued it because it forced me to plan dedicated time. I had to plan ahead to bring my laptop to work so I could stop and write on my way home, or I’d make a writing date with a friend and we’d meet at the coffeeshop on the weekend. Not being forced to do that made it a little harder to stick to good habits.
I also realized the transition time of commuting – office to coffee shop, or walking from my apartment to the coffee shop – is vital, too. It’s time I need to shift metal gears, to stop thinking about work or to start thinking about being creative. We moved to a new apartment almost two years ago, and now I do have space for a desk, and it’s great. When I’d write at home it was still nearly always after work, though – I’d still have the commute home, and if I could step into my apartment and sit down at my desk immediately, I was golden. But that’s not how it works now.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m deeply relieved that I was able to transition to full time work-from-home pretty easily. Having a desk ready to go so my workspace didn’t sprawl all over my apartment and I wasn’t forced to make due with sitting on my couch or a bed made life much easier. But after a long day at work at this desk, the last thing I wanted to do was spend more time sitting in the same place when the work day ended. And with no transition time, I was always still mentally fried. For a long time I kept thinking I’d take a break, go do something else in the apartment, and come back to my desk to write later in the evening. That almost never happened. I was just too exhausted and didn’t have the motivation for it.
That’s really what I think about when I look back at trying to be creative through 2020. The year was a total shitshow, basically a slow-moving anxiety attack stretched out over months. The mental work of just staying alive was exhausting and draining. The 92k I wrote was actually one of my lower word-count years, and if I’d been able to keep up my pre-pandemic pace for drafting or revising, I’d have done a ton more.
But I couldn’t. Not just I didn’t, but I truly think I couldn’t. So with all said and done, the drafts I finished are a bonus. The real accomplishment was surviving.