I started to track my daily writing production…


... and it amazes me how much gets done in so little time.

A year ago, searching for wisdom on the Internet about writing fiction and modern fiction publishing, I came across Rachel Aaron. Her blog was a great find; besides punching out a successful indie career, she writes openly about the daily work of writing, her journey from a 'want-to-be' to a fiction writer making a living at it.

She amassed so many writing process articles that she eventually released a compendium in eBook form called From 2k to 10k, about how she'd applied thought and technique to her daily work to increase her writing production, a shift she credits in allowing her to succeed (more writing meant she wrote better and more efficiently, she produced more finished work, she had more chances to draw readers, who then discover her older work, etc.).

One technique that she writes about early on her blog and in the book is that she believes you should start tracking your writing output. Keep a record of what you produce and when you produce so you can optimize way you work to produce the best results in the most efficient timeframes. For her, she says this process was about getting her word counts up to finish novel-length fiction on the faster timetable that the short attention span of the digital and indie book buyer. turn projects into finished works faster to keep her readers engaged with her as an author.

When I read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art and immediately embarked on my put-writing-first and write-every-day crusades, I remembered Aaron's lesson on tracking your writing, re-read her old article, and sat down to create a way to quantify the work I am doing on a daily basis.

All those years of Microsoft Excel pay off in my writing.

I created a spreadsheet and thought about what data I wanted to capture. I knew I wanted the information to motivate me to focus ion the right things, to hold myself accountable against the goals I set, and to analyze so I can take my fiction writing to the professional level.

The first thing I wanted was a simple word count for first-draft writing. When I say I am embarked on a mission to write every day and put writing first, I mean that I plan to add news pages to a first draft every day. So for each morning's writing session, I enter the following: The name of the project I'm working on, the time I start, the time I stop, and the new word-count total for the project when I'm finished. From this, I can extrapolate the amount of time I've worked, the total net new words added to the project, and the words produced per hour.

Because I want to keep working on first-drafts every day and you can't publish first drafts, I recognize that I need to spend time daily editing, reviewing and making changes to drafts of other works-in-progress. So I created a second set of columns: time started, time finished, total pages edited/reviewed/proofread.

To meet the goal of writing new draft material every day, I need a maintain a constant pipeline new stories ideas. I don't want my momentum to crash when I finish a draft. I immediately want to start on a new story. I created a third set of columns to keep track of time spent outlining. As well as keep track of time spent on the business side of writing (creating content for other writers and readers so I can (next step) begin to build a social media and email following to share my fiction with.

In fact, the only time I am not recording is time spent learning. Because that's happening all the time (when I read before I go to sleep at night, when I have a chance to listen to an audiobook on writing, when I get a few minutes to web surf when the day job slows down).

Who knew so much could be gained for so little invested. 

I have just wrapped the first week of keeping track of my writing production so I will hold off on conclusions just yet but so far, a routine is developing. I write early in the morning for 75 minutes to 2 hours. I edit previous novel drafts in the evenings for an hour of so. I am shocked by how little time this actually takes.

Sure, some things have had to make way for those three hours to become available for writing. And looking back on my routine before I started tracking, I would say those three hours were spent in front of the television. The production I've yielded in those two to three hours day has been, to my eyes, amazing. In one week, I wrote 15,000 words in my current novel, edited 150 pages of my latest work-in-progress - which means the novel under edit might make it all the way to publishable stage by Summer and the new novel will be in second draft in just a couple of weeks. Which also means I get to start on my next one already!). Amazing progress in such a short time.

The other way I gain by tracking my daily production is that I find it very hard to leave those data fields unfilled. Maybe this is a little Asperger's coming through but I do not want to go to bed without being able to fill in that line of information. Same with a day off from writing. Who says I should write seven days in a row? The spreadsheet does. Why not take a day off every once in a while? Spreadsheet says no.

By keeping track of the investment of time I am making, I can be realistic with myself about what I can accomplish, what I am actually producing, and I can be forward-looking about my writing when planning future novels. if you don't currently keep empirical records of your writing production, I highly encourage you to read Rachel Aaron's book and start today.

See above for a screen shot of how I laid out my spreadsheet. Thanks again to Rachel Aaron for the inspiration. If anyone wants this spreadsheet for themselves, just hit the Contact Me button.

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  1. Thanks for the post. Just reading Aaron and Pressfield. Good Excel layout.

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