A “Round of Words in 80 Days” update had a phenomenal turn-out. Throughout the day, I received some emails and comments asking for my magic mojo…my secret to getting so much done. I wish I had some for you guys. I’d share it in a heartbeat!
To save on time (and lots of long comments), I figured I’d go ahead and post here for you.
If you’re just interested in my workday hours:
Every day. That’s MY writing schedule, and adjusts as necessary for whatever curve ball life throws at me. If you want to figure out how to make your own goals, keep reading.
I have four websites I go to for inspiration, advice, and reality checks. Authors Lynn Viehl, Holly Lisle, Lisa Gardner, and Morgan Hawke (warning, Morgan’s isn’t work or child friendly). All four call it like it is, and share invaluable information. Lynn and Morgan have been amazing mentors to my writing career, and I encourage you to explore all four sites for great tools and articles.
January 2012: I went from a ten hour-a-day job to writing full time. The stress of corporate pressure, constant deployments, running two households, and general BS drove me to the ends of my sanity (not literally, but I did dread every day like it was my own funeral). A job I had once loved had become a nightmare. There are some harsh realities here. By leaving the work force, our family income was cut by over half. It was something we discussed (as a family) in great detail. Is that for everyone? Nope. Will I make that income back? I believe I will, but it won’t be tomorrow…or this year…etc. Here’s a great article on writing and running a household.
Note: If the only free time you have is between 6 and 9pm on Tuesdays and every other Thursday, that’s your write time. I used to sneer every time I saw a “flexible” writing commentary in articles. It made me miss some very important stuff that would have helped me years ago. As with all my articles, take what you will from it and discard the rest.
There are two assumptions for those reading this article.
- You are reading this because you’re serious about writing
- You have an open mind. What works for me may not work for you. I accept that, so please don’t feel as though I’m trying to dictate the only way to do things. This page is here because the information was requested.
Reality Check: Goals
Set. Reasonable. Goals. Word count? Number of hours sitting at your desk, computer, etc? Since I work from home, I knew I wanted to put in at least a five hour workday. I needed to figure out how much I could reasonably accomplish so I didn’t panic and freak out my family (since they were sacrificing so much for me to live my dream). This part of the process requires a good, harsh look at your writing habits and psyche.
Step 1: Choose goals that get you excited!
Don’t choose goals that you know are unreachable. That’s called self-sabotage. This part of the process requires that good, harsh look at your psyche mentioned above. If you work two full-time jobs, go to school, and cook a five-course meal (when you’re home) for your family, writing 10k words a week might be unreachable. Very few people have that kind of drive…and if they do, they’re sacrificing sleep (and therefore sanity). Can it be done? Yes. I did it. But it nearly killed me. You can’t sustain that kind of pressure for long before the body’s health is torn apart by stress. It took me over a year to recover from two years of that insanity. Trust me on this one.
How do you figure out what goals are reachable, then?
Step 2: Figure out how much you can actually accomplish
On a normal writing day, keep a scratch pad next to your computer, notepad, etc.. Scratch down the start time, current word count, and general mood, and then get to work. When you come up for air, write down the time, your mood, any snags or issues, and the complete word count of the project. Continue to do this throughout the day.
Armed with your day’s tallies, you may see a pattern emerge. Do you work well in longer stretches, or are you a sprinter? I noticed I was more productive in the shorter stints of 20-30 minutes, but only if I had a break between sessions. Are you more productive in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Is there a point in your writing time where you absolutely can’t focus on anything but the latest social media game? We’ve all been there (consider scheduling your writing time around that inability to focus. If you know you absolutely can’t concentrate from 11am-2pm, don’t punish yourself by making that your writing time. Writing isn’t a punishment, it’s a job). Keep in mind, your mileage may vary.
- I am grumpy in the morning (isn’t everybody?). All my notes were negative.
- Evening writing showed a more encouraging mood
- I am at my best word count when I write between 20-30 minutes at a time
- My most generous word count was between midnight and 2am.
Now that I had my information, I was able to set up a decent writing schedule.
Step 3: Trial Run
Armed with your previous writing session’s outcomes, you can set up a writing schedule. This will be a trial run. Your trial run should be a minimum of seven writing days. You’ll keep notes the same way you did before so you can make sure you’re doing well.
We’ll continue to use my outcomes in this example.
I am a more productive writer at night (a decade+ on mid-shift tends to do that). So I set up my writing time for after dinner when everything in the house starts to settle down. That’s usually around 8 or 9pm. Remember…I want to write for five hours…so that means my writing will end somewhere around 1 or 2am.
At 8pm, I sit down with my scratch pad, a pen, and my beverage of choice. Using Online-Stopwatch, I set up 20 minutes for a writing session, and write down the time, total word count, and general mood. The writing session begins.
After the buzzer goes off, I write down the time, my total word count, and general mood (adding any issues that are interfering with my word count…a character motivation, the sound of construction, etc).
If I have to take a break, I get up and walk around, refill my beverage (iced tea…don’t judge!), and take a brief bit to figure out what’s next. If I am on a roll, I may immediately start a new session. Either way, I’ll keep documenting throughout the next five hours.
At the end of this time, I take a look at my outcome. No anger. No drama. Just documented word count for day 1 of the trial run, and will continue to do this over the course of the next six writing days. At the end of that time, I would evaluate my total (and average) word count, comparing how well I’ve done, etc.
Now you have a baseline. In seven writing days you’ve proven whether or not you were right about your productive methods and writing time. If the results aren’t what you hoped for, reevaluate your goals. You may have assumed a much higher or lower word count. That’s okay. This is why you’re setting your goals…remember? This is the part where writing is a lonely path. Only you know when you’re the most productive. What works for one, may not work for another.
If you were way off, or need to pull more words per week, run as many trials as necessary to find your optimum writing time.
Step 4: Set Realistic Goals based on your trial run(s)
In the example above, I was able to write 3k words in five hours. Is that the greatest? No. Is it the worst? Nope. It’s me. I needed to pull close to 20k a week to make deadlines, so I needed to adjust my work day. I took a block in the morning where I was the least grouchy and most awake (9am-12pm-ish), and secured my night block from 8pm-2am. Every day. Do I write every day? No. I block off the time anyway so I have it…just in case.
Remember that goals aren’t set in stone. Life happens.
Note: there is a very distinct line between excuses and real-world interruptions. I’m not here to judge. That’s your job. Judge yourself. You can lie to everyone under the sun, but remember…at the end of the day it’s your word count you have to face.
The only way you’ll get that book, poem, project completed is by working your butt off. If you didn’t want to do that, you wouldn’t be here…reading this article.
That’s it, guys. Nothing special. I just got tired of not knowing how I was doing.
There are a few notes I’d like to share with you.
- Make sure to schedule down time. You need a vacation. If you have younger children around, accept that any off-school vacations will hinder your word count. Adapt and overcome.
- I fired my muse. For two years he sucked out my soul and plastered it across numerous books with little care of how it drained me. Now I write because I want to, not because some fickle creature stabbed me with pointy things for a reaction. Others have muses, and that’s perfectly fine. I don’t. If you DO have a muse, don’t hide behind it. A muse is designed to pull the ideas from within YOU, not provide you with a full-blown story idea out of the blue.
- I spent over a year without productive writing while I tried to figure out what the hell I wanted in life. Did I want to write? Was a full-time 9-5 the better option? What if I failed? In the end, self-doubt just prolonged the inevitable. I am a writer. No matter what. If you feel the same way, welcome to the club. If you don’t? You’ve still got my vote of confidence for fulfilling your dreams…whatever they may be.
My Word Count Tracker
Dawn Montgomery’s Personal Writing Challenge spreadsheet is here for you to download. For free. Note that it’s in .xlsx format. You can adjust as needed, change it up, etc. All I ask is that you link back to this blog if you post it (that way I can answer any questions that may pop up). As with all files off the internet, it’s good practice to scan any files before opening them. Any questions can be posted in comments.
There is a summary every seven days in the worksheet. Does it fall at the beginning of the week? No. If you’re OCD, feel free to change up the summaries, but double check the formulas. It helps keep me on track. I hide the previous week’s totals so I can keep my focus on the week I’m working on. The sheet is divided into four quarters.