Monday, October 14, 2013

Stuff I've Learned: Writing Log

Continuing on in my "Stuff I've Learned" series...  There's something else important that I've learned about writing that I want to tell you about:

Brains lie.

If writing is going well, my brain thinks that it's always gone well, will always go well, and I'll be done this novel by next Tuesday, even though I started it three hours ago. If writing is going poorly, my brain tells me that I'm doomed forever, I will never be able to form a sentence again, and furthermore I've never actually written a full paragraph and maybe the cat wrote all my prior novels.

To counteract this effect, I keep a daily writing log.

This is just a simple Word doc where I note the date and write down how many pages I worked on. No details. No value judgement. Just:

October 14, 2013, Monday
worked on The Found, pages 122-129
wrote blog entry


Doing this has several benefits:

1. It forces my brain to face reality. (Yes, I wrote yesterday. Yes, I'll write again tomorrow. And it will all be fine.)
2. It makes me accountable. (Here's proof of whether or not I've met my page goals. No fudging in either direction.)
3. It gives me a realistic idea of how long it takes me to write a book. (Very useful when agreeing to / setting deadlines.)

This is definitely one of those your-mileage-may-vary things. But for me, I love having the data. I find it comforting to know precisely where I am in a book and at what speed I'm moving through it. It helps keep my expectations realistic. And it helps me plan for the future. For example, because of this log, I realized that I'd started writing faster -- and that I could increase from one book a year to two books a year.

I know of other writers who keep much more elaborate records -- spreadsheets that include word counts and time-of-day and so forth -- and I know many, many others who don't keep any kind of records at all.  But I've been keeping my writing log since 2002, and it works for me.

Another method that I've heard about recently but never tried is the sticker trick.  You get a calendar, buy some stars or adorable whatever stickers, and put a sticker on the calendar every day that you reach your word count goal.  Author Victoria Schwab explains it in this video.  If I weren't already so attached to my log, I'd do this.  I may still try it someday.  I do like stickers... and I've learned not to trust my brain.

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