Daily Writing — Track Your Progress!

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“What gets measured gets managed.” – Peter Drucker

About eight months ago I started using a writing log to track my daily work. The practice has been so successful that I feel compelled to share an update, even though I have already written about this topic in an earlier post.

The basic practice is this: in a spreadsheet or text document or a notebook, track your daily writing progress. As a minimum include date and word count (or number of pages if you prefer). I also include start time, stop time, and few other details. The exact details aren’t important; the key thing is keeping a written account of your work.

It occurred to me at some point that writing (and other creative work) was one of the few life areas where I wasn’t keeping daily notes. I was tracking my work hours on client projects (I’m a freelancer, so I have to track time if I want to get paid). I was also tracking my weight, mood, exercise, and various aspects of my health. But I wasn’t tracking my creative work! I wasn’t exactly “waiting for inspiration” — I was still attempting a daily writing habit. But tracking the details dramatically improved my output and quality.

Getting Started, The Ritual

The transition from “lazy brain” (reading, internet surfing, working on easy tasks) to “power brain” (solving difficult problems, almost any type of rigorous creative work, doing anything that involves active learning) is difficult. The brain wants to conserve energy. A work ritual can help with this transition. My own ritual includes:

  • get rid of distractions (work alone, turn off wi-fi and phone)
  • set session goal and estimate time (what do I want to get done and how long do I think it will take?)
  • appeal to subconscious/Other/The Muse (acknowledge that my conscious mind is not fully in control of the creative process)
  • physical stimulants (black coffee, brief bouts of intense exercise to generate lactic acid, the ultimate brain fuel)
  • record-keeping (entry in the writing log, backing up work after session)

I would love to tell you that I’m merrily working away at 6am every morning. The truth is uglier. I get up at 7, get the kid ready for school and out the door, clean up the kitchen, read email, drink some coffee, take a shower, look at reddit, read the New York Times online, drink some more coffee, look at Facebook, take my laptop out to my studio, check my calender, check email again, listen to demos for Loöq Records, maybe master a track or two or work on some album art. Then maybe I’ll get started on writing. Or maybe I’ll procrastinate some more! 10:30am is often when I actually get started, though there’s nothing in my schedule preventing me from starting at 8:45 sharp. I try to avoid the self-loathing that might go along with the procrastination. I get started when I get started. Writing requires concentration, and I can’t blame my brain for trying to conserve energy. Looking at the log is encouraging: a long list of days where I actually worked. Don’t break the chain, says Jerry Seinfeld. Even if you take weekends off, and occasionally take a vacation, having a system that generates steady progress beats waiting for inspiration. Working on average less than two hours a day, I’m on track to complete a 100K word novel a year (including multiple revisions).

Sidebar: Writing As A Career

Writing, like music production, is a long tail career. A very small percentage of writers earn the vast majority of royalties (or, in the case of self-published authors, direct income from book sales). The GINI coefficient (a measure of income inequality) among writers is over .70. This makes the United States (with a very high GINI coefficient of .41) look like a socialist utopia! Here’s a graph of writing income among authors. The majority of authors make less than $1000 a year, and the vast majority (even including only those authors who have been traditionally published) make less than $30K/year. Definitely not enough to live comfortably in the Bay Area.

In January of 2013 I made a 5-year commitment to becoming a novelist. Looking at the graph above, I can see that even if I’m successful (published, good sales), I still may not be able to support myself via writing income. This doesn’t dissuade me. My main motivation is wanting to contribute to the world of ideas, to envision and describe possible and fantastic scenarios for the future of humanity.

So wish me luck — I’ll need your support. And good luck to you in your own creative endeavors.

12 responses to “Daily Writing — Track Your Progress!

  1. Thanks for an interesting idea–tracking daily progress–which my lazy brain is doing its best to let me know is not something I should pursue :-).

    I, like you, earn money consulting and so I diligently track hours spent working for clients, down to the quarter hour. But for my own writing? So vague! I used to make myself write “first thing” (which for me was about 8 a.m.), for as long as I could sustain it (usually a half hour to an hour). That was very effective, but now my mornings are more like yours, with a bunch of distractions before I get down to it.

    One thing that has really helped me in the last year is setting up a writing partnership with a like-minded fiction writer. Almost every week, we meet for two hours in a cafe and write, working separately but in close proximity. I know that no matter what else happens during the week, I’ll have those two hours.

    Good luck, and maybe I’ll try out tracking my progress…

  2. UNCLASSIFIED Good luck J.D.! You can certainly get there. You have the talent and discipline which will get you there.

    I read your emails regularly and can relate to many of the comments and thoughts you describe. Unlike you, I am not a talented writer but like to paint in my spare time. It seems that after working full time each week, managing my 5 & 7 year olds school & sporting activities with my husband and running a household there seems little time and motivation for painting.

    Your words resonate and the challenges are similar. Thank you for motivating me and finding practical solutions to overcome lazy brain apathy! I also particularly liked your recent post on private vs public school debate. I can relate to your opinions on this topic and to this day I have radically cut the number of beans I eat to a bare minimum and feel so much better for it! The whole paleo, 5:2, wheat belly diet debate fascinates me and I am slowly getting there thanks to your well researched, personal findings.

    Keep up the good work! I look forward to receiving your emails.

    Many thanks. Barbara Meaney

    Sydney, Australia.

  3. Great post, thank you, and good luck! :-)

  4. Good luck to you and congrats on your progress toward your goal of becoming a novelist! I’m glad you aren’t fazed by the financial ‘realities.’

    I too am a writer, and I’m slowly moving toward more ambitious writing projects. I can see that tracking progress is a good thing. Anyway, I feel the important thing is to follow your bliss/excitement. Bashar (a
    multi-dimensional extra-terrestrial being who speaks through channel Darryl Anka) talks about this a lot. And he says that in following our excitement, we will be supported in continuing to do so.

    http://bashar.org/transcriptfundamentals.html

    “Follow your excitement”.

    Why is this so important?
    Why do you hear about this all the time?
    Why do you hear that follow your bliss… act on your joy
    is such an important principle of life at this time?

    Of course… of course,
    all of this must be based in unconditional love,
    connection of your alignment with the Infinite,
    but in terms of the beginning of the tools
    that you can use in your physiological reality,
    following your excitement is of paramount importance
    and I will tell you why.

    The idea following is this:
    What you typically call the sensation of excitement…
    the physical sensation of joy… (and this doesn’t mean
    you have to be jumping up and down all the time),
    it can be a peaceful… centered… relaxed sense of beingness,
    that can be excitement too,
    but that vibration of excitement is…
    Aah… are you paying attention? Are you paying attention?
    All right, just wanting to be sure there is someone receiving
    on the other end of this transmission…
    Excitement is the physical translation…
    the physical translation of the vibrational resonance
    that is your true, core, natural being.

    So, whenever you act on any opportunity
    that presents itself into you life synchronistically,
    that contains the highest degree of excitement,
    what you are saying is,
    “Yes, I believe in who I was created to be,
    I believe that this opportunity… this situation,
    this circumstance… this condition,
    whatever it may be that contains at this particular moment in my life,
    the highest amount of excitement possible
    out of all the things I have the option to do,
    this, right now, is the most exciting one.”

    If you understand that excitement is your true frequency
    then you will act on it without hesitation,
    trusting that to do so will maintain the alignment with your core,
    and that that situation,
    no matter how you have been taught to define it on the surface,
    will bring about all the elements necessary to support you
    in whatever way, shape and form is the path of least resistance,
    in allowing you to be:

    a) who you are,
    b) lead you to the next most exciting circumstance

    this is an automatic function of acting on your joy without hesitation,
    without negative judgement… without over-analyzation.

    By acting on your joy you are making a statement to the Universe:
    “This is who I am… support me as you have always supported me
    in whatever degree of belief I had”.

    The idea therefore, is that by making, what you call, the leap of faith,
    by acting on your joy as best as you can at every given moment,
    you are showing by your behavior
    that you believe this is who you are,
    and it is that degree of conviction that is required
    for the Universe to be able to reflect back to you
    the same degree of support that you are willing to exhibit
    in terms of your degree of conviction that this is who you are.

  5. J.D., I have a very similar goal, and I’m sure you know how it feels when I say it means a lot to me to know there are others in the same boat.

    I started my first novel November 2012 for NaNoWriMo (which I’d bet you’re already aware of). Now, it’s on the cusp of being finished and it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced, so much so that I want to make it a career. I’ve found myself consumed with all the ideas of my writing, both existing and potential, as well as the technical nuances with which they’re delivered.

    I know we got in touch on WordPress because of a post that either you or I wrote (I can’t remember at this point), but with this end in mind I’d like to perhaps connect on the writing front. I’d be delighted to share ideas with you.

    The best of luck to you!

  6. Pingback: Weekly review: Week ending February 21, 2014 » sacha chua :: living an awesome lifesacha chua :: living an awesome life

  7. Reblogged this on lalitkumaar's Blog and commented:

    Lalit

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