This is a new series about the daily life of a writer from my perspective, inspired by Dean Wesley Smith’s Writing in Public series. I watched him do it all of August and realized that not only was the series incredibly motivating, but also that reading it had become a daily habit for me.
I admire both DWS and his wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch. They’ve taught me a lot about the publishing industry from the perspective of mid-list, career writers. I’m both inspired by them and wanting to be more like them. Writers write. That’s the lesson I’ve learned. But putting it into practice is not so easy.
This is my attempt to create a daily writing habit.
I was going to do a weekly post on what I’m working on, but I like the idea of the daily post a little more, even though it might seem repetitive and/or narcissistic for some people. I get that most people don’t want a “What I ate today” version of my work schedule.
But whatever — just skip it if you’re annoyed. Right now, I need the accountability. As Gretchen Rubin said, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” If I want to develop a habit of writing fiction every day, then I should be accountable every day too.
That’s my primary reason for doing this series. But I also have other reasons.
Here’s the second one: I currently have 3 “pilots” (first books in a series) out, and I’m getting more and more requests for the second one in each series every day. For one of my books, under a different pen name, I’m getting a near-daily request by email, review, or through comments on the blog. The pressure is on for getting it out, but actually, that’s not my biggest concern.
My biggest concern is that I will always be playing catch up with fans. They will always be able to read faster than I can produce. So these requests will get more frequent and more urgent as my series grow. And I’d like a way for fans to know that, yes, I hear them, and yes, I’m working as hard as I can to get the next book out.
My third reason has to do with other writers. I have learned so much from hearing how other writers at all different skill levels work and have been able to adapt their work habits into my own process. Still, I’m doing things that no one else talks about, or at least not in the same way. So I’m putting this out there because it may help another writer with what they are struggling with, or with motivation, or with just getting the work done.
And finally, my fourth reason is to prove a point — that you can make money as a writer. I’ve shared in posts before that I mix freelance writing with fiction writing to make up the majority of my income. And while I’m not rich by any means, I am making actual money as a writer.
And that is an important message for people to hear.
The main challenge is to develop a daily writing habit; however, each month I’m going to set a monthly word count goal as well. For September, I want to hit at least 50,000 words of fiction, which is the same goal that NaNoWriMo sets for its participants. I feel that if a newbie writer can achieve that word count in a month, I should be able to as well.
50,000 words averages out to 1,667 words per day (for a 30-day month), which is a number that I can usually hit with 45 minutes to an hour worth of work — provided I actually sit down and do it. Frankly, that’s the difficult part, and the part I need to work on.
Other than the monumental task of butt-in-chair, this goal should be easy for me. It’s essentially a softball I’m tossing myself to set myself up for success. I would eventually like to hit 100k words per month and higher, but I’m not stupid enough to push myself that hard at first.
Also, I’ve already taken steps to improve my chances. For example, I’ve slowly weened myself off television by not letting myself watch before 5pm. I’ve weened myself down to two meals a day, no snacks, so I’m not obsessed with when I get to eat next. I’ve weened myself off of casual internet browsing by setting up a separate account on my computer with parental controls, locking me out of just about every program aside from Dropbox, Dragon Dictate, Scrivener, Evernote, and Excel, which are the five tools I use to write and track my fiction words.
Additionally, I’ve spent the last year preparing for this task. I’ve boosted my word count from around 700 words per hour to 3000+ words of hour (when I’m really in my flow zone). I’ve written four novels and published three and learned from the feedback. I’ve studied over 50 books about how to tell better stories and applied it to my writing process. I’ve refined my process, using productivity concepts like flow, passive barriers, and triggers to boost various metrics that I’m tracking.
I’m not saying any of this to brag. I’m just laying the groundwork for both my process and my approach. I’ll touch on more details about these topics as the series continues, so if you’re curious about what all of this means, keep reading.
Here is my first day of work. My challenge is actually starting on September 1st, but I’m doing a warm up week to ingrain the habit early.
8:30 am –
Sat down at the computer after getting up and showered. I usually wake up around 7:00 am and spend a few hours moseying around in bed, reading on my Kindle or checking various things like email and blogs on my iPad. I typically don’t get up until after P leaves for work, but today is Sunday and I was extra excited for a book I wrote beats for yesterday.
The book is under a pen name, it’s the third in a series, and I haven’t finished edits on #2 yet, so the only one published is #1. Weird, I know. I’m the type of person who loves to work in bursts of energy but can lose interest quickly, so I’ve found that the best way to keep working is to have tons of projects going at once. That way, I can work on the one that’s most interesting to me at the moment and go until I’m tired or bored, then switch to another one, which suddenly looks fresh and fun again.
Anyway, I honestly haven’t written a first draft in awhile. I probably haven’t put new words on screen in a few weeks, and I haven’t drafted something new in months. (Unacceptable, hence, why I’m starting this challenge.) I could tell that I was out of practice because I felt tons of anxiety as I sat down at my computer.
Luckily, I had already prepared for that fear I was feeling. My laptop was already set to my writing account, with all the files up and ready to go.
BUT… I still felt a ton of resistance. I decided to go make tea before I wrote. I left a red cup full of tea on P’s nightstand and made two mugs for myself. I sat back down at the computer.
Then, I realized that because I don’t have internet under my new account, I couldn’t update my spreadsheet where I track my word count. That uses Google Spreadsheet, and I couldn’t access Drive. So I opened up Excel and created a new spreadsheet, which took another 20 minutes or so.
Finally, around 9:25 am, I was all set up and ready to write. You know how people say the hardest thing about getting something done is starting? I have a trick for getting started on anything I’m nervous about doing: I tell myself I’m going to do one Pomodoro of it, and then if I hate it, I can quit.
So I set my timer for 25 minutes and took off, dictating my first scene via Dragon Dictate, using beats that I wrote yesterday. After 25 minutes, I was feeling okay but still wanted a break. Got 897 words done, for an average of 2150 words/hour.
Not terrible, but certainly not my best. I’m hoping that in the weeks to come, my times improve. But, I can’t really beat myself up about it because 897 words is more fiction than I’ve written in the last two weeks.
Also, it probably seems a little crazy that it took me nearly an hour to prepare for a 25 minute writing session. That’s due to lack of practice. Think of it as if you were training for a marathon, but you hadn’t gone jogging in 6 months. You’re not going to go balls-to-the-wall on your first run, are you? You’re going to take a nice and slow jog and try to hit 2 miles without keeling over.
That’s how this challenge feels to me. Fear, anxiety, and the lizard brain are real. I’ve budgeted time to contend with them every day because I know they are my biggest enemies. I also know from experience that they get easier to contend with over time, though they never truly go away.
10:00 am-ish –
The family is stirring, and by that I mean P and our westie. They love to sleep in together, but usually start getting out of bed between 9-10 am. The westie needs to be walked and fed, so I get up from my desk to take care of her. Then, I’m starving, and I hate working while I’m starving, so I warm up my first of two meals for the day, which is leftover takeout. I also talk to P for a little while and deal with some email and internet stuff on my non-writing account.
11:50 am –
I finally stumble back to my writing account a little before noon. I set my timer for 45 minutes and take off again. Why 45 minutes? Because it’s a little longer than 25 minutes, and I’m trying to build stamina.
Somewhere in the middle of my writing session, P turns on the TV for the St. Louis Cards game, which completely throws me off. I spend a few minutes searching for headphones and cursing the lack of a door on our office (the perils of living in a one-bedroom + den in downtown Chicago) before getting back to it.
My timer buzzes, but I still have more of the scene to go. My scenes for this series tend to be between 3000-5000 words, which is different from my Socialpunk and Waters Dark and Deep books. Those are typically 1500-2500 word scenes. I have not a single explanation for this.
So, I wanted to stop at the buzzer, but I was decently close to the end, so I kept going. Then, I wanted to stop again when I only had 4 beats left, but I forced myself to finish those too. I completed the scene at 3455 words, clocking in at 1:10 pm, for an average of 1919 words per hour.
I was pretty fried at this point, but happy that I got the first scene done, since it is 1/8th of the total book. I have no idea how it turned out since I don’t re-read until the whole thing is ready, but I thought it was a decent rough sketch of what I want the scene to look like. My guess is that I’ll add 500-1000 more words to it in my rewrite/edit, so I’m pretty happy with the progress.
1:30 pm –
I came out to watch the Cards game with P. We are both sitting on opposite ends of our couch, on our computers, with the westie sleeping between us. This is a typical configuration for us, and the game makes for good background noise, as long as it’s not too loud (I have some sensory perception sensitivities, and baseball games, with the cheering crowd track on, are one of the many social gatherings that trigger my issues). P knows this and lowers the volume when I come into the room.
I play Candy Crush Saga on my iPad for a little bit and check the internet again, including my email and my sales metrics. I also write this post, up until the words you are reading right now.
3:45 pm –
I am still recovering from my writing session and I don’t want to push myself on my first day back to the grind, so I switch gears and decide to work on beats for both Unbound and Trinity, which are the second and third books in the Waters Dark and Deep series, respectively. #2 in this series only has a few more scenes to beat out and draft, and #3 is mostly beat out, aside from about half of Kennedy’s scenes (she has 12 total). I get all of Unbound beat out, but P gets hungry so we take some time to order dinner.
(By the way, I know that the phrase “beat out” sounds totally inappropriate, but I’m still going to use it. Get your minds out of the gutter!)
5:15 pm –
We get our Chinese and proceed to eat it over a new episode of The Newsroom. Hey, it’s after 5pm!
(You’re probably asking, doesn’t the Cards game break the rules? I don’t count it since I’m not actively watching it and it’s mostly P’s show and background noise for me. I only count TV that has a storyline that I keep up with.)
7:15 pm –
Got back to my desk after dinner and a long walk with P and the westie. I’m ready to do another round of writing, though I have to admit I’m not as excited to write as I was this morning. I equate this to exercise, where motivation to stick to your plan dwindles after the first few gym sessions. Still, I know that while I’m writing, things will feel awesome. I know this.
I still want to get two more sessions in, but I’m not sure how realistic it is at this point in the day. I decided that my waning excitement for writing can be fixed by choosing scenes that I’m really, really excited to write. I choose some Trinity scenes from Rykken’s POV.
It took me about 20 minutes to switch accounts and get everything loaded up before I start. This time, I don’t bother setting a timer to get myself started. I just start writing and figure I’ll stop whenever I get tired of writing in Rykken’s voice.
9:30 pm –
I finish up another two rounds of writing with the following stats:
7:35pm-8:25pm – 50 minutes – 1931 words – 2317 word/hour avg.
8:40pm-9:28pm – 48 minutes – 1782 words – 2228 word/hour avg.
Oddly enough, my scenes were nearly the same length (only 150 words apart) and took nearly the same amount of time to write.
I decided to take a longer 30 minute break with the full intention of going back doing another few scenes, since I felt pretty good about what I’d written so far. But when I got back, I looked through the rest of my Rykken scenes and realized I had several half-completed ones. So I decided to quit for the night and instead focus my energy on cleaning up and finishing up some of the scenes I already have 700 or 800 words for, since that will get me closer to finishing up this manuscript.
I also still need to beat out the last 6 Kennedy scenes, so that might be something else to do to kill time tonight.
In total, I’ve written 7168 new fiction words today, which is not bad at all for a first day back. I had wanted to go really easy today and not push myself aside from the initial fear (if you’ll remember at the beginning of the post, it took me nearly an hour of rituals to start writing again).
(I’ve also technically written just over 3k words in this blog post. So actually, an over 10k day. But… I’m not counting it. It feels like cheating. So we’re just going to go with 7k+.)
I’m still not anywhere near where I want to be for words/hour avg., but I did seem to go up a bit in the two evening sessions. I’m hoping that my word count/hour improves significantly over the next few weeks, as I practice and get into the groove. At my peak, I’ve hit 3600+ words/hour using Dragon Dictate and an outline. So even though 2000-ish words/hour is awesome and much higher than most people, even professional writers, can do, I know I can go a lot harder when I’m in the right mindset.
Also, I know there will be writers out there who want to strangle me for saying that 7000+ words is an easy day of writing. But for me, it felt really easy. I did four short sessions of writing that only totaled 203 minutes. That’s less than 3 1/2 hours of actual, clocked work. In other words, Kindergarteners have longer work days than I did today.
Now, granted, most writers aren’t going to achieve those averages just starting out, but as I’ve said, I have spent a ton of time trying to optimize both my word count/hour and my novel-writing process, so I’ve laid a good foundation for this type of result.
I go back to the living room and log into my non-writing account to enjoy the internet for a bit. I record my sales numbers for the day, clean out my inboxes, and finish up this post. And by the end of that, P wants to go to bed, so I decide to just call it for the night without working on any more Rykken scenes.
I’m pretty happy with what I’ve accomplished today, even though I only finished 3 scenes total. I’m trying to be okay with the idea that a little every day is better than a lot all at once, since it’s obvious that I burn myself out by pushing the limits of what should be humanly possible in a short amount of time.
Off to bed now… I am reading The Beam by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. (Here is a link to the free first episode on Amazon.) Really enjoying it so far!