So on the evening of the 31st November 2015, I hit a milestone of having written 500,000 words so far this year.
As regular readers know, this year is my year of hard work, where I’ve knuckled down and just tried to focus on getting stuff done. So at half a million words, what are my two quick takeaways?
I used to be such an inefficient writer. I’d procrastinate, worry that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to write, never be sure of what I was doing.
I changed that, and the book I wrote to test whether it works or not got me picked up by a major international literary agent.
I took time to gather data on my writing and used that to better understand my process. I then completely changed how I wrote to match that. I went from a pantser who hated outlining to a meticulous planner. I went from writing in big multi-hour long bouts, to quick sprints of less than an hour. I mixed projects so I could ‘procrastinate’ from my main project on something that also needed to be done.
The important thing is that I did what worked for me. Sometimes that has meant trying things that didn’t work, but I have to honestly say that if I hadn’t tried experimenting with my process I would never have been as productive as I’ve been this year.
I keep a spreadsheet with all my writing sessions. I keep various bits of data from what draft it is, to the project name, to the start and end time of the session, but the most important data I’ve collected has been number of words and how long they took me.
My spreadsheet quickly told me when I’ve had huge gaps of not writing. Yes, some of them are because I’ve been editing or planning, but it became very clear to me of the amount of dead time I was wasting. I also know how quickly I can write (which has made planning deadlines so much easier) and what length of writing session is my most optimal.
I honestly think that if you want to be more productive as a writer then you have to spend the time collecting the data.
It’s important to note that my focus has never been about trying to pump words out as quickly as possible, it’s been about being efficient. If it was purely about numbers I think I could have easily have been here sitting on over a million. When I’ve needed to go slow, I’ve done so, but I’ve minimised procrastination, spent time making a plan and put effort into keeping to it.
Anyone who might sneer at this and disbelieve it needs only look at my monthly reports to see that work I’ve done this year has got to the last few in a major anthology and for a publishing pitch. Yes, they might have been unsuccessful, but the reasons they didn’t make wasn’t because the quality wasn’t good enough. I didn’t let the disappointment stop me from moving on and working on the next thing. And then I did land an agent as well.
So am I going to rest on my laurels? Am I going to try and push on and have a super productive couple of last few months to see just how many words I can do inside a year? No, my focus is going into NaNoWriMo with a new novel planned out. That’ll take as long as it needs (although I suspect it’ll be quite quick as I know what I need to write and how quickly I write) but the focus will still be on efficiency not word count.