I’ve been working really hard on improving myself lately, both by understanding my personality better, and also by improving my writing processes. This is likely to be a really long post with some data and analysis if you’re so inclined. Though I’ll spoil it here and say in summary: wow, have I grown a lot as a writer since 2005. Also, newsflash, momentum is key for my personal success as a writer.
I’ll also preface this with: this is my personal experience. Slower is not better. Faster is not better. DO YOU. Also remember I have a full-time, usually stressful job and three busy teenagers/college kid to manage. So while I’d love to write for hours and hours a day, it’s just not possible for me at this time. My normal writing session is 9PM-midnight if I’m lucky and the kids don’t bother me with homework or emergencies.
First, the data analysis. Queen Takes Triune is the first book where I successfully kept track from start to finish of my word counts per day – and then followed up to analyze those numbers. Yes, there were days I forgot. I’m sure there were many. (I hope there were lol.) But in general, I kept track of my word counts every day. Toward the last half, I also kept track of sprint sessions, and whether they were timed, untimed, or interrupted. Again, I’m sure I missed many – but there were enough there for me to gauge some trends.
I did keep word counts for all the other Queen Takes books – but not always by session. I also didn’t make notes about other stuff going on in my life to explain gaps in time. I made extra effort to keep track of this information this time around so I could improve.
But before I get into the actual takeaways, let me touch on a personality element that has always prevented me from doing this kind of analysis before. (If you’re interested in learning more about your personality and how it affects your writing, I highly recommend signing up for Becca Syme’s Write Better Faster and Strengths for Writers courses).
ACHIEVER is only my #5 top strength. However, it has handicapped me in the past. How? I would get hung up on “how well I was doing.” If I felt like I was getting a bad grade (even on my writing), then it would crush my mood and I’d give up on tracking. Say I only managed a couple of hundred words, and my goal was 2000. “Oh well, I failed. Stop taking notes. I can’t recover from that. Your daily average is already trashed and it won’t recover (like GPA).“
I know, that’s not the best way to think about it – but that’s my first reaction. Or I’d set crazy high word counts because I *can* write 5K a day. So I should be able to write 5K *every day*. Right?
So even though it kills my achiever side to look at the numbers, I did keep track as much as possible. Then I put all the numbers into a spreadsheet so I could see them. Painful. Ouch. “How did I only keep track 6 days in November? (Note: I wrote other days, I’m sure – but I didn’t track them.) Why was December even worse!? What’s with all these empty days? Even after I found my stride?”
What were you thinking, Joely? Why didn’t you do better? There’s no way in hell this book should have taken you until MARCH to finish!!!
That’s immediately where my Achiever went. I had to face that pain, suck it up, and look again. And understand why.
- Momentum is key. Early Nov, I went to Vegas for 20Booksto50K. While I did write while I was there, I was busy and forgot to track. It also wasn’t anywhere near 1K+ a day. Same with the Australia trip for Books by the Bridge. I was busy for days before preparing, and then had to take a week to recover. I did write while on the plane and in Sydney – but I didn’t keep track and it wasn’t enough to keep my momentum.
- Focus is key. Late Nov – early Dec, I paused work on Queen Takes Triune to write the Holidays Between the Sheets short story. While it was fun and I’m glad I did it… it totally killed my momentum. I didn’t recover from that break until January. Obviously holidays and family stuff added to that delay – but it was a costly mistake.
- Timed sprints really will make me focus. I know this isn’t earth shattering. I’m not that fast a writer – and my achiever got hung up on “doing well.” I know writers who can do 1K in 25 mins. I can’t do that, even if I’m completely in the zone. So my brain said, “why sprint at all?!?” Well, brain, because setting the timer and making myself do nothing else for that time is GOOD. 300 words in 25 mins is GOOD ENOUGH. And if I do it again and again and again, I will finish the book. Duh. Sidenote: the more sprints I did in a day, the more words I got. So while the first one or two might be “average” at 350 words, toward the end of the day’s work, I could write 550. Momentum, again.
- Even when I am finally finding my stride and consistently hitting days in a row and multiple sessions each day, I still will have an off day. That’s OKAY. That’s my INPUT (#2) and INTELLECTION (#1) strengths speaking up. On days where I didn’t have as many words, I was researching or thinking. I needed to find something that sparked the next piece of worldbuilding. When I get stuck with the plot – I need to RESEARCH. I need the INPUT to spark the next bit of creativity. I need to THINK and scribble on paper and make weird connections that don’t mean anything to anyone else but me.
- I am also an “exponential” writer, meaning I go faster toward the end (if I keep my momentum). I wrote 30% of the book in 5 days. Gulp. That’s the “P” in my INFP Myers-Briggs kicking in. I need the pressure to finish. Deadlines are great – but self-imposed ones don’t always work for me.
Some actual data references.
- Untimed session examples: 158, 80, 68, 345, 186, 286, 195 words
- Timed sessions (usually same days as untimed ones): 330, 325, 531, 499, 589, 550, 622, 514 words
You can definitely see doubled results across the board, even when the session was interrupted.
Side note: untimed sessions are not BAD. In fact, I plan to allow myself at least one untimed session at the beginning of every writing session. That way I can flip back through the last couple of paragraphs or even the entire scene, read and make light edits, and then continue with the next scene when I’m ready.
Now the fun part. How am I going to take this information and improve?
I have two novellas (20K each) due by May 10th – with an Evil Day Job trip likely somewhere in that time frame. There is plenty of time for me to do these. If I focus. If I work on my momentum. And I implement what I’ve learned so far.
For each novella, I will come up with a schedule – but it won’t be a “write 2K words a day” kind of schedule. That doesn’t work for me.
- A couple of days for INPUT and INTELLECTION. Research, brainstorming, jotting notes.
- Write the BLURB first. That gives me a road map for the main conflict.
- A complete plot outline generated from those days of thinking and researching.
- Write each day – even if I only read through what I’ve already got to keep the story in my head.
- Don’t work on any other projects, even the second one that’s due.
- Use the timer, but allow myself 1 or 2 untimed sessions daily as needed.
- Keep a daily “words remaining” count on my notes so I can see that number going down. But don’t stress about how many words I get each day.
- Lean into my pressure personality. If I feed the momentum and keep my focus, I know the words will be there when I need them – at the end! For Triune, I went from writing 500 words a day to 5000+ near the end. I just can’t lose that momentum!
- TRACK. So I can make adjustments on the next book again.
What was the reference to 2005 about? That’s when I finished the first draft of Beautiful Death. I wrote a long post in the Triune about my unhappiness with that book, and I had decided to rewrite it for an upcoming anthology to be the way I always wanted it to be.
So this weekend, we made a trip to Mythos in Joplin and to visit my Beloved Sister. I planned to read the old draft on the way down, and jot down the major plot points I wanted to keep, along with all the things I wanted to keep or change.
I didn’t even make it 4% through the book before I gave up. I wanted to unpublish the book and print it out… so I could BURN IT. I don’t want to say it was bad, but goddess above, I could not get through it. That is not the kind of book I want to write now. I just can’t. I couldn’t even think about lifting out the characters as they are now.
So let’s just say I have more work to do for the first anthology piece than I planned, lol. So I’d better get busy.
It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks!