A Writing Log Marks You as a Professional

A writing log has changed the way I perceive my writing output. Interviewers never fail to ask how long it took to write my last novel, and the one before that. 

"Six years," I say. "And five for the first."

But how much of that time was actually spent writing, researching, editing, and thinking about the novel? Not six years. Not even close. The next time someone asks, I'll be more prepared.

"About 5,000 hours altogether," I'll say. "About 1000 writing, another 3,000 editing, and 1,000 researching and planning."

To which they'll reply, "You're kidding. You have that information?"

I do now, and should my editor phone to ask how I'm progressing, if I think I might be finished in time to include my title in the spring catalog, I won't break into a cold sweat.

I have created a writing log. In it, I keep track of the hours I spend researching, writing first draft material, editing, and polishing my work. I can see already that the first draft column has far fewer hours listed than I would have expected. I spend the most time editing and polishing my work, but again, not as much as I would have thought.

If you're like me, you might also need a column for "worrying about the novel."

I'm learning that I spend more time worrying about not writing than actually writing. It's not easy to delude yourself when you have a log book to tell you exactly what you've accomplished over the last week or month. Instead, it's motivating.

As a result of my log, I write more. If see the first draft column looking skimpy, I'm motivated to get to work.

When you get to the place where your agent talks about a two-book deal, you need to know that you're capable of meeting the deadlines. Keep a writing log and you will not only have confidence in your ability to produce, but you will inspire confidence. If you know how quickly you write, you'll not agree to a contract you can't manage.

Creating a Log

It's not difficult to create a writing log. You can do this in a notebook or on your computer. I've created an Excel file that adds the hours up for me every time I make an entry in one of the following columns:

  • Hours spent on planning and research
  • Hours working on first draft material
  • Substantive Editing (developing scenes or moving sections around)
  • Polishing and refining
  • Manuscript page count

My first column keeps track of the date, and the bottom row shows the number of hours worked.

I can divide the number of pages I wrote in a single day by the number of hours I worked to see how many pages I write per hour or day. I can also see at a glance how long it has been since I started the novel and how many days or weeks have passed without work on it. All of this information has been very enlightening.

I encourage you to make your own writing log, even if you're well into the writing of a book. It will inspire you to work more and to work smarter.

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