Why You Must Track Your Writing Sessions

Do you track your daily writing sessions? Do you just note it down on a calendar, or do you put it on a piece of scrap paper? Do you write down your daily word count? Or do you just mark that you did some writing today?

I am going to suggest that you cannot improve things about your writing life if you don’t write them down. If your big problem is that you don’t write every day, you need to put a mark somewhere that you did write today. If your problem is that  you only write a few words each day then you need to track your word count. If you write slowly, you need to determine your writing speed and see if this is improving.

Chris Fox suggests that you do your daily writing session in the form of writing sprints. He has a tool at chrisfoxwrites.com/5kwph, a spreadsheet,  that will help you calculate your writing speed in Words Per Hour. This is very helpful. You may do writing sprints of five minutes or 10 minutes or 30 minutes. In each case write it down in the spreadsheet.  It will calculate words per hour so that you can tell if your writing speed is improving.

I have used the Chris Fox spreadsheet in both Mac and PC computers. In both cases it works well enough. I would suggest if you are doing different kinds of writing this month, you track them on separate copies of the spreadsheet. For example, I am writing this current blog post using dictation. I don’t always use dictation to write however. I have two copies of the spreadsheet for September, one for dictation, and one for ordinary writing. In that way I don’t mix up the writing speeds for the two kinds of writing.

What do you do when you have a record of your writing speed? If you write faithfully every day, over time you will see your writing speed go up, just because you’re doing it everyday. It’s the same as if you made a tuna casserole every single day at noon. Before long you will be making it more quickly because you were doing it every single day.

Why writing sprints? There are two reasons. First, a writing sprint is a way of tricking yourself into acting more like a better writer would. A good writer writes every day. He devotes time to getting the writing done. And he keeps track of how much he gets done. In this way, a writing sprint encourages you to do things you should be doing anyway to make your writing dream come true.

Second, doing writing sprints encourages you to learn how to write in what is called a flow state. Writing in the flow state means that everything is going well. You are not sitting in front of your screen for a half hour and then taking one comma out. Something is happening in your story. It is flowing out of your brain on to the screen.

A writing sprint does not guarantee that you will be writing in a flow state. But if you write day after day in writing sprints, in which you are not allowed to break the flow of your writing by going back and making corrections, you will soon find that at least some of the time you are writing in a flow state. And as you continue doing your daily writing sprints, you’ll find this happening on a regular basis, before long a daily basis.

Writing in the flow state is something writers hope for. But many writers don’t know how to make that happen. This is how. It’s not my secret, I learned it from Chris Fox and other people who’ve written how-to-write books. You learn to write him a flow state by doing things that make the flow state more likely to happen. The rules of a writing sprint, which include not going back, not editing, not making corrections, are rules that help you get into the flow state by eliminating the distractions.

But the key thing to remember is that you must track your writing sprints and your writing sessions every single time. If you write these things down, you cannot have a week or a month in which you do not write. Taking one day off, when you do not track your writing, can lead to more days off and before you know it, you’re not a writer anymore. You are just someone who used to dream of being a writer.

Some of you may find it very hard to establish a daily writing habit. For others it is easy to write every day, but they don’t get much accomplished. Using writing sprints and tracking them is a way to bring your actual deeds in line with your writing goals.

RECOMMENDED READING

Chris Fox: 5000 Words Per Hour  Click on the link to get the ebook for free, in exchange for signing up for the author’s mailing list.

Monica Leonelle: The 8-Minute Writing Habit

Rachel Aaron: 2000 to 10000

#FixThatBlog – Blogging and your WIP

This is a post in the #FixThatBlog series about fixing neglected author blogs, and also the July post in the Insecure Writers’ Support Group blog hop. See, multitasking!

A writer must write. Write on his works-in-progress, and finish first draft and other drafts. But he must also write blog posts so he can build a platform, right? But how do you find the time to do both?

You make the time. Platform-building, in the form of writing your blog posts, and writing your writing-works are both being-a-writer tasks. As are finding agents and traditional publishers, or finding book cover artists and editors-for-hire, depending on whether you are seeking indie writer or traditionally-published writer status.

But it’s tricky. I have a lot of days when I either write blog posts or do work on my WIP. I’ve been trying to schedule a second writing session in my evenings when I usually watch boring crap on television. But due to my health problems and to cheats on my ketogenic ‘lifestyle’ I am too exhausted in the evenings lately to actually do it. I must think of some other solution.

We writers are multi-taskers. We write on our WIPs, but we also go to our day jobs or get our laundry done or cook our meals. And make our bulletproof coffees. There have been cases of writers who took a year’s sabbatical to finally have time for their writing work— and they get even less done than when they were busy with a day job.

I’m not a perfect person on being organized or on Getting-Things-Done. I have Asperger Syndrome (autism spectrum disorder), which can make a person seem like they have attention deficit disorder as far as being organized and getting things done is concerned. And I’m not a spring chicken any more, and so have a set of health problems that cause a lot of fatigue, especially when I don’t watch my diet. So I have to adapt whatever advice I get from books to what works for me.

Days of the week are one ‘organizational’ tool I have. My garbage pickup is on Wednesday, so an important task on Tuesday is getting the garbage gathered and the garbage cart taken to the curb. Since this blog, since my recent small stroke in February, is also replacing a ketogenic diet blog I don’t have time for, I use Thursday as ‘keto day’ on this blog and make keto posts then. The first Wednesday in the month is Insecure Writers Support Group day. Saturday I can write about my cats or critters, and Sunday I can write things related to Christianity.  This gives me a bit of a planning scheme that I can remember.

To learn more about writing and time management, read How to Manage the Time of Your Life by James Scott Bell. (JSB writes a lot of how-to-write books that are very useful, and also writes mystery novels in the Evangelical Christian fiction market.)

To learn more about Getting-Things-Done, pick up  Getting Things Done by David Allen. This book has been found so useful by so many people that it made the book into an actual bestseller— as in ‘New York Times bestseller.’

IWSG folks on Blogger: if you have that ‘prove you are not a robot’ thing enabled, I cannot comment on your blog post. Sorry. It just doesn’t work on my computer and I’m sick of writing comments that don’t get posted so I have stopped trying.

Have you had any conflicts between getting your WIP done and writing your author-blog posts? Or getting your other tasks done? What do you do about the conflict? Have you found a solution that works for you?

Back to the 8-Minute Writing Plan

It’s happening again. Even though I intend to work on my WIP every day, I’m not writing every day. I put that writing task down on my daily to-do list right next to the ‘collect eggs from chicken pen’ and ‘wash dishes’ and ‘tend incubator,’ but I’m not actually doing my daily writing on a daily basis.

I have excuses. I’ve always been inconsistent, I have Asperger Syndrome, and I’ve had a recent stroke that messed up my life bigtime. But I should be able to get my writing habit back on track.

A few years ago, I discovered Monica Leonelle’s book, The 8-Minute Writing Habit. I’ve found it a great inspiration. Why 8 minutes? It’s a tiny block of time, even smaller than 10 minutes. It’s kind of hard to say you don’t have 8 minutes for something that’s important to you. And you can tuck in 8 minutes of anything into your day fairly easily.

Monica Leonelle advises that you do your 8 minutes as a timed writing session, or Pomodoro. Write in flow, don’t stop to ponder or to look things up in a dictionary. You can always go back and adjust those things later, when you have words on a page.

It’s good to write down your word counts for each of your 8 minute sessions. In time, you can see if you are increasing your writing speed.

To write more speedily, it helps to plan certain things out ahead of your writing sessions. Create names for characters and places, and keep these names on a list you can reference if you need to while writing. Even if you are a pantser, writing with minimal outline/planning, a few basic plans/ideas before the 8 minute session begins will help you get going and stay in flow.

You want to stay in flow, writing effortlessly, rather than in the state where you stop and start, look things up, get distracted. Do those things in a planning session beforehand or during the rewrite process. ‘Flow,’ in writing, is where you want to be.

Since I tend to trick myself by writing more than 8 minutes at a session, maybe going as long as 2 hours, I am doing a strict 8 minutes at the moment. When the timed session is done, I stop, I check off ‘8 min WIP’ off the to-do list, I write a ‘W’ on my calendar page, and I go do something else. If I want to, I can add another 8 minute session later. Right now I’m just trying to get the 8 minutes done every single day, no matter what distractions present themselves. Like broken wash machines, pregnant cats, escaped sheep— you know, life.

Now, just because I like and recommend Monica Leonelle’s book doesn’t mean I like and practice everything in it. Monica wants me to use a writing app on my cell phone to write stuff in the grocery store. OK, she hasn’t seen my grocery store, and doesn’t know that such behavior wouldn’t be accepted there. And I don’t feel like writing like that, with witnesses, anyway. I write at home on my computer, I might write elsewhere on a legal pad or composition book if I had to, but I prefer not to as that adds more work. I like to write right in my Scrivener (as I am doing at this moment, yes, I write my blog posts on a Scrivener project.)

Do you ever have problems in making your writing habit into a daily event? What has helped you to make it more regular? What hinders you?

“How Do You FEEL About Your WIP?”

writeitUnuseful writing advice: in several how-to-write books I have, the authors suggest you worry about how you feel about your current writing project. With some people, feelings are everything these days. But here is a truth: feelings don’t last. The writing project you are in love with today will feel like dreck in a week or two. Feelings aren’t enough to carry a writing project to the finish line.

What does help is finding logical, rational reasons to pursue this WIP. If you have been a big science fiction reader for years, and your current WIP is science fiction, that’s a logical reason you might be the right writer for the project. If your book is set in a place you actually lived, or your book touches on an issue that you or a family member has lived through, those are also logical reasons to continue the project.

Your logical reasons can help you keep going when your emotions about the project wane. It actually can help you generate new positive emotions for the project, or it can help you keep writing when every word you write seems awful and in need of immediate deletion. (We all have writing days like that.)

If you do have strong emotions about a prospective WIP, does that mean you have to give it up for something more practical? No, no, no! Too many would-be writers are trapped writing the wrong WIP because they think it’s practical. Instead, think about your feelings. Are there logical reasons to favor the loved project? If you feel very strongly, you can probably think of some. And those reasons will help keep you writing, each day and every day, until the project is finished— including the rewrites.

I have noticed that the feelings-based writing advice mentioned above was written by women authors. It would of course be a violation of feminism for me to mention it. Which is why I mention it. Because the feelings-based approach lets so many of us down. We often need something stronger to carry us through.

I am writing this on my Kindle today, as I am in a rehab center after a stroke. I can’t do as much on this blog as I like to do, so if some kind readers would consider sharing this to their social media, I would be most grateful.

3 Elements of a (Writing) Habit

What is your writing habit like? Does writing happen daily? Twice daily? Twice weekly? Or irregularly, whenever you feel like it, have a good writing idea, or have lots of free time?

Chris Fox, who writes books about writing, has a book out with the title “Lifelong Writing Habit.” In the book (which I highly recommend) he talks a lot about habits. Habits you have, good and bad, and habits that can be changed, or ‘flipped’, into better and more helpful habits.

A habit, according to Fox, consists of 3 parts:

  1. The Trigger
  2. The Routine
  3. The Reward

The Trigger is the event that triggers the habit. In a writing habit, the trigger can be based on a certain time (4pm) or an event (getting up in the morning.) Getting an great writing idea can also trigger a writing session, or feeling ‘inspired’ or creative.

The Routine is the meat of your habit. In a writing habit, it is when you sit down and begin to write. The actual events of the writing session vary from person to person. One person does most of his writing in timed writing sprints, the next person does one long open-ended spontaneous writing session. One person outlines the day’s writing, the other person wings it.

The Reward is what you get when you do the Routine of the habit. When you habitually brush your teeth, your Reward is a clean mouth, and the hope of better dental health.

When you write, your Reward might be a feeling of accomplishment. When I was a kid and did writing assignments in school, my ‘reward’ for finishing the assignment was to have my paper all marked up with teacher criticisms. With a reward like that, you can bet I didn’t finish my assignments too often.

Think of the habits you have that you really do every day, without thinking. Make a list of at least 5 of them, and think about this for each habit— what triggers it? What is the meat of the habit? And what do you get from it?

For example, I have a habit of putting on clean clothes every morning. I don’t even think about it— unless I’ve gotten behind at doing laundry. The trigger is getting up in the morning. And my reward is that when I go out in public, I don’t feel ashamed when people notice me.

That’s an example of a good habit. What about a bad habit? One I’ve had for years is that when I see an appealing but unhealthy/carb-filled food I like, I buy it and eat it. The reward is nice taste and a sugar/carb rush, followed by a lack of energy, weight gain, and higher blood sugar. The immediate reward— taste and rush— often outweighs my concern about the long-term consequences. What I try to do is NOT look at the high carb foods (junk foods, even ‘natural’ ones) when I shop. And keeping plenty of the foods I can eat in the house, so I’m less tempted when I go shopping.

Exercise:

For the next week, track your writing. What triggers you to have a writing session? What is a writing session like for you? How many times do you actually write during a week? How many words do you write each day? In a week? And what are the rewards you experience when you complete your writing session for the day?

JUST 8 minutes: improving your writing habit

The problem with my daily writing habit is that I don’t have one. I mean to write every single day but then life happens— laundry, cooking, handling a sheep escape or a cat who wants to give birth in my lap— and writing is the thing that gets pushed out.

So I’ve gone back to Monica Leonelle’s book, ‘The 8-minute Writing Habit’ and started to do my 8 minute writing sprints. Miss Leonelle’s book has helped me— it’s gotten me to take up writing by dictation, and to track my writing sprints on a spreadsheet.

But this month I’ve checked my calendar and out of the 13 days in the month so far, I’ve only written on 3 of them (counting today.) What is wrong with me?

I’ve been thinking that over and I’ve decided this is the problem: though the Leonelle method would allow me to do just 1 writing sprint of 8 minutes and call it a day, I haven’t been doing that. I have been requiring myself to do 3 writing sprints. That’s 24 minutes of just writing, plus with writing down the results of the writing sprints, entering them into the spreadsheet, bathroom break, getting up to walk around a little to prepare for the next sprint— I’m doing 30 to 45 minutes, and even though I hadn’t calculated it out, my brain knows I’m not just asking myself to write for 8 minutes, but use up a significant chunk of time. So I put it off till later, and the late evening comes and my brain is tired from the day and just wants to play the Walking Dead game on my smartphone, and my body wants to take a bath and go to bed, and there went writing for that day.

So— change of plan. This morning instead of doing my writing just after getting dressed, I got up, put the cats off of me, and did urgent things like a bathroom visit and drinking a glass of water and feeding the cats, and then sat right down and did 8 minutes.

JUST 8 minutes. When I finished I put the result in my spreadsheet and put the flower sticker on my calendar (where I learned it was St. Anthony of Padua’s feast day) and now I have done my required writing for the day. I deliberately started to do other things to show my pesky subconscious mind that I really do mean ‘JUST 8 minutes’ now instead of ‘8 minutes that is really almost an hour.’

I may do more writing sprints today on my WIP. Or I may not. I have a lot of things to do today, like the blogging I’m doing right this second, or checking in with my online discussion groups, or folding clothes or moving the chicken pen with the GOOD chickens to somewhere the predator can’t find them….

As Miss Leonelle points out in her book, many writers who are NOT writing daily will do more words in a month with ONLY 8 minutes a day than they are doing now with longer writing sessions that they only manage to do 4 or 5 days a month.

EXERCISE: Stop right now. Close or minimize your browser, set a timer for 8 minutes, and WRITE! How many words did you do? How do you feel about it? Do you think you can do 8 minutes tomorrow? Please comment about it on this blog post.


My current WIP: Don’t have a title yet. It’s space colony fiction set in the same universe as some stories I’ve written. Main character is a girl from Earth who is sent to a colony where she ends up as a teacher of the children of a nobleman. I gave her the temporary name Amanda because my dictation software can spell Amanda, but the name is growing on me.

How to track your writing sprints

Have you ever done a writing sprint? This is when you write intensely for a certain number of minutes, hoping to increase your project’s word count. Many writers, such as Monica Leonelle and Chris Fox, recommend writing sprints both to build up a daily writing habit, and to learn to write more quickly. After all, much writing failure and abandoning of books takes place because we can’t get our brilliant ideas down on the page before we lose all interest in the project.

But doing your writing sprints isn’t enough. Both Monica Leonelle and Chris Fox recommend recording your writing sprints, to see how you are making progress. Chris Fox has a downloadable spreadsheet you can get at: https://www.chrisfoxwrites.com/5kwph/. I have used this on both my old Windows computer and my current Mac.

The spreadsheet can work for sprints of any length of time— 5 minutes, 8 minutes, 10 minutes, 25 minutes. It gives you your words-per-hour so you can compare how you are progressing, if you write more in shorter sprints, and so on.

Monica Leonelle recommends doing 8 minute sprints. Why? Because 8 minutes feels like a tiny time commitment. You can’t always work in time for an hour of writing, but 8 minutes? You can quick sit down and do that without much fuss. And if you start doing an 8 minute sprint every single writing day, and you learn to write a bit faster, you will in time be able to finish your writing project.

My most recent sprints
Yesterday I did an 8 minute session, writing by means of my dictation software. And then did 2 more 8 minute sessions. Dictation can be helpful if only because it can make us separate the first-draft writing process from the editing/fixing process, but I must admit that when I’m dictating, I do make corrections when I am afraid the interesting mistakes that my Mac’s Enhanced Dictation makes will mean that I will forget the clever words I actually said. When I do today’s sprint, I am going to try to minimize the corrections. My word counts on the 3 sprints were: 203, 125 and 185.

The spreadsheet gives you several choices to characterize the KIND of sprint you are doing: writing, editing, ‘other’… Since I do both dictation and keyboard writing, I use ‘writing’ to mean keyboard writing, and ‘other’ to mean dictation. I haven’t done any editing sprints yet.

What about you?

If you want to work on your writing habit using writing sprints, here are your assignments for today:

    1. Buy and download Monica Leonelle’s book ‘8-minute writing habit.‘ Start reading the book.
    2. Download Chris Fox’s spreadsheet. It’s free. https://www.chrisfoxwrites.com/5kwph/
    3. Do at least 1 writing sprint of 8 minutes. Use either keyboard writing or dictation. Or you can do one session of each. Record your word counts for each sprint and enter them into your spreadsheet.
    4. BONUS: buy Chris Fox’s 5000 Words Per Hour. Read that when you have finished the Monica Leonelle book.
    5. Accountability step: mention your word counts for today on your blog, Facebook page, or Twitter. Anyplace you can have a fairly supportive crowd.

Are you happy with the current state of your daily writing habit and your writing speed? If not, are you doing anything to improve your situation? Why aren’t you doing an 8-minute writing sprint RIGHT NOW? Go do one, I’ll wait. And brag about your word count for the sprint in a comment!