(In case you’re curious, the Jeopardy question was, “What did Spock find in the Enterprise toilet?”)
Well, unfortunately, circumstances were such that I was not able to proceed with my originally planned post tonight — those circumstances being two years old and having missed her momma very much after hanging out with Grandma and Poppa all day while Momma wrapped up court reporting work…which took all day. But have no fear, that particular post is only briefly postponed, not lost.
One of these days, though, I’m going to have to talk about the time-expanding phenomenon that seems to surround deadlines...but, again, not tonight. Instead, we will continue our discussion regarding speed (and how to get faster as a writer). And today we will talk about practical matters, like…
Why Writers Should Keep a Time Log
Anyone who’s ever dieted has heard of keeping a journal or a food diary as a way to discover where they are in terms of their current diet. Having to document what you eat creates the database of information you need to honestly answer important questions, such as, how much am I really eating? What kinds of food am I eating? Am I getting enough protein? What foods send me directly to the bathroom for extended periods of reading? 😉
It’s been my experience that I am never quite as honest with myself as I think I am. Writing down what I eat removes that very forgivable human error factor. And I think this holds true for keeping track of how you spend your time writing.
If you already consistently keep a time log, then you rock. Give yourself a pat on the back, a self-satisfied smirk to everyone else, and go find yourself some cookies (before someone finds a pen and stabs you with it).
If you don’t already keep a log, then let’s talk about why you should.
First, let me ask you a few questions: Do you know how much time it takes you to produce 1,000 words of fiction? How much time should it take? How many words can you produce in an hour with no interruptions? What always trips you up when you’re on a roll? How much time do you spend in front of your computer “writing”? How much of that time is actually spent writing? How many projects do you say you’re working on? How many projects are you actually working on? How fast a writer are you really? Are you as productive as you would like to be?
If you know the answers to all these questions, then you, too, rock. You may collect your cookie and be excused.
Now, why is it important to know the answers to these questions?
Because if you want to be a faster, more productive, better writer, then it stands to reason that you need to know what kind of writer you are now. Knowing your actual speed will help you figure out strategies to keep you focused and make you even faster. Being faster leads to more productive work sessions, which means more words are being written. And of course, the more words you write, the more practice and experience you gain, which unavoidably will make you a better writer.
This is a no-brainer, folks. But don’t make it difficult, and don’t make it a time-consuming task in itself. These things are work documents. They are meant to be stained and wrinkled, written in different colored inks, and doodled on. That’s okay. Potential agents, editors, and readers will never see this thing…unless, of course, you are foolish enough to post it on your blog, like this:
Anyway, as always, I started out noting the time, what I was working on, the word count, and total time spent. As is my custom, I like to use the left column to make notes and plan out future tasks…and apparently draw silly cartoons.
The point is, I am sharing this with you to prove that these things are no big deal and that they don’t have to be neat and pretty. The only requirement I place on this thing is that I note the time.
Just the very act of noting the time I start sets me firmly into work mode. I never note the time I start and then wander off to People.com. I don’t want my goofing-off time to be factored into my writing speed averages.
I do often note my goofing-off time though. My hours at the desk are limited, and so I like to know that I’m spending more “desk time” writing than surfing. And oftentimes, even noting surfing times helps me to keep it reasonable. I’ll tell myself, “15 minutes of OMG!, and then it’s off to England to help a protagonist get rid of unusual garden pests.”
So having this thing open next to my computer keeps me focused…and makes for a great idea catcher. No need to stop in mid-flow and open up a new file or find paper and pen to capture a new idea. I’m ready. Just jot it down and return immediately to the project at hand.
I confess I am not as diligent in logging my time as I’d like to be. I have countless missing days where I know I wrote something, but never bothered to even open the darn thing. And of course, there were days I just wasn’t writing. But sometimes it just means I was so busy with the writing that I didn’t even think to note the time. I love those days, and I’ve been having a lot more of those recently.
Even so, I am not near as productive as I’d like to be. So I stand by my glorifications of the humble time log. And to prove it, I will commit to keeping a full and accurate time log for the remainder of the month, which I will use in my own quest to becoming a faster, more productive, better writer, and to further illustrate and elucidate its magic as occasions arise.
So whaddaya think? Are you in? All you need is an old blank notebook — I know you’ve got dozens — something to write with, and a commitment. I’m not asking for your first-born or the most favorite leftovers you’ve got stashed in the back of the fridge. I’m just asking that you commit to doing this just for the month of February. We’re already five days in. It’s a short month. It’ll be easy. Just write down the details of your writing sessions until the end of February. Keep it brief, but be open to whatever ideas come your way. At the end of each week, we’ll compare notes.
I have a bold prediction: After just one week of consistent, diligent timekeeping of your writing sessions, you will feel more productive, you will be more determined, the ideas will come flooding — I promise you! — and you will have written. Quite probably, you will lose a couple of pounds and feel sexier. And there’s always the possibility that you will become a better cook.
All this just from keeping a time log. Who knew?