Wasting Time On Unrelated Writing Increases The Time I Spend On My Novel

The more a man writes, the more he can write. –William Hazlitt

Three years ago, I started tracking the time I was spending writing. I was writing a novel, and I couldn’t tell how I was doing. A lot of the work was research, something I enjoy enough that it can be a distraction. I knew the way to get more writing done was to record the time I spent actually writing. So I set up a spreadsheet and started tracking the time I spent on various novel-related chores, including writing. Just as I had predicted, paying attention to how much time I was spending helped me to spend more time writing.

Tracking my writing effort also pleases my Inner Perfectionist, who loves spreadsheets and tends to be a little quieter about how I am not writing when I have numbers that show that I am. Every year, we sit down together and make effort graphs (she also loves pie charts), then think about things to do differently going forward.

Last year I had a new idea that made my Inner Perfectionist, who is also my Whip-Wielding Taskmaster (WWT), howl. I wanted to start tracking some new things, to give myself credit for everything I wrote, even things not related to my novel.

I wanted to honor all my writing.

My WWT was not pleased. In fact, she was furious. I would be wasting the time I needed to finish my book on frivolous, useless scribbling. I ignored her and did it anyway. I started keeping track of all sorts of writing I hadn’t before: journal writing, blog posts, notes from books on writing, even my informal reviews of books I read for fun.

The benefits of making this change surprised me. I realized I really am a writer. I may not have made a penny (yet), but there is no question that much of my time and energy goes to writing.

Honoring my writing efforts, even the efforts that seem completely unrelated to my novel, gave me permission to take the time to do whatever writing I wanted to. I don’t feel guilty about it, because I can see that I am writing more all the time. I love writing, all kinds of writing, so writing more is a great thing.

The first five categories are all writing; the rest are things I do to prepare to write.
The first five categories are all writing; the rest are things I do to prepare to write.

As for my WWT, she just asked me a snotty question. “Add all that other stuff and of course you spent more hours writing this year,” she says. “But what about your novel? How much time did you spend on that?”

Into my spreadsheets we go, and I compare my efforts in 2013 with those in 2012. The total hours spent writing went up by 20%. When I look at just my novel? A 20% increase, so the improvement was across the board.

I grin at my WWT and say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

And I get back to my writing.

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