J.B. Reynolds


Tag: writing speed

Tracking My Writing Progress

This summer vacation has been an especially relaxing one, and it’s been great to spend some quality time with friends and family. Northland is well known for its beautiful beaches, (as you can see from the image above) and I’ve managed to get out of the house and along to some of them in the last few weeks. I even went for a dawn surf a few days ago, (my first in several years). I didn’t catch many waves, but I did get to watch the sunrise over the water.

The big difference between this summer vacation and previous ones is that I have been able to relax in the knowledge that I don’t have to return to full-time work at the end of January. Thanks to my wonderful wife, I’m taking a year off from my high-school teaching job, and we’re experimenting with some role reversal. She’s upping her hours at work, and I’m going to be looking after the twins a couple of days a week, as well as focusing on my writing and doing as much casual relief (or supply) teaching as I can fit in to help pay the bills.

It’s an exciting (but also daunting) prospect and I’m looking forward to the challenge. My goal is to finish three books this year; two novels and a novella. I’m not the world’s fastest writer, and for me, this is a fairly ambitious goal, but I feel more confident since having my most productive writing month of 2017 in December. I wrote just over 18,000 words, and I’m now 62,000 words into my novel. According to my plot outline, this puts me about 60% of the way through, far enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If I can continue to consistently hit my goal of 20,000 words per month through 2018, then two novels and a novella are well within reach.

I’ve been following Chris Fox’s advice and have recorded my daily word count in a simple spreadsheet since I started writing my novel in May of last year. The purpose of doing this was to help in tracking my writing progress, and to have a record of how many words-per-hour I was writing at so that I could work on improving my writing speed. You can see a copy of the spreadsheet here, and if you’re an author, feel free to make your own copy and use it as you see fit.


Rest your eyes from all those pesky words

I’ve found it extremely valuable, but to be honest, it hasn’t helped me to improve my writing speed (at least not yet). I seem to be sitting at about 830 words-per-hour, and have done for most of the year. Sometimes, when I’m “in the zone”, this increases to well over a thousand words-per-hour. One of my goals for 2018 is to get “in the zone” on a far more regular and consistent basis.

The revelation came for me when I analysed my spreadsheet data in early December. When looking more closely at the numbers, I realised, much to my surprise and dismay, that I hadn’t been working on my novel anywhere near as regularly and consistently as I thought I had been. On the day I did my analysis, I had spent only 70 out of 222, or 31.5% of my mornings writing my novel. Oh, sure, I had been getting up early every morning on the vast majority of those days to work on “things” related to my writing, (and there is a long list of those) but I hadn’t actually been writing my novel. If I had guessed, I would have said it was much closer to 70%, and it was galling to realise just how far from reality my perception was, but there was the data in black and white. The data doesn’t lie. I had to turn this around.

So, as December progressed, I prioritised writing my novel. By the end of the month, I had worked on my novel for 23 out of the 31 days of the month or 74.2% of my mornings. I had my most productive writing month of the year, writing a little over 18,000 words. And I felt much more optimistic about the progress I was making on my novel, which had been turning into a real grind. I also had five days where I broke 1,000 words per hour, when through October and November there’d been none. I think that a big part of this was because I really had formed a “writing habit” and “the zone” was more readily accessible because of this.

I also added another column to my spreadsheet (I’ve labeled it “Task”) to record specifically what I do on the days I don’t write. I have a very limited time in which to write—an hour or so per day, early in the morning—and some days I just have to use that time to work on other writing-related activities. But I want to keep these days to an absolute minimum through 2018. My author platform is mostly set-up now, so just requires a bit of regular updating and maintenance.  I want to improve slightly on December’s result—writing at least 75% of the time and hitting at least 20,000 words per month, consistently, month on month, throughout 2018.

My main point here is that if I hadn’t been consistently tracking my progress in a measurable way, I never would have known how badly off-track I had gotten. It was a valuable reminder for me that it’s not just enough to set goals, you have to track your progress on those goals as well. It’s also a reminder of the importance of being disciplined and forming a writing habit.

Snails, Moustaches and Carrotweed

Here in Northland, it’s been an excellent season for growing things. A wetter-than-usual winter has been followed by a wetter-than-usual spring, and by the time Movember came and went, the plants in the garden had well and truly sprung.

My lawn, or perhaps more accurately, the weeds in my lawn, have grown exceptionally well, aided by the fact that my ride-on lawn mower had broken down (I took it into the shop for a service and it hasn’t worked properly since). In particular, it’s been a great season for carrotweed. Carrotweed, as the name suggests, is a weed that resembles wild carrot. It grows abundantly during the hot and humid Northland summers. I went for an early-morning walk a few days ago and noted my neighbours have grown entire fields of it, as you can see from the pictures below. I’m not quite sure why, as it’s a noxious, invasive species and once it reaches the flowering stage almost nothing eats it, except for maybe goats, and I’m pretty sure my neighbours don’t have any goats (we live in dairy country, surrounded by cows, with goats being few and far between).

Field of Carrotweed

Field of Carrotweed

Fields of carrotweed

The other thing that has grown well of late is my moustache. Yes, I know you thought that my spelling of Movember in the first paragraph was a typo, but it wasn’t. I grew a moustache in support of men’s health, along with many of my work colleagues. I always enjoy Movember – it’s a chance to get creative with the facial hair. In the past, I’ve grown goatees and ‘muttonchops’ but this year I went for a simple ‘slug’. As usual, my wife hated it, but I was pleased with the result, despite the constant upper-lip itching.

J.B Reynolds and his unmowed lawn

Lost in the jungle

Now, it’s mid-December and Christmas is approaching fast. I’ve managed to fix the ride-on lawnmower (with the help of my brother, who is good with that sort of thing). The garden is still growing well but I’ve cut the carrotweed and mowed the mo. Yesterday was my last day of work for the year and I’m looking forward to a well-deserved break and a chance to spend time with my kids, go swimming, camping, and catch up on all the chores around the house that have been neglected over the year (such as weeding the garden).

Aside from carrotweed, the other thing I noticed on my early-morning walk of last week was an abundance of snails.  I’m not sure if the dawn parade of snails is a typical occurrence on our road at this time of year or whether it was just the particular moist and misty conditions that had them gathering in abundance, but they were all over the sides of the road where I was walking.

An escargatoire of snails

An escargatoire of snails

There were so many, in fact, that I accidentally stepped on a few of them. I was particularly taken with this little guy (or gal – I’m no expert on determining the sex of snails) below, and when I lay down at the side of the road to take the photo, I felt like his journey could be a  metaphor for my writing progress.

a snail crossing the finish-line.

Crossing the finish-line

I’ve just hit forty-three-thousand words on my novel. I’ve been tracking my progress and it’s taken me fifty-three hours of writing at an average of eight-hundred-and-twenty-four words-per-hour to reach that goal. I’ve been reading a book on increasing my writing speed and will work on that over time, but it’s not so much my writing speed that slows me down so much as my thinking speed. When you know exactly what you want to write, writing fast is easy. When you have to think about what you want to write before you write it, the process is slowed considerably. This is where the use of a comprehensive outline is helpful.

I have an outline for my novel. It contains a basic description of what happens in each scene, and which characters feature in these scenes. All of these descriptions have, at the very least, a beginning and an end, and many are more detailed than that—broken down into five stages, as follows: inciting incident, complication, crisis, climax, and resolution. This is extremely useful, but there is still an awful lot of empty space in between these points. I know my start points and I know my destinations, and for some scenes, I know the big landmarks I want to hit on the way, but the journey I will take to reach them is unknown prior to my departure.

This is an exciting, fascinating, and as far as I can see, necessary element of the writing process, but it does slow things down. However, I take heart from the little guy above. I figure if a snail can make it all the way across a road to pass the finish-line, then so can I. It’s all a matter of persistence.

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