Keeping Track of Time

Infinity-Time1One of the big struggles with writing is time. It takes months, and often years, to complete a novel. I find that a lot of fear gets wrapped up in that time investment.

For example, the idea of revisions after completing a draft is often met with a sinking sense of desperation. Not because we’re afraid to revise, but because it seems like we will never be done. We aren’t afraid of the work, so much as the time it will take to complete the work.

But how much time are we actually talking about?

I’ve started to wonder if our fear is due to the ambiguous nature of how much time we spend on a project. I can guarantee you that a novel that took eight years to write, wasn’t worked on every day. Most of us have full time jobs, families, and other commitments that demand our time. We chip away at our novels when we can find the space to schedule it. But what if the year it took to write a novel, only seems large because we worked on it in small pieces? What if we actually kept track of the time we spent on it?

One of my new year’s resolutions is to keep a writing time sheet. This isn’t glamorous by any means, but I’m finding it really helps to manage my writing expectations. I started this process when I wrote my NaNoWriMo novel. My goal was to find out when I was most productive, but an unexpected byproduct was getting to see the actual hours I spent on the project.

Like a job, I started to see how many hours I actually put into a week. It wasn’t nearly as many as I thought. I also got to see how productive I was during those hours (far more productive!).

Writing Timesheet Example

At the end of the month, this was my NaNoWriMo weekly breakdown:

  • Week One:  8 ½ hours
  • Week Two:  10 ¼ hours
  • Week Three:  17 ¼ hours
  • Week Four: 2 hours

Total Hours: 38 hours

As it turns out, I didn’t even put in a 40-hour week to get to 50,000 words and write my NaNo novel. Wow!

Of course, I could say I spent a month on this project. But in actuality, it was closer to about one work week, spread out over a month. The numbers also break down to about an hour and a half of writing a day, over 30 days.

Not all novels are a manic sprint like NaNoWriMo. In December, I only worked 16 hours on my steampunk novel, and I only have 13,000 words to show for it. But it’s nice to know the exact amount of time I’ve put into it. If I buckle down and write 16 hours a week this month, I’ll probably have a finished draft by the end of it. Plus, 16 hours a week is only 2 ½ hours a day. I could easily put in those hours if I stopped watching TV or surfing facebook!

Time sheets are also great for identifying patterns. I always thought I was a morning writer, but it turns out I’m surprisingly prolific in the hour before bed … if I actually sit down to write.

The point of all of this, is that time isn’t quite so scary if you see how you’re using it. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to master your craft. How will you know if you’re a master if you don’t keep track of your hours?

I highly suggest keeping a time sheet. You might be amazed and empowered by the patterns you discover.