Ah, September. We’re closing in on the end of the year, with less than four months to go. Are you on track with your yearly goals? What are your revised goals for the last tax quarter of the year?
Third-quarter estimated tax payments are due into the IRS by September 17th. (Yes, technically September is fourth quarter, by tax year. I understand it’s the end of the third quarter by mathematical ratios. The IRS doesn’t care about that; third quarter for taxes and accounting ends on August 31.)
For those of you who are or want to become full-time authors, and even those of you who don’t, now is a good time to put down your author hat, pick up your business manager hat, and answer a few questions for yourself.
1. What is your total word count for the last 9 months? For each month? Week? Day?
2. What is your average word count per month, week, and day?
3. How many hours did it take you to write the last story/novel? (Hours actually spent writing, not calendar time from start to finish)
4. What was your average words per (actually writing) hour?
5. What time of the day is the most productive for you to write?
6. Was that increase in productivity at home or away?
7. What other factors led to it?
8. How many hours a day do you spend on writing business other than actual writing (including research, billing, marketing, etc)?
If you haven’t been keeping track, then how do you know what will help you, what works best for you, and just how good you can be when everything is awesome? How can you plan a production schedule if you don’t know what it takes to produce your product? If your method of creating new work is to sit down at a keyboard, sometimes, and hope that a novel shoots out of your fingers… hope is not a business plan. Keep your day job a while longer, and get ready to quantify your creative side.
If you have been keeping track, or you can pull some rough numbers off files and blog posts, now is a good idea to take a look at the story that the numbers tell. Are you more productive in the morning or evening? When you have 4-hour blocks to write, or when you have an hour to squeeze in? When you’re at home or at the coffee shop? (Or, in one writer’s case, in the van at the grocery store’s parking lot, getting “one last thing I forgot” and really finishing a chapter without the kids interrupting?) Do you write better with music or without? Does it go faster if you can write every day for multiple days in a row? How often did you lose a week to being sick, or other emergencies?
This isn’t about forcing you into a rigid schedule. This is about helping you realize what you need to be at your best, and about how much time it really will take you if you’re trying to plan out the next book, the next series, the next year. It’s about “The cover artist needs at least a month, so between the beta readers, the copyeditor, the cover artist, etc. I’m looking at a release roughly in this month… and I can reserve a slot roughly by then, because I’ll know if I’m on track, which means the final draft won’t have to sit waiting for ‘next available’ slot with anyone else.”
Writing is a very personal thing, that takes place a lot in solitude and in our own heads. This means that the immediate moments, and the low points and high points, tend to overwhelm all the day-to-day, and the story we tell ourselves of how we’re doing and what works best for ourselves… may not actually match reality. This is why I like numbers: they take all of the crisis-of-the-moments and the unique cases and let you step back and get a bigger, broader picture. They also let you focus on things you can change, and do better – because what you measure, you can alter.
Sometimes they say things we don’t want to hear, like “You’ve only averaged one day a week at the gym in the last 3 weeks. This is why you’re not getting any better. It doesn’t matter what the reason is this time, last time, the time before… you’re not going to get better until you go three times a week.”
Sometimes they say things that we really didn’t expect, like “While you feel more productive writing at the coffee shop, you really are only pulling the same numbers as you do at home, and have the driving time and the extra cost of lattes.”
Sometimes just tracking forces a change in habits, like “If I start writing with my first cuppa, I can get 1,000 words in. If I check the news first, it’s hit or miss if I write anything at all… oh, look, I realized this and now I’m skipping news in the morning, because otherwise I have to record a big fat zero in my daily word count…”
And sometimes it’s simple little things like “My writing speed doubles when I get to the scenes I’m really excited about. Huh. Maybe I ought to find or make something about each scene that’s cool and interesting, or skip ahead… because if they’re boring me to write, are they going to be just as boring to read?”
You’ve got less than four months to finish out 2018. What are your goals and plans? What are you going to track?
…and if you want a break from the mundanity and paperwork, I recommend Tales of the Minivandians. Because life with cubicles, car seats, and battles with plumbing is always better when told with high humour and high fantasy, and a little bit of magic!