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.


Tags: , ,

12 Responses to “Keeping Track of Time”

  1. Peter says:

    One: you must type pretty quickly. Two: How many hours did you spend thinking about writing? Three: You rock!

  2. Ellar Cooper says:

    I should really do this, ’cause I definitely need to work on time management, especially when it comes to writing. Right now I have no idea what my most productive patterns would be…

  3. Peter,

    It is hard to keep track of the hours in which you think about writing. But anytime I sit down and actively work on a project, I track it. So that includes research, re-reading, brainstorming, making lists, and yes, sometimes just staring into space and thinking. It is hard to keep track of some of the random times you think about a project, like when you go for a walk or are driving in your car.

    And yes, I do type fast! :) I’ve also been tracking the hours of first draft projects, which have more word count “fluff.”

  4. Arlene says:

    This is such a great idea!! You are absolutely right, I know this is how I felt, “he 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.” But tracking your time will make is clear how much we can accomplish if we put the time into it! I may have to give this a try and see how long it really takes me, in terms of hours of work and not just months going by.

  5. cmbaker says:

    This is a brilliant idea. I saw a similar suggestion recently related to productivity that resonated as well (i.e. keeping a record so you can recognize patterns of productivity and repeat the favorable ones/not waste time on the bad hours). But I love this because I swear I get a million questions from people that are: “How long does it take to write a book?” And they always seem to mean hours. And I have no clue! Fascinating.

  6. pamwatts says:

    That’s an interesting experiment to try. I find that I need large stretches of empty time in which to even contemplate working on a draft. But maybe that is my mind playing tricks on me.!

  7. L. Marie says:

    I also read (and loved) Outliers. Great suggestions, Ingrid! I know I’m not as productive as I could be.

  8. […] to the immutable time I used to give writing. The tarot card reader’s comments reminded me of Ingrid Sundberg’s post in which she analyzed how much time she actually spent writing. It was far less than she’d […]

  9. […] Yeah, yeah. I know. You couldn’t possibly care less, right? Okay. I’ll get to the point. When I think of replicated patterns, I can’t help thinking of my writing. What I see replicated at times is a pattern of procrastination. When scenes seem insurmountable, I turn to other activities: games like Plants vs. Zombies, checking email, texting, or reading other people’s blogs. I even sometimes use my Lumosity workout, which takes a few minutes at most, as an excuse. (BTW: Ingrid Sundberg wrote a great post on measuring productivity: […]

  10. I would like to feature this on my re-blog Wednesday feature. Thanks

  11. Reblogged this on Mandy Eve Barnett's Official Blog and commented:
    Today’s re-blog is from Ingrid’s Notes. The subject keeping track of your writing time. I am the first to put my hand up and say I never do this for my writing or for my volunteer hours as secretary for my writers foundation. Yes, I know I should but…
    Do you keep track?
    What methods do you use?
    As my freelance work increases I am well aware I will have to keep track of projects and the time they take, so I am taking notes, Ingrid.

  12. Mea Smith says:

    Ingrid, thank you for this post. I’ve been using a chart based off your example for about a month now. I love to see the boxes filling up with proof that I’m making progress. The feeling of accomplishment encourages me to trek on! Cheers to you and thanks, again!

Leave a Reply