This is a post for those who are curious about how I spend my time as an author. It first ran last year, and while my stats for this year are different, the sentiment is the same. And no, I don’t write for 10-12 hours a day, as someone recently told me a famous author does! I have people to feed and a life to live and some well-earned rest to attend to.
For years I’ve off and on kept records of my writing time (most especially while I’m on deadline). More recently I’ve kept a monthly chart in my bullet journal. I’ve used the charts to keep track of word count while drafting, and when in revision or research mode, I’ve used them to simply list which project I was working on which day. With a non-traditional job and a schedule set largely on my own, they’ve been a handy way to see how my work life runs from day to day.
Last spring, I read Laura Purdie Salas’s book, Making a Living Writing Books for Kids. In it she talked about tracking her work time to see where it goes, to determine if a project is monetarily worth her efforts and to remember to set aside time for her “love projects,” as she calls them — projects that aren’t assigned (like a work-for-hire book) but those she pursues by choice. Laura said she used a simple time tracker called Slim Timer.* I promptly checked it out. There are probably websites and apps that are fancier, but this one suits me fine. For the last year, on top of my bullet journal chart, I’ve been pretty darn faithful about clicking into Slim Timer before settling down to draft or edit or prepare for a school visit. It’s been interesting to watch how the numbers have fallen.
I recorded seven months and almost 319 hours on drafting my novel, Miraculous. (Unfortunately I don’t know what I time I put in before mid-April). August clocked in as my busiest Miraculous month, with over 83 hours.
In September — my busiest month of the year — I juggled two deadlines. Miraculous got over 48 hours as I finished my draft, worked through critique partner feedback, and prepared the manuscript for my editor. My picture book, A Race Around the World, got over 46 hours, as my editor and I worked through multiple revisions. This is a reminder that while a picture book is certainly shorter and overall is quicker to write, word for word, a picture book is much more time intensive.
Over the course of the year, I put in over 44 hours doing events and other presentations, one hour less than the amount of time I put toward my critiquing service.
I spent over five hours on a poem that ultimately sold for $100 and less than an hour revising an old poem that brought me $50. On a whim, I spent fifteen minutes cleaning up a blog post that had gotten a lot of hits and sent it to Writer’s Digest. It sold for $275.
I put in more time on my blog than I needed (though I don’t know specifics. Last year I classified my blogging time as “promotion” — a catch all that didn’t leave me with a lot of information to analyze later. This year the blog has its own category.) I devoted too much time to a project that would have been more fulfilling had I spent it elsewhere. I found a way to be more efficient with a third commitment (not a book — those are never efficient! But I’ve learned no writing effort is ever wasted).
This year I see most of my time has gone to research for a new project, followed by revision work with my editors. A few days ago I was convinced I haven’t done much of anything lately, but looking back at my numbers I could see otherwise. I might not have much to show for my work at present, but I’m making progress, day by day.
With a job where I largely set my own pace and schedule, this information reminds me I am moving forward. I will see projects reach their end if I am faithful showing up.
*Alas, Slim Timer is now defunct. I’m now using (and enjoying) Toggl.