I’m a record keeper. I’ve had the same notebook since 2004 where I write down the books I read each year. I make lists about tasks I need to tackle and the dinners I’ve recently made. I like to keep track of snowfall and rainfall (I’m loving this rain gauge I bought last summer), and I’m curious about the “intensity minutes” my Garmin says I’ve put in each week. When it comes to my writing life, I love to keep records on one of the few things I can control — the number of hours I work on each project. Seeing the hours rack up is a reminder I’m making progress. It’s evidence that something that once didn’t exist is changing from a murky idea into a real-deal story that maybe, someday, might become a book.
I use a free program called Toggl to keep track of my various projects.
Here’s how I’ve spent that last few years with my forthcoming verse novel, THE BURNING SEASON:
2020: 26 hours. This is the year I first started researching fire towers and wildfires. I wrote a vague synopsis and a handful of poems during my annual writing retreat. Each time my critique group gathered for meals, I had new interesting facts to share. One member started calling me Fire Girl (which eventually inspired a minor thread in the story).
2021: 202 hours. I drafted the book! I loved (almost) every minute of it! Returning to verse felt like coming home, like writing in my native language. I sent THE BURNING SEASON to my agent, who said “I love this manuscript so much…Let’s get this signed up!” I got a phone call from my agent (on my birthday, no less!) telling me that my editor said she was “ALL IN!”
2022: 81.5 hours. I spent much of the spring working on final touches for MIRACULOUS, which came out that summer. I visited Silver City, NM and the Gila National Forest for a research trip and added some details to THE BURNING SEASON based on my experiences. That fall I started drafting my verse novel manuscript, SONG OF THE RAVEN.
2023: 205.5 hours. The first half of the year was devoted to finishing my first draft of SONG OF THE RAVEN. The second half was all about first-round edits on THE BURNING SEASON.
You might notice on the sticky note above that my editor said I’d really grown as a writer and the book was in “such great shape.” Now compare the hours I put in editing in 2023 vs. the hours I put in drafting in 2021. They’re pretty much the same. And keep in mind there’s more editing still to come. This “great shape” book needed (and will need in the months ahead) some pretty substantial work. That’s the writing life…or at least, so far, that’s how I’ve experienced the writing life when it comes to publishing novels.
2024 will include more edit rounds, copyedits, delivery and acceptance of the manuscript, and pass pages. I’ll get to see cover sketches and a final cover too. ARCs should print toward the end of the year (or maybe at the beginning of 2025).
Summer 2025 (which is May-August) is the season THE BURNING SEASON is set to release. I’ll let you know specifics once I learn more.
Writing a book is a years-long process. I appreciate how keeping records like this allows me to zoom out and get perspective on the work I’ve put in. The writing life is a journey of wrong turns and uncertainty and right turns and surprising discoveries. I still pinch myself that this is my job. What an absolute gift.