How I Write - 2022 By The Numbers
I’m finished with writing for this year, so I thought it was time to take a look at how the year shook out for me based on the numbers I track in my writing logs.
Image by Lukas from Pexels
It’s my last planned day of writing for 2022 today. So I can safely open up my writing log spreadsheet and my various Scrivener project records for this year and do a little bit of a review of what I managed to produce, how and when.
This is normally an exercise I’d just do for myself, as I make plans for the following year. But I’ve blogged several times about my writing process this year and there seem to be enough people out there as fascinated by this stuff as I am that I thought it might be worth doing a post on it.
The first and major thing to say here is that this is not a yardstick. If you’re also a writer, please don’t look at anything I write here as a challenge, brag or stick to beat yourself with. I am fortunate enough to have a day job with reasonable hours, no unpredictable caring responsibilities (adult or child), supportive family and reasonable physical and mental health. I also work from home the majority of the time now, so I’m able to be very consistent because I’m not dealing with traffic or public transport most days.
I have a specific routine that I follow that works for me, but this post is not prescriptive - it’s just what I’ve managed to do this year and how I did it. Take what you like from it.
What got written?
This year I’ve worked on four different novels and four short stories over the course of the year. This broke down in interesting ways.
- I started the year in January working on the pre-submission edits for The Burning Line, the novel which got me an agent late in 2021.
- While I was waiting for agent feedback on that edit, I wrote Carapace which became my second short story sale to Clarkesworld Magazine later in the year.
- I also did a tiny bit of editing on a story called New Town, which is still languishing on my hard drive but which I hope to dust off and submit in 2023.
- As I waited for editor responses, I started working on a far-future SF novel called Braid. I got about 30,000 words of that in February and March before I had a long conversation with my agent and decided to shelve it for the moment and focus on something completely new.
- That book was The Disaster Club, my contemporary spy thriller. I wrote the first draft of that between April 4th and July 26th of this year, then did an initial edit for the first couple of weeks of August. I then collapsed for the remainder of the month.
- I did a second round of edits on The Disaster Club in the first half of September, then another minor round of agent feedback at the end of the month. In between I took time off from writing, because my head was fried.
- Once The Disaster Club was away in October, I wrote a new novelette called Best Practices for Safe Asteroid Handling - that’s collected a couple of rejections and is back out on submission.
- I then pulled an older novelette called Hull Run out of my trunk and it was better than I remembered, so I edited that with my critique group and got it out on submission at the end of October. It too has come back with a rejection twice already, but I have high hopes for it.
- I then spent about a month working on my notetaking, idea files, submission tracking and constellation of spreadsheets, as well as working on pitches and submission materials for my agent. The Disaster Club went out on submission in mid-November.
- Finally, once I’d recovered from a very busy summer of writing, I re-read my novel Chronocosm (drafted in 2020/2021), discovered it was in pretty decent shape and started on a comprehensive edit for the last couple of weeks of the year. My main goal with that book is to edit it down from an absurd 186k to a more readable 150k or so.
How did I work?
I have a pretty consistent writing routine that I’ve worked pretty hard to set up and ingrain, to the point where it feels weird if I don’t do it. I get up around 0530hrs (which was tough when I first started doing it, but my cats have learned that’s when I wake up, so now they… assist with a claw to the face) and I’m usually showered, dressed and at my desk with a cup of tea and breakfast by about 0615hrs or so.
At the start of the year, I was doing about an hour of writing six days a week (Monday to Saturday). However, I spent several miserable Saturdays guiltily procrastinating on doing my writing and decided to try and find more time during the working week, so as of about October I switched to working for 90 minutes five days a week (Monday to Friday).
This is actually more time than when I was working six days a week and it’s also way more productive for me. When I was doing an hour, it would often take me ten or fifteen minutes to get into the flow of it. And if I faffed around or procrastinated at all, I could easily lose half a session. A 90 minute session is far more forgiving and also means I get into a good writing flow state most days.
When I was editing The Disaster Club in the summer I had a few very long writing sessions, but the rest of the year I was pretty strict about my time. It’s fairly easy for me to go overboard, so I have to make a point of stopping (especially when working at weekends) if I want to avoid burning out.
I did the odd session somewhere else (on trains, in hotel rooms when I was away for work, in the odd cafe) but I’d say 90-95% of my writing was done at my desk, in my scheduled writing time.
Okay, lay those numbers on me
What did it all add up to? I record my writing sessions fairly diligently in a big spreadsheet and have done for years. It’s not a hundred percent accurate - occasionally I forget to track when I start and finish or what my opening and closing word counts are, so I have to estimate or retroactively calculate things. But I’d say these numbers have about a 5% confidence interval on them. They’re reasonably accurate.
In 2022, I wrote for about 403.5 hours. This is probably my wobbliest number, because I had several very long editing sessions in the summer where I lost track of exactly how long I worked. But I’d say around 400 - 430 hours is probably right.
That’s 16 full twenty-four hour days of the year, or 57 seven-hour working days. A little under three full months of the year, if putting it in day job terms. And at times it definitely felt like I’d done an additional three months of work in the year. I did manage to take proper breaks, but I definitely needed them.
I did something writing related on 272 days of this year. Drafting accounted for 124 of those days. Editing was 98 days. The rest was split between career admin, outlining, pitch writing and critique work.
I wrote 201,478 aggregate new fiction words across the whole year. This number is probably off by two or three thousand words, maybe, due to the aforementioned estimates and the inherently fuzzy business of estimating how much you actually type versus how much exists at the end of a given draft. These were numbers I took from Scrivener directly at the end of each session.
Over half of that total was on The Disaster Club, including the first draft and maybe 20k of additions during editing. Thirty thousand words were on Braid, while the rest was mostly short stories, and additions during the edits of The Burning Line and Chronocosm, accounting for about forty to fifty thousand words altogether.
I think I cut about 52,000 words, over the course of the whole year. This is another fuzzy number, because of the way that Scrivener counts deleted words (if you delete a word, it’s counted, but if you delete a whole scene, it doesn’t show up in the ‘Writing History’ view, for no good reason). It could be more (because I chopped whole scenes in several novel edits) or less (because I rewrote and restored some scenes too).
This year I also learned that line editing can lose me way more words than I’d previously thought - as I’ve started to work more closely at the line level, I’ve realised I can reliably shed 300-500 words for every 3,000 words or so (basically 10-15%). I tend to overwrite in the first draft and cut a lot, but I used to do it by excising whole scenes. These days I’ll try to get the word count down in the line edit first, if there aren’t any scenes that are obvious candidates for the chop.
My shortest writing session was 15 minutes. The least I wrote in a drafting session was 253 words. I had four sub-500 word drafting days in the year.
My longest writing session was 9 hours (this is a pretty fuzzy guess - it was one of my big editing days on The Disaster Club). My highest single day word count was 3,725 words, right at the end of the draft for The Disaster Club (that took two hours). I had four other 3,000+ word days.
The vast majority of my writing days were somewhere between 800 and 1,500 words.
Averages and consistency
I don’t write to an explicit word count target (I’ve been down that road and it is a recipe for misery for me) but I do have rough bands that make me reasonably happy.
I write for 90 minutes every weekday and I break it down like this:
- Any day I write is a win, full stop, the end.
- If I get more than 500 words, I consider it a reasonable day.
- If I get more than 1,000 words, it’s a good day.
- If I get more than 1,500 words, it’s a very good day.
- If I get more than 2,000 words, it’s a great day.
- If I get more than 2,500 words, it’s a superb day.
- If I get more than 3,000 words, it’s a BEAST MODE day. I got five of these in 2022.
Averaged out, my daily word count is 741 words. My median is 1,139. My average words-per-hour over the year is 501.
In reality, those averages are skewed a bit by a few very short, low word count days and a few very long, high word count days. I’d say most days when I’m drafting I write about 750-1,000 words per hour.
But the important thing for me is consistency. It doesn’t really matter if you only get 200 words one day, if you get right back on the horse and write more words the next day. Even small word counts add up. It used to be that a low word count day would knock my confidence drastically and result in a few days (or weeks, ugh) of missed writing days. But I’ve learned that every day is its own thing, to be taken in isolation. The more I turn up, the more consistent I get.
What about previous years?
My records are way patchier in previous years, but here’s the headline numbers for the last few years.
- 2021 - 337 hours, 163,000 words drafted, 13,000 words cut
- 2020 - 139 hours, 151,500 words drafted, didn’t track cut words at this point
- 2019 - 63 hours, 82,000 words drafted
When you line them up like that, you can see fairly clearly when I started really focusing on consistency and routine. In 2019 I was still figuring out a lot of the practicalities and logistics but 2021 and 2022 have been fantastic.
2020 was a bit of an oddity - I did less than half the hours of 2021, but only wrote about 17,000 words less. Basically I wrote a whole, very long novel in a big burst of lockdown anxiety at the start of the year, then spent the rest of the year recovering and changing jobs/moving house. And that experience was what convinced me I needed to come up with a sustainable way to write for the future, the results of which you can see in 2021 and 2022.
Lessons and plans
The biggest change this year was moving to the 5 day/90 minutes per day model for sessions. I expected that to improve things a little but it’s so much better. I lose far fewer sessions to faffing around and procrastination and my average word counts climbed considerably in the second half of the year as a result.
Next year I’m going to try and plan out my work a bit better, using this kind of data to roughly estimate when I’ll complete drafts and edits. I overdid it a couple of times this year to get specific things completed and it wasn’t worth the after-effects of feeling fried for days or weeks afterward.
I’m also going to try and alternate drafting and editing of novels more consistently and do more short story drafting between novels.
A lot of my plans for the coming year will depend heavily on the outcome of my current novel submission process, so I’m not making concrete plans just yet. But I do have a rough roster of work for the first three or four months of the year. I’m looking forward to it.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably a spreadsheets oddball like me, so I hope you enjoyed it. While I’m no longer a word count disciplinarian, I do think there is a lot of value in tracking what I write, when I write it and often how I feel when I do. It helps me to know when I worked on specific stories and novels and when I’m having a bit of a down day or feeling like I’m not getting anywhere, seeing that stack of writing days behind me, written down, helps to quantify my effort in a useful way.
If you’re like me and have a tendency to overfocus on things and go a bit overboard, time and effort tracking like this can also be a good way to make sure you’re balancing your workload and not building up habits or schedules that might lead you down the road to burnout. It’s a real risk, as I’ve discovered in the past.