5 Powerful Reasons Why Indie
Fiction Writers Should Keep Work Logs
They’re not sexy, but essential if you want to get more written
Is there anything more geeky than a fiction writer keeping a word count log?
I mean, we know when the novel is finished when we reach the end of the story. At any time before that point, how many words are left to write is a complete freaking mystery to us. More experienced writers can estimate how many words are left to get the tale done, but they’re still just guessing.
Why burden ourselves with a word count log?
Glad you asked.
What Is The Point Of A Word Count Log?
There are dozens of ways to log your word count. It doesn’t really matter how you do it. I use a simple spreadsheet (and you can get that spreadsheet template here).
The entire aim of a word count log is to average out your word count across days and weeks – or years, in my case – to arrive at a single statistic: Your average words per hour rate.
Any Other Word Count Average Is Meaningless
There’s no point in tracking how many words you write each day, if you’re not keeping track of how long you wrote for each day, or if you’re not writing for the exact same length of time every single day. Any “average” you arrive at will be inaccurate, because you can’t guarantee you’ll be writing for the same duration each day in the future.
For the same reason, keeping track of your word count across a week is useless, because next week won’t look the same in terms of time spent and other conditions.
The Atomic Number for Fiction Writers
How many words you write in a single hour is the atomic number for fiction writers.
When you’ve been keeping a log for a while, the number becomes a highly accurate predictor of how much you can write in any single hour, no matter the circumstances.
Once you have calculated this number, your whole indie fiction writing business can be planned and built. There is one primary and direct pay-off to knowing your hourly word count.
Planning An Annual Production Schedule Is Possible
Once you know how many words you can write in an hour, you’ll know how long it will take to write a novel of a pre-determined length.
Novels sometimes miss their budgeted word count, but with experience and practice, you’ll get better at hitting the length you want. While you’re getting the hang of writing to a schedule, you can always add in some time or word count padding to make allowances for misses. Add a week more to your estimate to finish the book. Or add an extra 15K words to the length, to give yourself wiggle room.
The compound effect of this planning is that you can figure out how many pieces of fiction you can write in a year, when you will finish them…and from there, when you can release them.
And that knowledge allows you to build an annual production schedule.
So What’s The Big Deal About A Production Schedule?
1. Just having a production schedule will make you write more
What gets measured gets improved.Peter Drucker or Robin Sharma…or Unknown.
Your word log and your production schedule will both prompt you to write more. You’ll find yourself in friendly competition with your past self, to write more than before. And just seeing the concrete figures will make you aware of speed and the benefits of consistent writing…and the drawbacks of not writing when you planned to.
2. You can plan vacations, conferences and downtime
With a production schedule, you can shift release dates around to allow for time off. Or if you don’t want to miss your release dates (I hate shifting a date, myself—it upsets readers), you can plan to write more for a few weeks to cover the time off.
A production schedule isn’t a rigid taskmaster. It actually builds flexibility into your life.
3. You can plan years or seasons of high or low work periods
I’ve played around with various experiments with my production schedule. One year, I doubled down on time spent writing, because I wanted to get more than six months ahead of my release dates – and that gave me some eye-opening pay-offs.
This year, because of health challenges, I’ve dropped the pace of releases below even my most average and comfortable rate of writing, to give myself self-care time. I can take that time without worrying that I will miss any release dates. I don’t feel as though things are slipping through my fingers, as I would without the schedule in place.
It gives me a comforting sense of control.
4. You can get in early on promotion and marketing deals
This is a benefit of having a production schedule and working to get ahead of your release dates by at least three months (six is better).
Traditional publishing schedules release dates more than a year ahead of acquiring a completed, not-yet-edited manuscript. There’s a reason they do this that I learned from getting six months ahead of my own production schedule.
You can get in on promotions and marketing deals that aren’t available to most indie authors. Here’s an example: Both Kobo and Apple Books will help promote your pre-order titles if they’re given at least three month’s notice ahead of the release date.
Having long pre-order periods also gives you the benefit of having something to talk about to readers, when you’re making public appearances, and more. It gives you a URL to point people to. Without that URL, most on-line marketing simply isn’t possible.
Plus, readers will see your pre-order titles when they’re browsing.
5. You’ll duck the stress you get from assetless pre-orders
You can get the same benefits of long pre-order periods by putting up assetless pre-orders – that is, setting up the cover and blurb, but not loading a book file. Most of the retail stores allow assetless pre-orders.
But why would you do it this way? There is a huge amount of stress involved in knowing you have to get the book written, and it must deliver on all the promises you’ve whooped-up in the book description. It must provide the experience implied by the cover.
In addition, if you miss the deadline, Amazon will punish you by taking away your pre-order privileges for a year.
Who needs that stress?
Instead, gain the benefits of long pre-orders by writing as far ahead of your release schedule as you can, and putting up the first draft of your books as the book file. Once you’ve had the book edited, you can replace the draft file with your final file.
If you are a relatively clean writer, then even if a bookstore screws up and delivers the first draft instead of the final file, it’s not a major disaster. Even if your first draft is messy, you can add a page at the front of the draft file you upload that warns readers that they’ve received the wrong file and to contact the bookseller or you.
Zero pressure and a lot of benefits. All from keeping a word count log.