Back in 2021, I tracked my writing for a year. I kept a done diary for 6 months (as I’ve previously written about on the blog), but I also met up every month with an old co-author and we each wrote a little report on what we’d been doing: what was growing in the garden, what we were eating, what was going on in the world, how we were moving, what we were reading, but also what we were doing to progress our next writing project.
I found this an incredibly useful project, but it was a huge amount of work. It’s not always worth recording your life in such detail, or I don’t find it so. So, when we got to the end of the year-long project, I took a good break.
But I did start to miss keeping any kind of track of my life, so in June 2022, I started a new diary project where I just kept notes about how my days went. It’s much less programatic than the done-diary or year-project, but I’m also keeping a note on each day rather than the month. I just jot down things that stick out for me on any day. That means, I’m often mentioning if I’m sleeping, what my energy is like, and a word or two if anything interesting happened in the day.
But the other outcome of these two projects is that I am now able to look at where I was at this month across three different years and see what is consistent and what changes.
For example, here’s a note from August 2021:
What are you writing?
My co-author and I are co-editing the final rounds of our Luther book. Every time we lie to ourselves that this is the last round, and every time we find something else major that doesn’t work yet. It’s always like this when something is nearly ready to go, and you have read it so many times, and its so boring, but it also you know if you skimp on it, the reviewers are going to make you fix it anyway because it absolutely needs to be fixed… and if they have to explain how to fix the obvious thing, they might miss the thing you can’t see yet that would actually be helpful. Also, each pass is transformational, the work emerging and gleaming as you sand and wax and polish. When we get there, our writing is like glass.
Of course, reader, it was not the final rounds. Though we did submit the manuscript in September, our reviewers took months and then we had a major revise and resubmit, so we didn’t actually get the book in until July a year later.
Also, it turns out, I hate winter and lose all motivation to move, and can’t be bothered to sugar-coat it when I’m just writing for myself. As I said in late July 2021:
How did you move?
Well, while things were open [i.e. not in COVID lockdown], I went to the gym and yoga and walked and cycled, and when things were closed I did a bit here and there. I hate lockdown, and my body hates lockdown, but I actually really hate exercise and can only trick myself into doing it because there is another purpose (like not disappointing my trainer, keeping up with a class or getting to work). Without all that other stuff, my intrinsic motivation to move is just above zero. The “just above” motivation is provided by the threat of terrible back pain—so I’m still moving enough to stay mobile.
Did not like July. Do not recommend. Can’t wait for spring.
If I jump forward twelve months, my diary tells me that in July 2022, I was recovering from having COVID a few months before, plus I had just had a wisdom tooth out: it was also not a good month for moving. And this year, in 2023, my personal trainer went on a 5-week holiday, and the exercise is all over the place with her away too. So… yes, this insight still tracks. All I want to do in wintry Melbourne July and August is hibernate. And yet, if I jump forward to September when the weather is warmer, it’s a completely different story.
So perhaps the best insight is from the end of the book, in the epilogue:
It’s really hard to keep up a project like this for a whole year—much harder than I expected. This year has, however, shown that keeping up the project, like keeping up a writing career, is not about linear repeatable factory-outputs.
There are ebbs and flows—months where I struggled to read anything, and other months where I read piles of things. Months where I wanted the easiest, quickest food, and months where I spent days layering in flavours. Months where my word counts went up, and months where I was waiting for reviews.
Ride the waves lightly, neither fretting in the months where not much happens, nor grasping after the months where lots happened. Consider your progress across a quarter, or a year. A day or a week or a month is too short to measure productivity.
We live in the world. Our years have seasons and our bodies have seasons and our brains have seasons, and that might mean that our writing also has seasons.
If you get caught up in the minutiae of your daily word count, if other people think you are making progress but you can’t see it, I encourage you to find a way to track your own writing for a year. Maybe you will be able to see the bigger picture, and maybe that bigger picture will help you to navigate your writing-practice with an eye to the horizon and the prize.