The challenge of quotas

I was writing myself a rambling note in OneNote and I had this realization: Word count quotas don’t hurt the way time quotas do. One is a challenge, the other is work.

Anytime I make a schedule, I’m setting myself time quotas. I could try to look at it differently, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t matter. I have an inherent dislike of schedules and I’m tired of trying to force myself into that box.

So here’s the thing. I deleted all references to a writing schedule from my calendar. Time blocking, fixed schedule productivity, etc., they’re all just ways to tie my brain into knots. I get the most joy (and do the most work) when I’m pushing myself to write, but not when I’m pushing myself to write at a certain time of the day, for a certain length of time.

Word count quotas have a purpose in my world. They provide the kind of structure I work best in.

It does mean my life is a little messier. No set start and end times for my days. But you know what? I really like it better this way.

I’ve been struggling with this schedule again over the last few weeks and I’ve gained nothing from it, except stress I really don’t need at this time of year while I’m already stressed about a looming deadline (or two). If I keep to my goal of writing about 2000 words a day on average, I’ll get this book written and I’ll be able to make an educated guess about how many books I’ll be able to write every year, and I’ll reach my overriding goal to become a prolific writer.

:D

So here’s an early New Year’s Resolution for 2017: I’m done with schedules. It’s back to word count quotas for me.

I’m adding a 250 words a day minimum, and I don’t have to count deleted words in this. (So my actual daily word count log entry might be -1,112 words, but if I wrote 250, it’s good.) Every day, because I fall off and I take a nap before I get back up. ;)

After that, it doesn’t really matter where I end up for the day. My scale remains the same.

1,000 = low word count day
2,000 = average word count day
3,000 = moderate word count day
4,000 = high word count day
5,000 = record breaking word count day (always, because 5k is huge!)

I want more average to moderate days and fewer low word count days and every so often, I’d like to have some high and record breaking days just for fun.

Every day my goal will be to evaluate where I’m at, then do my best to reach or maintain a 2,000 word a day average, and if I can get a bit ahead… that would be fantastic, because I still dream of writing ALL the books. ;)

All right, I’ve finally had enough of that

I very much dislike the way my categories and tags for this blog are set up.

I also dislike the extra sheet in my word count tracking spread sheet. I mean, I don’t really dislike it as much as I’m just tired of the extra record keeping. Why should I care about tracking my word count for a specific book? I don’t. I really don’t. I’ll still write the same books, even if they’re slow. I want to finish each book I write faster, to take advantage of momentum, but I’ve found over the last 2.5 months that keeping up with the exact numbers isn’t helping me finish my books faster. Not at all. The deadlines aren’t helping. Only getting to the computer and setting myself goals for how much time I spend writing is helping. And I’m not doing great with that, by any means, but it is helping.

What isn’t helping is ignoring these posts, reading Kboards and DWS’s blog and The Passive Voice and NPR and the trending news stories on my Kindle tablets’ silk browser. (God, I hate Silk and trending; it plays on every obsessive personality trait I have; I’m never buying another Kindle tablet. NEVER.)

And I’m self sabotaging again, dammit. I’m supposed to have started writing for 1.5 hours at 10:45 (and I was already behind on the 1.5 hours I was supposed to do from 9 to 10:30) and here it is 11:31. Okay, I’m done with this for now. Maybe I’ll revisit later, but I’m getting back to the damn book before I just start hating myself today.

Changing how I monitor my daily average word count

I track my daily average word count in a number of ways, including yearly and monthly, and more recently, since 9/19. You see that last one in my word count posts. I’ve been adamant that I’m not going to change the start date for that count and I haven’t. Until today.

I decided today to change that column in my spreadsheet to hold a 30 day rolling average instead.

What I realized today is that there’s a problem with using a set start date for the average I’m using to monitor improvements to my daily word count. Over time the average becomes weighed down by the past and the present gets lost. If I have 90 days of numbers, the current 30 days are 1/3 of the average. If I have 180 days of numbers, the current 30 days are only 1/6 of the average. As the history of numbers grows larger, the average becomes less representative of the present and how I’m doing now.

A 30 day rolling average will be much more focused on current progress and will tell me if I’m doing well now and let me to see course corrections more clearly.

Writing to market is a verb

Dean Wesley Smith has put up some good blog posts lately about writing and artistic freedom and the writing to market craze. Of course, one of the first things that happened were several comments by people who wanted to clarify exactly what they believe writing to market is: finding that intersection between what you love and what is likely to sell better. That’s like, duh, but it’s become the big “writing to market” meme that isn’t really real.

Here’s why: If you love something and you’re debating between two equally strong ideas, anyone with any self-awareness at all is going to choose the one that could put more money in the bank. But here’s the catch: It’s also very possible you’ll be completely wrong and the one idea won’t sell any better than that other idea you had. But since both ideas were pulling at you equally hard, it’s no big deal because you would have written one or the other no matter what. In this world, all is good, whether that idea gets you more sales or not.

So why’d I call it a meme that isn’t really real? Because people are co-opting the words “writing to market” to mean something it does not mean. Writing to market is choosing to write something because you think there’s a market for it. That’s really all it means. You can add all the extras to it that you want, to make it fit what you want it to mean, but it’s a pretty simple phrase. You’re writing something because you think there’s a market there.

Because.

And if you’re doing that, then you’re putting the market before the desire no matter how you pretty up the phrases. The intersection of what you love and what sells, remember?

If you limit your choices only to markets you love (as the meme tells you to), then you’re really not writing to market in any real sense at all, only claiming to.

There’s another problem with the writing to market craze—a viewpoint issue. There are two distinct ideas of what writing to market means that really aren’t compatible.

Writing to market as a verb (action). This is where I sit. I believe you have to choose to write to market. If you don’t choose, you’re just writing and if you happen to hit a market that has a lot of buyers in it, then it’s a happy accident. I happen to love genre fiction and there happens to be a really big market for it. I figure this is how I’m making my living. Some of my books have hit markets with buyers who really want to buy books like mine.

We’re the people who don’t immediately think: Hey, you can totally write what you love and write to market. We tend to believe these two concepts are completely incompatible. Like I said before, if you’re limiting your choices to markets you love, then you’re really not writing to market, you’re writing what you love and using the market as a decision point between ideas. Which, again, is kind of “duh.” Decisions are hard, especially when you’re deciding between things you really love. In fact, those might be the hardest decisions out there.

Writing to market as a noun (result). This is where a lot of the biggest proponents of the “you must write to market if you want the best chance of finding success” crowd lives.

It also includes the people who like to argue that anyone who finds any kind of success as a writer is writing to market whether they want to admit it or not.

Basically, the best that I can figure, the people who believe this second definition of writing to market believe that if you sell books, you’re writing to market whether you agree that you’re writing to market or not, because they’re treating “writing to market” as a thing that happens instead of a thing that’s done.

The big divide seems to me to be this verb/noun issue. If two people have different definitions of the term they’re arguing over, it’s no wonder there’s conflict.

For one, people like me don’t like being told we’re doing something when we know we’re not. On the other hand… well, I’ve got nothing. I don’t happen to think of writing to market as a noun, because “writing to” something is something you kind of have to do. ;)

I happen to believe that anyone who believes the second definition is kind of nuts. :D I’m also sure they’re probably thinking the same thing about me. ;)

Like I said: Incompatible viewpoints.

Word count post for November 2016

November word count: 27,423
Cumulative word count: 1,092,076
Daily average: 914
Number of zero word days: 9

0
0
0
0
0
0
0
326
548
2,369
2,612
1,178
3,113
224
1,846
1,054
3,073
1,977
218
393
3,325
315
1,033
103
0
0
970
1,867
176
703

I considered a nicely formatted table but decided this is just fine. I do have the other posts that label dates, and that’s good enough for me. :)

New schedule update

So is this a new schedule update or a new schedule update?

Just pretend it’s either. It is a new schedule, and this is a new update.

Here’s the thing: I really like the new schedule. Here’s the next thing: I haven’t been able to stick to it for an entire day once since I set it. Not all three blocks for all three 2 hour sessions. That was Sunday. This is Wednesday.

Today I’ve managed to miss hitting the 2 hour goal for the first block (by 14 minutes) and skip the second block of time (1:00–3:30) altogether. I’m still okay for the third block to start at 6:00 and run to 8:30, so that’s good, but I really need to make up that second block, so I’ve planned to give it a second attempt at 9:00 pm.

If all this is true, why do I like this schedule?

  1. Because I really feel the need for structured work hours right now, while everything else seems to unstructured around me (and it is).
  2. Because it’s helping me rein in the time I spend not writing during writing time.
  3. Because it’s nice to have time where I don’t expect myself to be writing.

Word count post for Nov. 25-28, 2016

Nov. 25: 0
Nov. 26: 0
Nov. 27: 970
Nov. 28: 1,867

I’ve been sick. I started feeling sick on the 22nd, but the morning of the 26th was definitely my worst day. I had planned to write on the 25th but I just couldn’t make myself do it. Then I started to feel better by the night of the 26th and here I am, just about completely over it. I have a bit of heaviness in my chest that still bothers me, but the sinuses have cleared up remarkably fast.

Daily average since 9/19: 992 words.

I really didn’t want to fall below 1,000 words again, but I just wasn’t up for another 1,000 words tonight. 2,000 words tomorrow will get me there again and then I can work on making it stick.

A new writing schedule

I have a new writing schedule. I wasn’t sure I was going to try a schedule again so soon, but I realized I just wasn’t getting anything done without one right now. So I created this one. (I’ve been sick and I’ve found it’s really hard to work when you feel sick.)

9 to 11:30
1 to 3:30
6 to 8:30

Of course, I keep finding myself wanting to push all the writing time closer together, with very short breaks between, but I stop myself, because it feels pretty obvious to me that one reason this one is working for me (and it really is at the moment) is because of those generous breaks. They give me time to breathe and they help keep writing from feeling like all work and no play.

My goal for each 2.5 hour block is finishing a 2 hour timed session, during which I pause for breaks and come right back to the computer.

I didn’t finish all the time yesterday, and I haven’t (and won’t) finish it all today, but I have finished considerably more than I’ve been doing and I’m really happy with that.