On Keeping a Writing Log – Part Deux


‘Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will note; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

~Calvin Coolidge

I thought I’d take a break from my series of posts on time management to discuss the merits and wonders of the writing log—and what it can do for you in terms of productivity and accountability.

Here’s a link to my initial post regarding Writing Logs. I’ve come a long way since then, most definitely for the better.

A Law of Writing

We’re often bombarded with advice and ‘laws’ for writing that, when you break them down, can’t really be called laws if they only apply in some cases. ‘Don’t use adverbs in dialogue tags, mostly’, ‘Avoid prologues, now and again’, ‘Avoid overly detailed character descriptions’, and so on… No, no—something that doesn’t apply across the board always and in all ways is not a law or even a rule. It’s a guideline at best.

That said, if you’re aiming for publication and all the money and women that come with it, here’s one of the unbreakable laws of writing: Finish what you start.

I’ve no greater advice on writing than that. If you start something, see the darn thing through. No one ever published something half-written (arguable, I know, but you get my point). The trick is how to make whatever you start—be it novel, short story, research paper, PhD, letter—readable, consistent in theme, tone, voice, and all the other nitty gritty stuff. ‘Ware consistency without focus, as you’ll most likely end up writing yourself into a corner.

And speaking of consistency…

My Writing Log

Here it is in all its majesty:

Current Log

So what are we looking at here? An Excel spreadsheet full of formulas calculating away in the background, keeping score and holding me accountable to my daily word target—2000 words a day. Of what you see there, I’m responsible every day—whether I write a word or not—for filling in the following columns:

Story Title

Start Count

Finish Count

Time Started

Time Finished

Work of thirty seconds, as the formulas take care of everything else. Time well spent, too, as the data and information about my writing habits I can pull from this log is invaluable. No more vague notions of finishing a novel ‘someday’. With this, I know exactly how far along I am—to the minute and word.

As you can see, in days to come my total words column is a stark and vicious bright red. This is because I have yet to write on those days. The red is a streak I have to mine and pull chunks of story ore from, and the power of a streak is a wonderful thing. I don’t want that column to be all ugly and red. I want it to turn green. How does it turn green? The conditional formatting in the log will turn a box on any given day green if my total words written over the day exceed 2,000.

Note: 2,000 words a day is what I know my average to be, assuming I have about 2 hours of uninterrupted writing time. You’ll have a rough idea of your own average, which you should supplement in place of mine.

The column stays red if I don’t hit 1,000 words, and becomes a soothing yellow for every word between 1,000 and 2,000 a day. Yellow I consider a successful writing day. Green is golden.

I monitor the time started and time finished, plus any extra time, in order to breakdown how long it takes me to write a first draft. I can also use these figures to generate charts and figure out my optimal writing times on any given day of the week. If I write more at night, then I should be scheduling my writing time in the evening. If I churn out more by getting up an hour early, then perhaps my daily writing time is better served in the morning, you see?

So there you have an overview of how the writing log works. Let’s take a look at why, at least for me, this process has improved my writing over the last year.

Consistency is Key

Key to what? Key to life. Consistent, prepared effort—even if you’re crawling inch by inch across the page, and we all are—will unlock the dark and terrible novel you’ve been trying to hammer out for years.

Take a look at my writing log from half a year ago again:

Writing Log

And again what I’m using now:

Current Log

Note: Forgive the streak of red on the new log. I started a new job that sapped most of my day for the beginning of July. Back on form and hitting my stride again now!

You won’t always be consistent. Is that an oxymoron? Writers thriving through inconsistent consistency? Well, if the shoe fits. What I’m getting at is there will be days, maybe even a few in a row (but if that’s happen you’ll need to have a good long think about your endgame), where you don’t churn out word one.

I’ve written two successful enough novels and a third that was awarded the Hot Key Young Writers Prize earlier this year (due September 5th), and as you can see from my current log I have days of inconsistency. But on those days I step back, reassess and revaluate why I write at all, and then sit my ass down in front of the blank page.

Remember, inch-by-inch is the best any of us can write a novel. That’s how I write. Goddamn it, that’s how Stephen King writes. So the difference between people who want to write a novel and those that do?


Numbers Don’t Lie

Let’s take a look at what consistent, patient, prepared writing time can produce. You’ll know exactly how much your effort creates, because you’ll be keeping track of it in your shiny new writing log, won’t you?

Here’s the breakdown of my stats for this month (July, 2013). Again, not on form early in the month, but still a sizeable word count that didn’t exist two weeks ago:

Total Words Written: 15269

Time Spent Writing: 12 hours and 47 minutes

Average Words p/hour: 1145.4

Encouraging, even with a streak of ugly red at the beginning of the month. At my current pace I’ll have a first draft this time next month, around August 14th. There’s another benefit of the writing log—you can forecast how long it should take, given your current pace, to finish an average novel (which, in my genres of fantasy/sci-fi/YA, is about 70,000 words).

Let’s advance the numbers again, assuming across the board consistency every damn day of the year.

2,000 words p/day x 365 days = 730,000 words p/year

Holy smokes, if I maintained consistency every day I’d have ¾’s of a million words written in a year. Given our average novel length of 70,000 words, that’s the best part of 10 and ½ first drafts a year. A mindboggling output, but not beyond my ‘average’ capability, if I work on reaching and maintaining a streak of sweet, clear green.

How could I achieve 10 first drafts a year? You got it, consistency.

So that would be my optimal outcome. It’s unlikely, given life and all its many varied interruptions and responsibilities, but so long as I keep my writing log I’ll be able to monitor how close to optimal my progress has been.

Writing Log Template

Oh and if you’d like to give it a shot, here’s my template all formula’d up and ready to go:

Writing Log Template – click on the link and download the current version from Google Docs as an Excel spreadsheet.

Note: the conditional formatting in that template has set the threshold for turning a cell yellow between 1000 and 2000 words, and turning a cell green for 2000+ words. If you know your average is more or less a day, change the conditional formatting to reflect your targets.

And there we go—done and dusted for now. I’m going to keep using my log in the months to come, perhaps modifying the data to capture additional information. I’ll keep you posted.

What do you think of keeping a writing log? Useful? Intimidating? Leave me a comment or shoot me an email on how you keep score!

Time Management Tricks for the Time-Impaired Writer: Part Two

Strong, swift openings draw a reader in. So here’s Time Management for the Time-Impaired Writer summed up strongly and swiftly:

There’s always time.

However busy or hectic a lifestyle you lead, there’s always time. Do well to remember that, because I know I forget those three little words quite often, trapped under an avalanche of responsibility and commitment. There’s always time and that time exists because of simple ordered priorities.

Good preparation across the board = identified and ordered priorities = awesome and effective time management.

Okay, so in PART ONE – TIME HARD we talked about preparation, keeping a writing log using Excel, automating tasks that sap our time, and carving out a slice of your day solely for writing. We saved some time through better preparation and time management. Now let’s have a look at how to save a bit more. After all, writer’s block is merely mismanaged time. It’s not that hard to make the words flow. You’ll see a lot of good writers talking about time management in various forms all over this crazy internet town.

I’m going to keep a runny tally of just how many hours and minutes these tips could save. I’ll lowball the averages, so as not to make it seem too good to be true, but even a few extra hours a week can make a story happen. In the last part of this series we talked about automation. Automation is king! Praise be his name. Personally, automating my finances and not having to manually pay my bills, or check balances (balance cheques?) every day, has saved me about 25 minutes a week.

So our tally of time saved through better time management currently stands at:


25 minutes


1 hour and 40 minutes


20 hours

See that? Do you see that and appreciate what it means? One task that only eats at a few minutes a day can, over a year, absorb an entire day of your life. That right there is why time management matters. And you pay bills for, what, fifty or sixty years as an adult? Think long-term, because it won’t matter when you’re dead, but do you think you’ll look back in sixty years, as you lie withered on your hover-deathbed, sipping apple flavoured Ultradyne Nutrient Paste™, just how awesome it was that you spent sixty days of your life paying the fucking phone bill?

A first draft is born in less than two months.

Well, no sense dwelling on it now, so let’s be about our sordid business once more.


Trick #4: Food for Thought

How often do you have to nip out to the shops for a pint of milk? A forgotten loaf of bread? Oh shit, you’re out of butter again! Two times a week? Three? Even if the shop is only down the road, that’s at least half an hour a week you could have been writing. Two hours a month – twenty-four hours a year. A day wasted spent popping out of an evening or morning for simple staples. And never mind a big grocery shop, which could take hours, and you forgot to get sugar again, didn’t you? Well, it’ll only take ten minutes there and back…

What’s that day of wasted time worth to you? $20? $10? $1000? I live in Perth, Western Australia, the most expensive place in Australia and the eleventh most expensive city in the world, but I can get my grocery shopping delivered straight to my door from one of the major supermarkets, Woolworths or Coles, for $8 per delivery.

If you spend some time compiling a comprehensive online grocery list with the supermarket, you can ensure that every month you have exactly what you need—no cheeky extras or impulse buying in the store—and spend that extra time, an hour or two a week, you would have spent mundanely picking up groceries forging some awesome word slush instead. You will carve pristine story from white marble pages whilst sipping your home-delivered milk and laughing like the diabolical time management genius you are.

Compile more than one list, as well, depending on how well stocked your larder looks. The user dashboards for my nearest supermarket lets you store the lists for the future and can even generate lists based on past use. Hell, it even reminds me if I haven’t ordered something basic in a while, like paprika. I have two key lists. I do a big shop once a month and replace things running low, such as meat and frozen vegetables. They keep in the freezer. This list also contains milk and bread and other items that can quickly expire. A second list could comprise things that you need to replace every two months—spices, say, and sauces. The cost, of course, is $8 a delivery, but I imagine having actually gone to the store I may have burned through that with impulse purchases, fuel, even parking costs. Swings and roundabouts, you ken?

When I run short of perishables, milk and fruit, within the week, only then will I call into my local shop on my way home from work. Absurd to pay $8 just to get a pint of milk delivered, after all.

Time saved (again, I’m going to keep it low so as not to inflate the process beyond reasonable and into absurd – your situation will vary) grocery shopping:


1 hour


4 hours


48 hours

Holy heck—two days? How much could you write if you had two days worth of extra time? Should we look at the figures from our deathbed again, over the average of sixty years from 20 to 80? Pretty simple math, yeah…

2 days per year x 60 years = 120 days.

Four months spent mindlessly pushing a trolley—and you know that fucker has a dodgy wheel—up and down the aisles of a supermarket looking for chopsticks and breadcrumbs because one week they’re in Kitchen and the next Asian Foods. Christ, that’s depressing.

Let’s also add—just to rub salt in the wound—our sixty days spent paying bills. We now sit, just from two tasks that we all have to do every week, at 180 days of lost time over a lifetime. Your lifetime. My lifetime. That’s 6 months. Do you have a new appreciation for time management yet? You can live an extra six months of your life by automating just two tasks. We live on the cusp of a new age, ladies and gentlemen, a golden age of automation—so ride the wave or be left regretting all the wasted hours when you hit the shore, as we all must.

Trick #5: The To-Do List – Or How I Learned to Embrace the Value of A Schedule

Disclaimer: Before we proceed, a word about the to-do list. The to-do list is one of the keenest and most useful non-writing weapons in the writer’s arsenal. That said, it’s also a double-edged sword. Treat the to-do list with the utmost caution and, indeed, respect. A well-maintained and sharpened to-do list will cut through reams of paper. A rusty and ill kept list will give you tetanus and the numb, modern, indifferent cancer of the soul that seems to permeate our civilisation. Dramatic, I know, but we are playing with the finite seconds of our lives here. Just something to keep in mind.

So here’s my average weekday, which I keep track of on my to-do list schedule. Most of us use a smart phone that can sync our calendar between different machines and that will notify us of upcoming events. I heartily suggest utilising Google Calendar for this task. Here’s what my working week looks like in snapshot:

Calendar Capture

And the breakdown:

0500 – Wake Up/Shower

0530 – Breakfast/Internet

0615 – Commute to work

0700 – Work

1500 – Commute to home

1600 – Exercise

1645 – General internet/emails/calls/messages

1730Write (aiming for 2000 words)

1930 – Game over.

Within those blocks of time I also have scheduled little reminders, little to-do’s along the lines of ‘Email Jim re: business cards’, ‘Hire gardener’, ‘Fix dodgy hinge on bedroom door’, ‘Call Sarah re: WHY WON’T YOU RETURN MY TIME-MANAGED LOVE!?’, and so on. Account for everything and remain accountable, disciplined, to yourself for completing these tasks. Don’t let them pile up, don’t let the trickle become a flood that sweeps you away from filling that blank page with uncut crystal word slush. Unless I’m being physically restrained (and even then…) or in an unexpected meeting or something, I’ll complete those little tasks as they arise, so help me God.

Now, at 1930 of an average evening I clock off and have some dinner. Even if I’ve only managed a handful of crappy words in the last two hours of my scheduled writing time, it’s time to relax and recharge on the slow wind down to bedtime. It’s scotch o’clock, ladies and gentlemen, and the scotching is good. The day may have been a failure writing-wise, but sitting there trying to force square-shaped words through circle-shaped holes is a fool’s game. And, indeed, a waste of time.

So from 1930 to 2300 I have time for anything that doesn’t actually work toward achieving my goals. Those goals broadly: write more novels/work toward financial freedom. All work and no play makes Joe a shitty writer. I recommend, if you can schedule it, to have your writing time earlier in the day before you have your block of free time. For me, at least, I enjoy the free hours far more knowing the day is behind me and that I don’t have a two-hour task coming up later in the evening.

Note: Some will look at my daily schedule and call it busy, while others will think I’ve got it easy. However you view my average daily breakdown, just know that either way there are days that I don’t stick to the plan, days where my apathy and keen sense of razor-sharp laziness overwhelm my discipline. The trick is to minimise those days as much as possible. Resist the resistance.

This writing game isn’t a sprint—it’s a marathon through thickets of adverbs and adjectives, over mountains of ill prepared prose and plot, while wading across rivers of doubt and failure. Chin up, yeah? That’s the fun part.


Now it’s all good and well having a vague and often fluid image of what you’re trying to achieve through better time management, but what’s your endgame? What are you striving toward? Do you even know? Does anyone?

There’s always time… until there isn’t. So pick a marker in the distance. It could be one year away or ten. Somewhere in between is nice – a five-year plan. What do you want to achieve by the time you reach this marker? I’m 25 heading toward 30. Whether I want them to or not, those five years between now and then are going to pass anyway. I want them to pass with purpose and resolve. I want to be goal-orientated and productive.

I want to be prepared and manage my time.

This is one of my tricks that doesn’t save you physical time like automating finances and groceries does, but it does provide clarity and sense of purpose, which empowers your writing and ties back to that numero uno tenet of effective time management:


A Summary of S(th)orts

Let’s review:

  • There’s always time. That time exists in preparation and prioritizing.
  • Automate, Automate, Automate. This part of the time management series explored cutting down time at the grocery store.
  • Organise your writing time as early in the day as possible, if you can. Time spent leading up to a task that you know will take some attention can often go to waste.
  • Try and create blocks of uninterrupted work. Group similar tasks.
  • Write in the time you have, be it half an hour a day or half a day! More work hours doesn’t necessarily mean greater productivity. Constraints on time do not have to be shackles!
  • Find a marker and set a goal.
  • Always prioritise.

Total Time Saved through Time-Management: 





Automating Finances

25 mins

1 hour, 40 mins

20 hours

Grocery Shopping Delivery

1 hour

4 hours

48 hours




Total Time Saved:

1 hour, 25 mins

5 hours, 40 mins

68 hours

Just under 3 days a year saved through proper preparation and time management. How often have you wanted a few extra vacation days or time to write? Well, there you go, you’re looking at them.

And just because it adds much needed perspective…

Time Saved Lifetime: 2.9 days x 60 = 174 days

How many first drafts could you write given six spare months? I’ll leave Part Two here, but fear not, I’ve plenty more tips coming up. Would you leave me a comment or shoot me an email with your tips and tricks? Or what you’ve found helpful/impractical so far?

Cheers, you time-engineers,


Time Management Tricks for the Time-Impaired Writer: Part One

Welcome to a new series of posts on this blog regarding an issue that lambasts writers like a horde of rampaging hooker-clocks on a street corner—finding the time to write!

I’m going to be covering a few tricks and tips over this series that I use to produce reams upon reams of pure, raw word slush. The good stuff, you know, that we can turn into proper story. Utilising these tips allowed me to write five novels since May of 2012, two of which are published, a third which won the Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize at the London Book Fair (due September 5th), and a fourth which should be released October. So let’s get underway with…


Preparation is Key

Success doesn’t favour the talented or even the lucky. Get that nonsense out of your head and focus on the key disciplines of the successful writer. Namely: preparation!

Thinking you’re going to be the next ‘overnight’ success and at the top of the NYT Bestseller list come Christmas is a fine thing to think. But it’s a thought full of hope and smoke, you know? I guarantee you that anyone who actually does make that list doesn’t consider it dumb luck or any amount of raw talent. I read a quote once, I forget where and to who it’s attributed, but it read along the lines of this: We compare our own lives to everyone else’s highlight reel. True, no?

What I’m getting at is we’re exposed to these overnight successes—books from first-time authors that sell a million+ copies in the first year, rocketing the author to superstardom and fame. But what we don’t see are the years of hard work the author spent in obscurity, learning the craft of storytelling and actually producing word slush. Sure there are outliers in any industry, but for the most part success comes from discipline, hard work, and time management.

Being prepared to undertake such stringent management of your goals, being prepared to suffer the discipline of carving out chunks of precious, precious amber writing time, is the only sure path on the road to success. You will wade in the river Failure at times, you will want to take shortcuts that end up costing more time in the long run, and you’ll want to be lazy. But wouldn’t you rather be successful?

Oh, and I’m not defining success here as the NYT Bestseller lists. Sure, that’s a measure, but not a fair one. Success here is a completed novel, thus propelling you beyond 99% of people who consider themselves writers. Small steps that begin with proper, prepared time management!

Trick #1: The Life Log – Or How I Learned to Embrace the Spreadsheet

How are you with Microsoft Excel? Passing knowledge? Hard to avoid the program, really, and you shouldn’t—Excel has become my number one tool for time management. If you’re a little fuzzy on how to use Excel, here’s a bunch of free online courses.

A few months ago I wrote a post about keeping a writing log. I’m writing a follow-up post to that soon on how I expanded the initial spreadsheet to capture data such as time spent writing, words p/hour, average words p/month, and so on. I still stand by that writing log. Monitoring my productivity showed me just how simple the writing process could be—if you’re prepared for it. Here’s a screenshot of my writing log now:

Writing Log Screen shot 2013-07-11 at 2.07.04 PMNote: my spreadsheet uses the Australian financial year, July to June, to work out averages and what not. So it’s not looking too flash so far this year because it’s only been keeping track of the last 11 days. And at the beginning of July I started a new job, which meant a few days in the red. Back on form now!

But anyway: monitoring productivity. For example, I know it took me only 75 hours to write the first draft of Broken Quill, which came out at 72,000 words. Just over three days, you say? Yep. I know – I monitored. Those 75 hours were spread over 46 days, and as you can tell, I averaged a little over a 1,000 words an hour and wrote for just over an hour and a half a day. A month and a half isn’t too shabby for a novel-length first draft. Then came rewrites and edits, of course, but with the bones of a story on the page, a finished skeleton, the rest is easy. Well, not so much easy as… less hard.

Since using a writing log I’ve expanded the idea into other areas of my life. Most notably: finances. I keep a similar log monitoring my income/expenses. With a fortnightly salary, this is fairly straightforward. If you’re on writer’s money, which is to say irregular and often disappointing, then it can be a little harder to monitor, as monthly income can vary. Use an average or find out from your publisher (easy for those using KDP), what to expect royalty-wise. Again, this is being prepared—the key tenet of time management.

Keeping a log makes sure I know where and when, precisely, my income comes from, and where it’s going, on every day of the month or year. Which leads me to my next trick…

Trick# 2: Automate, Automate, and Automate

If you’ve sat down and spreadsheet’ed your income/expenses, then the next step is to anticipate and actively eliminate the time and some of the worry involved in keeping your finances in order, thus freeing you from stress and affording you time to write. Use your online banking to automatically transfer funds to an account to cover monthly costs such as phone, internet, and rent. Bills that are unavoidable but usually the same amount every month.

You set up a transfer from your cash account, say on the 1st of every month, for the bills and transfer the full amount into whatever account (and you should have a specified one) the relevant organisations direct debit. You know how much to spend, what’s left, and can rest easy knowing that everything is paid on time, always, and that you only have to spend a few minutes every month ensuring those companies are charging you correctly. Being prepared like this removes stress, the nagging feeling of not having enough funds to pay the bills, and leaves you with extra time to write.

Moreover, set and anticipate future expenses. One of the bills that used to take me by surprise was the car registration every six months. Usually about $300 for my particular vehicle. I always had a vague idea that six months was nearly up and then, sure enough, bam! $300 please pay in 21 days, Mr. Ducie.

I grew tired of such expensive surprises. So for the last few registrations, I’ve automated $50 a month into a ‘future expenses’ online account. An account where I specifically transfer a portion of my monthly income to paying bills I do not expect to see for months or even a year. Some examples of the transfers I’ve got scheduled every month:

Emergency Fund: $150 p/month x 12 months = $1800 (everyone should build an emergency fund).

Car Rego: $50 x 6 months = $300

Insurance: $70 p/month x 12 months = $840 (this one is particularly good and let’s me pay the year’s insurance bill all in one hit. Bonus: most insurance companies offer a discount for paying annually instead of by the month)

So as you can see, the funds are there, money set aside from my income over an entire year for an expense that I knew was on its merry way. Sure I’m still spending $300 when the time comes, but this way I’m certain I’ll have the money, all my dollars and cents are accounted for and put to work, so when I pay the bill I do so feeling in control and (slightly less) resentful.

If you can afford it, the real trick would be to save double what was needed, that way you’re always a year ahead on anticipated or expected expenses. Think about it – a whole year without the stress of those bills that seem so far away and yet always arrive too soon.

Although this has very little to do with actual writing – indeed, next to nothing – your mood and desire to write will be impacted for the better by automation.

Trick #3: Carve Out a Slice of Writing Pie

Okay, so we’ve looked briefly at relieving financial stress in your day—an overview, which we’ll explore more in future posts—now let’s go writing-specific for this last trick of Part One!

You have 24 hours in your day. We all do.

How many of those hours do you spend writing? How many should you spend writing?

If you look at my writing log spreadsheet again, you’ll see chunks of red, yellow, and green. The column turns green if I write 2000+ words on any given day, yellow on days between 1000 – 2000, and red for anything under 1000 words. I consider writing a responsibility, a proper job, and one where I must perform. Less than a 1000 words to me is not performing in my role (your average in two hours may be more or less, to each their own) and I know once I get underway I can write on average 2000 words in 2 hours. Find your average, which if you’re keeping a writing log will be rather easy, and set traffic-light coded progress markers.

So of my pie cut into 24 slices, two of those slices are dedicated to writing. Preferably two in a row, as I get more done in one solid block than over say four half-hour sessions spaced throughout the day. Not to say you shouldn’t use a free half-hour. Indeed, that’s kind of the point.

Some quick calculations:

24 hours a day:

Work: 8 hours (average work day)

Travel time: 1 hour (varies, of course)

Writing: 2 hours

Sleep: 7 hours

Current total = 18 hours

That still leaves you 6 hours in the day for any other tasks. Kids to school and back home if you have them, meals, cleaning, laundry, bit of TV of an evening or a pint at the pub. You won’t be wasting time paying bills, will you, because they’re all automated now. Again, preparation and carving your pie into adequate and fair slices for the given task will increase productivity, guaranteed.

A Summary of Sorts

  • Success favours the prepared, so be prepared.
  • Monitoring your productivity can show where you can improve, what works, what doesn’t, and give a great sense of accomplishment.
  • Automate as much of your tasks as you can, particularly relating to finances. Not only will you see where your money is going, you can get ahead of the expenses and plan accordingly, leaving you stress-free during your writing time – then watch those royalty cheques begin to roll in!
  • Carve your day into manageable tasks and complete them in order of importance, not urgency.

So I’ll leave off here with Part One of this series.  Following posts will cover other aspects of time management, such as daily logs, budgeting every minute, make every minute count towards your future writing goals, write-smart, and a whole bunch more!

Now can you think of any others ways to automate your lifestyle? Increase productivity? What do you do to manage time? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or an email.