NaNo What Now?

Finding your editing process, revising your NaNoWriMo book and building a writing career through publishing and beyond

Building a Writing Life

start a writing habit, find time to write, discover your process and commit to your writing dreams Non-Fiction

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a pretty terrible concept of time. I talked at length in this post about how having a poor sense of time can be damaging to your self-worth and harmful to your productivity. To combat those issues and more, this year I started a Project Timeline to track my writing projects and I plan to revamp and expand that in the new year using Aeon Timeline. But I thought it also might be nice to start doing a monthly debrief of my writing life not only to keep myself focused and on track, but for the benefit of other writers.

Increasingly, I keep realizing that the very posts I used to stop myself from writing, about my personal writing insecurities and flailing or updates on my yearly word count goals, are the ones that other writers find the most helpful. Advice on writing is a dime a dozen but what you don’t see as often is other writers just being REAL and laying out exactly what they are doing so you can compare and learn from it.  I used to shy away from total transparency because I thought I wasn’t a very good example because I’m not exactly Stephen King, but what I’ve come to realize is that’s exactly why I should be sharing. Just knowing how other writers work can be so helpful and informative even if… maybe especially if… that writer is more like you and still figuring all this out as opposed to that woman on the NYT bestseller list.

So, while I plan to start doing these monthly (or semi monthly) in 2016, here’s a big fat debrief of what Hillary DePiano’s writing life looked like in 2015.

2015 writing goals chart

Writing Goal for the year (my writing year starts in December so these numbers are technically for December 2014-November 2015)

  • Writing Goal for the year: 500,000 words
  • What I actually wrote this year: 673,068 words (131,972 over target)
  • Average words per day: 1,844 words
  • Average words per month: 56,089 words
  • Biggest Month: November with 117,831 words (Thanks, NaNoWriMo!)
  • Days out of the year I wrote: 317 (87%)

This is the first year I can honestly say that I never fell off the wagon. Even my lowest month was still over 35k words and I never really felt like I took more than a few days off at a time from writing which is great! Still, I only wrote 87% of the days this year so I’m still not writing every day but clearly getting stuff done anyway. If you’re curious to see how 2015 compares to past years, I covered that over here but the headline is that it’s my wordiest year ever.

But my real focus over the last few years was to worry less about the numbers and more on getting projects done and selling. To that end, here’s the big projects I started this year (with the dates for the ones I remembered to note).

Projects started

  1. 01-04-2015 Finished 1st Draft of Polar Twilight as a Middle Grade Novel (what would eventually be nicknamed WOC2 when I realized I was starting the story way too late)
  2. 01-18-2015  Started revising Weak Days (original draft was written years ago in a class)
  3. 02-19-2015 Finished 1st draft of total rewrite of Mistress Novel with new plot & second POV
  4. 02-24-2015 Finished 1st draft of eBay Marketing Makeover 
  5. 02-25-2015 Started second eBay marketing book
  6. 03-06-2015 Finished 1st draft of children’s book, outlined a second somewhat similar book, possibly sequel
  7. 03-11-2015 Finished rewrite of Three Padded Walls (first version was from high school)
  8. 05-17-2015 Started adapting The Green Bird
  9. Forgot to write down the dates but wrote the first draft of two fairy tale plays in June to August on a break from Green Bird including: Goosed and
  10. Pintosmalto (This title will almost certainly change.)
  11. Somewhere in here I also started a NaNoWriMo book and never noted the date
  12. 09-08-2015 The Fourth Orange finished first draft
  13. 10-03-2015 She-Bear finished first draft
  14. 11-01-2015 Started First draft of WOC1

While there are a few other scraps of ideas and a very messy first draft of another play about watermelon in there somewhere, these are the big things I started this year. It may seem like a lot but, looking at past years, the fact I kept myself to so few this year really shows better focus than I had in the past. And, with the exception of the second eBay Marketing book, which I suspended production on deliberately, I did completely finish at least one draft of every project I started which I never did in past years.

But starting things has never been an issue for me so what did I actually get out the door this year?

Projects out the door

  1. eBay Marketing Makeover
  2. Weak Days
  3. Three Padded Walls
  4. The Green Bird <-definitely the biggest project of the year
  5. Goosed

Five projects out of fourteen started is 35% but there’s no good way to measure this numerically because a short play like Three Padded Walls was obviously much less work than a huge research project like The Green Bird or a big book like eMM. I was actually on track to release another play into the wild today to bring me up to 6 but then life got in the way. While it steams me not to have one more to add to that list, I’m pretty darn happy with what I got done this year. Sure, it would have been nice to get another couple of plays out the door or to have finished the NaNoWriMo book for December, but The Green Bird was a Big Fat Hairy Deal not only because it took a long time of research and rewriting but also because it was a decade plus in the making and is poised to maybe have the same kind of success that The Love of Three Oranges did for me (fingers crossed, anyway!). It’s hard to judge the effect of any project on your future writing career but I know the ripples of that project are only beginning.

Similarly, though I only got one of the Tale of Tales plays out the door, I devoted hours of work to that project as a whole this year and most of the pieces are incredibly close to done (it will likely end up being just under 10 plays, which is insane when you think about it). While my instincts may be terrible, I have a very good feeling about all of that project and I think the time spent on that will also reverberate in big ways in the future.


Speaking of plays, I had 31 paying productions this year and, while Three Oranges was the majority of them as always, 45% were other plays which is absolutely something as that’s never been the case before. I owe you all a post about how 2015 is the year I stopped half-assing being a playwright and, dang, has it made a difference… but not in the ways I thought it would. In fact, I’m thinking of started a blog series next year called Whole Ass Playwriting and start actually talking about that side of my writing as much as I do the rest. 

Percentage Based Goals

Regular readers know I’ve used percentage based goals to track my writing goals in the past but, while I intend to keep tracking Free writing, such as journal entries and blog posts, versus Focused writing, which is work I’m looking to sell in some form or another, I’m going to do away with the genre goals in 2016. The reason is simply that there was a big shift in my career this year and suddenly which writing was profitable switched around to where I realized I had the luxury of following my passion, ie what I felt like working on, versus things I was forcing myself to work on. In the end, the goals were just there to guide me on what to work on next but I’ve learned new strategies for doing that to where I don’t really need to go by the numbers anymore.

This isn’t to say I won’t return to the percentage goals in the future but, for now, other than generally making sure at least 50% or more of my writing is Focused instead of Free, I’m going to stop tracking these.

Here’s where I was for the whole year:

Fiction 60%
Non-Fiction 40%
All Focused 72%
Free 28%
Prose 51%
Non-fiction 16%
Playwriting 32%

And here’s what it looked like month to month:

Month Prose Play NF Free
December 54% 4% 7% 35%
January 39% 29% 16% 16%
February 61% 1% 16% 21%
March 66% 4% 10% 21%
April 67% 4% 5% 23%
May 13% 52% 10% 26%
June 11% 52% 11% 25%
July 2% 47% 17% 34%
August 2% 52% 19% 27%
September 17% 35% 1% 47%
October 6% 44% 0% 50%
November 50% 4% 18% 27%


“I should game-ify my leisure time,” is a real thing I said recently because I’m still really bad at knowing when to take breaks and making sure I refill the tank by reading books, watching movies, etc. I’m still using every second of my free time (aka non-toddler wrangling time) to work and it takes its toll. When you don’t have much time to yourself to begin with (I’m up to about 1-3 hours a day IF she naps and IF my husband gets home to do bedtime for me), it’s hard to allocate it between work and fun and I almost always choose work because it won’t get done otherwise. As much as I accomplished above, even going above my writing goal by a lot, I still always feel behind and like I’m not doing enough. It’s dumb, it’s something I talk about every year and I still don’t have a solution to that. So, in the future, I want to force myself to worry less about the final word count and take more time off to do things like read. Not sure how I’m going to pull that off, mind you, but there we are.

That said, something clicked this year big time and I feel like I’ve leveled up in a way I never have before. For starters, I figured out how to take advantage of that sweet spot between what I want to write and what people want me to write and it really gave me a plan going forward of how to manage my career. This year was about setting up the foundation for future payoffs and has made me not only excited about the future instead of uncertain, it’s also given me a shot of confidence I never had before. If you just started from the assumption that you are a good writer, if you took all that doubt off the table about your skill, what would you write? That’s where I am at the end of this year and it’s a very exciting place to be.

This was also the year of taking greater risks and being more aggressive. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and still not second nature but I’m slowly learning how to break free from a lifetime of conditioning. I have no idea if it’s making a difference but it feels like it is and, more importantly, it feels WAY better than being passive and meek and everything we’re taught as girls to be so it’s worth it for that alone.

But, perhaps most importantly, 2015 is the year when I learned the most about writing and I owe it all to The Green Bird. Something about writing that play taught me not just how to write but, more importantly, how *I* write, something I’ve never properly had a handle on before. It allowed me to write first drafts that were leagues better than in past years and thus required less revision so I could get them out the door sooner. And while I’m not fool enough to think I know everything now, I do have a much better strategy going forward and I’m hoping it will mean better things.

In short, 2015 is the year where I stopped feeling like I was flailing around uselessly and not making any headway on this stupid writing career and when I started to just get excited about what I was going to do. And now I’ve just got to do it…


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About the Author

Hillary DePiano is a playwright, fiction and non-fiction writer who loves writing of all kinds except for writing bios like this.


Books and Plays by Hillary DePiano


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