2016 was a crap sandwich for just about everyone and I’m no exception. It was a crazy stressful year full of unexpected changes and pressures and so much of the future is still uncertain. But while 2016 felt like a big fat fail as I was living it, it actually turned out to be a pretty darn good year for writing, oddly enough. Let’s take a closer look.
(Keep in mind that my Writing Year starts in December, ends in November.)
Here’s the numbers for 2016…
Goal for the Year
Total Words Written in 2016
765,239 (153% aka 265,239 over the original goal)
Average Words Per Day
Average words per month
Days out of the year I wrote
February with 39,128 words
I’m going to do a separate post comparing this to past years but I do want to point out that this is my highest word count year yet, topping last year’s record year. Writing 91% of the year also seems like it could also be my best but I only just started keeping records on that so I’ll have to go back and calculate past years to know for sure. Either way, for a self-confessed binge writer whose only focus is to write regularly but never sweats whether it’s every day or not, it’s nice to see that I am writing pretty darn close to all the time anyway.
**This was the first year I started doing monthly recaps so for more details on any of the below, you can see my whole writing year month by month here. **
- The Green Bird (Published by Playscripts, Inc)
- The Green Bird (one-act version) (Published by Playscripts, Inc)
- NaNo What Now? (Self-published)
- Three Padded Walls (Published by YouthPLAYS)
- Bullying, INK. (Anthology published by YouthPLAYS containing my play Masks)
- Masks (standalone version) (Published by YouthPLAYS)
- The Complete Novels of Jane Austen: Now New and Improved (Published by YouthPLAYS)
Also Out the Door (freelance stuff or plays currently available for productions but not yet published)
- The She Bear
- The Myrtle
- 18 freelance articles (16 for the same company other two were one offs)
Here, again, I haven’t been keeping great records on this so I don’t know for sure if this is a record number of things published and out the door for me in a single year or not, but it certainly seems to be off the top of my head. 2017 was absolutely a record for traditional deals, either way. It’s still endlessly weird to me that this year, when I felt like I was getting absolutely nothing done, was apparently so productive. I know I have the revelation that I cannot trust my brain about this stuff at least once a week but it doesn’t change the fact that I am so grateful to the numbers for reminding me that I am not the sloth-like Do Nothing writer I always feel like I am.
And, OF COURSE, I still feel like I should/could be doing more but I’m not sure I will ever NOT feel that way because I’m me. 🙂
Works in Progress this year
(Bold=Focused, Not bold=Free)
- The MG novel nicknamed WOC1 25%
- This Blog 13%
- Misc Plays 11% (includes Three Padded Walls, Masks & The Complete Novels of Jane Austen: Now New and Improved as well as other unfinished short plays)
- Journalling 10%
- Tale of Tales 8% (includes both the standalone Tales plays, such as The She Bear, Vardiello and The Myrtle, and the full length nicknamed 4th Orange
- The Green Bird 8% (includes both full length and one-act version)
- NaNoWriMo Stuff 6%
- Emails & Work For Others 5%
- NaNoWriMo Book 4% (This broad heading includes NaNo What Now? as well as several other NaNo related books in progress)
- Freelance Work 4%
- Self-Publishing a Stage Play 2%
- The Whine Seller 2%
- Fairy Tale Club 1%
- Mailing List & Marketing 1%
I started to write this list out from memory (before I realized, duh, DePiano, copy and paste from the spreadsheet) and I was not even remotely close about the breakdown of this year. While I knew the MG novel took up the majority of my time this year (which still gives me the sads because it’s not ready for primetime yet even after all that work), I was completely wrong about the rest of the list. The most noteworthy thing is that The Whine Seller is so far down after many years in the top 5. I took most of the year off from that blog to concentrate on other projects and haven’t had time to start it back up again.
It’s also funny to me that my freelance work was as far down on the list as it was considering all the time I spent whining about it. It was a personal goal of mine to increase the number of freelance assignments I did this year, just to diversify the portfolio a bit, and considering how little work it was for how much extra income, I should absolutely do it again, whining aside. Also the fact that the NaNoWriMo stuff I had to write (like emails to the region, pep talks, etc) took up 6% of my total writing for the year when the event is only 30 days long should give you an idea of just how much year round work it is being an ML.
While Tale of Tales is its own monster project that really needs to all be under one header because everything is so co-mingled, I do regret cramming all the short plays together. Those numbers are a mess of three plays that were ultimately published and a bunch of ideas/outlines/scraps and other rough notes and drafts for unfinished plays. The trick is, I don’t always know when a random scrap or idea will burst into a full fledge play, especially since short plays are, well, short and thus faster to finish, so it’s not always clear what should get it’s own column or not. I need to walk the fine line between being a column miser and not giving a half-baked idea as much space as a full one.
Relatedly, there were projects I optimistically gave a whole column on my spreadsheet that I never wrote a single word of. This was slightly soul crushing.
Free vs Focused
I started tracking free vs focused writing a few years ago because, the first few years I set a writing goal for the year, I got so focused on hitting the numbers that I didn’t notice until too late that I was favoring word count heavy and easy things like blog and journal entries over more important work like editing and finishing books and plays to get them out the door. While I truly believe there is no such thing as wasted writing, I did need to make better use of my time and direct my energy into projects that served a more direct financial purpose, especially as time became a premium when baby came (side note, baby is almost 4 years old how did THAT happen?).
While I used to have to really watch those percentages or I’d fall back into my old ways, I barely glance at them now. They served their purpose and I’ve retrained myself to work differently, though I still track them just in case I fall off the wagon. Originally, I used to aim for 75% Focused writing but I eased that back to 50% over time. This year 63% of my writing was focused.
Is it bad that this blog and journalling are as high up on this list as they are considering they aren’t what I’ve dubbed “focused writing”? I say no. I was really good this year about only writing useful posts on the blog (ie monthly recaps, marketing posts and writing articles instead of random incoherent rambles of interest to no one but me) and the journal has become very important to me as it’s the only way I can capture some of these amazing parenting moments before I forget them. Traffic to the blog is up overall which is probably some kind of good marketing thing and people have told me they like the monthly recaps (though I’d keep doing them even if no one liked them because they are super helpful to me) so there’s a benefit there even if isn’t as direct as working on a project that is destined for sale. Journal entries have also later informed or inspired focused writing but, more importantly, are great therapy and good for my mental health.
When you consider I’m still completing and publishing things regularly (and at a record rate this year) it’s a pretty good argument that whatever I’m doing ain’t broke!
Projects Day by Day
Here’s how work on those projects spread out over the year…
This one’s harder to make out even if you click and see the full length version but, to me, it tells two stories. The first is that, while I’ve been a little better at focusing on a single project, I’m still not a monogamous writer and project hopping all over the place is still how I roll. Almost every big chunk of a dedicated work on a project has another project bobbing in and out of it. I know there’s a school of thought that says you must stick with a single project until you finish it but that’s just not how I work.
To try to keep this chart simpler, I didn’t include Free writing which makes this graph tell another story by omission. Namely that, after the very busy summer when I got so many projects out the door, I retreated into mostly free writing. I did focused work in there, but the way those lines are spread out instead of clustered tightly the way they are the rest of chart, shows I really wasn’t all that focused in the autumn even though I was still writing a ton, mostly for NaNoWriMo . Ironic that NaNoWriMo, which is so productive for everyone else, takes so much time away from important writing for me. I suppose one could quibble that I should designate NaNoWriMo work as Focused, as it’s something I’m contractually obligated to do, and that’s something to consider for the future. The one piece of info I’m missing here, though, because I’ve never tracked this before, is whether the autumn and beyond is always less Focused for me or if this was just a weird year. Need to crunch some numbers and figure that out.
Here’s my total writing day by day:
(I need to redo the colors on this graph. My progress in black looks weird.)
This year was INSANE on a personal level, even without everything else happening in the world. It felt like I was never getting enough done. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was taking stock and looking at these numbers monthly, I would have ended the year in the fetal position sobbing about how I’m a worthless writer who never gets anything done. But because I’ve kept a close watch on my progress for the last 12 months, I know that’s not true.
This is probably some corollary of the writing advice that says the writing you do when you aren’t inspired will be just as good as the writing you do when you are. IE, that as long as you show up and do the work, even if everything else is exploding around you and it feels like you’re getting nothing done, you can still make the magic happen under duress. I am in no rush to repeat this year but it’s also very nice to know that, even far from ideal circumstances, I can still get this writing gig done.
It was also the year I leveled up and slay my own personal white whale of selling a fiction project on a pitch and then turning around and getting it done on super tight deadline, a thing I long feared I couldn’t do. While the process was horrible and nothing I’m in a rush to repeat, just knowing that I can do it if I need to is a really big thing for me and my writing going forward.
2016 Goals Revisited
In my 2015 Year in Review post, I laid out the following goals for myself in 2016:
- Develop a better work / life balance. Hahahahaha, no. This one did not even remotely happen, though I’m not sure it’s actually my fault since this year was so honking weird.
- Devote more time to refilling the tank (aka reading books, watching movies, etc). I only read 33 books last year and I’m already up to 47 this year with a week off to go so I’m checking it off!
- Teach myself how to write. Check…ish. I had a big revelation about my process last year when I was writing The Green Bird. Specifically, I finally figured out what I do differently when writing plays than I do writing fiction that makes one so much easier than the other and that was the level of planning I put into the project ahead of time. I spent a lot of time this year giving myself a DIY class in outlining and story structure for novels, reading books and doing exercises on the subject. While I still have a lot of learning ahead of me, I really do think I made some massive headway that will really help in the future. The ultimate aim of this is to better plan new projects and reduce the amount of rewriting I have to do afterwards which should help me get more things out the door faster and make better use of my limited writing time. So while this isn’t completed per say, because it’s an ongoing journey, it is something I made serious headway on this year.
Other goals I personally set, though I didn’t specifically list them in that post:
- Take on more freelance writing jobs. Hey, I totally did this one! Check!
- Pitch a project and then finish it within a tight deadline. Also check AF!
- Finish the MG novel, get it to beta readers and query it before the end of the year. This one is a sore subject. I really believe in this book and I spent so much time on it this year, many times at the expense of other projects that were probably of higher importance from a career standpoint, and it’s still not done. What makes that all the worse is that it will be a VERY long time before I have time to devote to it again and I’m terrified that will mean never getting back to it at all. I did finish several good versions of this book this year, but I knew they weren’t good enough for the next steps and kept having to start over.
In the end, I want this book done right more than I want it done. I tried to rush it and it wasn’t working so I need to let the process take as long as it takes. It’s almost there and will someday make a wonderful book but it’s hard to be patient when it’s taking so long and I’m running out of time to devote to it.
- Have 4th Orange available for productions by summer. I let go of this goal over the summer because I thought I was so close to finishing the MG novel and wanted to finish that one more, which feels like a mistake in hindsight. I also had a bunch of unexpected opportunities pop up over the summer that took precedence and they were worth going for. But unlike with the MG novel, I’m not bummed about this one because it’s mostly together and I should be able to finish it as soon as I have some time. Not to mention that this isn’t really one project so much as it is a dozen projects slammed together so it’ll be worth the wait when I can dump a ton of plays into the world all in one fell swoop.
Survive. No, really. Between the move and other huge life changes happening in 2017, next year will most resemble 2013, my infamous lowest word count year since I started keeping track. 2013 was the year after my daughter was born and so many friends told me it was sooooo eeeeeasy to work from home with a newborn (spoiler alert: they were filthy liars) that I went into that year with unrealistic expectations of how much I could get done. This lead to feeling discouraged and frustrated (If they found it so easy to work with a newborn what was wrong with me? Why did their babies sleep all the time and mine never did? Why am I such a failure at life?) until the point where I got nothing done.
This time, I’m going in knowing it will be a miracle if I get anything done and resolving to be zen about that. Whatever gets done will get done and that’s just fine with me. I’m setting a goal of 200,000 words for the year, which works out to about 550 a day, just to keep the pen moving but the pressure is off beyond that. My only worry about this plan is that my career is in a different place now than it was in 2013 and opportunities and deadlines might pop up that I really can’t say no to, but I’ll cross those bridges as I get to them.
The only real project goal I feel comfortable setting is that I really do want to get 4th Orange out the door next year, which should in theory be feasible even with everything else because I’m in the final stretch right now. It would also be nice to finalize the timeline, outline and way forward for the next and (please, Lord) final draft of the MG novel but that’s not my main focus.
Is it sort of sad that I’m following up my biggest word count year ever with one of my lowest goals ever? Sort of. But part of the reason I worked so hard this year was to give myself a cushion of finished projects so I can coast next year so it feels alright.
Stop comparing apples to carrots. While I’m not one to get jealous of my success my writer friends have had, I do get super envious of their productivity. I’ll beat myself up for only finishing one play this month while this lady I know got five done… even though I know she has 8 guaranteed uninterrupted hours of writing time a day and all I have is the 1-3 hours I can steal here and there around other life chaos. This friend of mine finished his novel revision in 2 months instead of the years it takes me and even though I know he’s got more working hours and writing experience under his belt, I’ll get in a funk about it.
I fall into this trap because I do get a lot done and sometimes it feels like I’m on pace with someone who works full time but it’s neither productive nor healthy to compare the output of a full time writer with what I manage to get done in the part time. Next year is about celebrating what I manage to accomplish in the life I am living and not getting upset that I’m not magically matching someone in a completely different schedule or phase of their career. It’s impatience and it’s silly.
And, if there’s one thing this long ass post shows, it’s that I AM still getting it done and making it happen with the time I do have and that’s something to be proud of.
So while I’m not exactly glad to see the end of 2016, as I’m concerned 2017 will be worse (on a national level at least), it is at least a year I can walk away from with pride and know I’ve made some real progress for the future, even if the immediate future means doing less to allow for more later.