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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Writers Who Don’t Track History Are Doomed…


history-doomed-to-repeat-2-winston-churchill-quoteOkay “doomed” might be hyperbole, but ignoring historical tracking data impairs your ability to correct what’s not working and reinforce what does work for you as a writer.

Tracking your Product Time not only keeps you on-track this week and this month, it gives you the long view you need to identify patterns and trends in your writing practice.

Every couple of months it pays to look back and consider:

  • Is it harder for you to show up on particular days of the week?
  • Are there days of the week when it’s easier to show up?
  • What times of day are your most productive?
  • In what stages of the creative process are you more likely to meet your targets? Are there stages you typically struggle with?
  • Are you more likely to meet your targets on some types of projects or tasks? Are there types of projects/tasks you struggle with?
  • Every writer faces resistance; how have you experienced resistance in the past two months? Do you delay getting started when you say you will? Do you distract yourself and pop out of the chair before you plan to? Are you spending more time than truly necessary for one stage of the creative process to avoid another stage?

neverendingMy History with the Never-ending Chapter 63

In a co-coaching call about a month ago, I told Laura, a friend and fellow novelist, that I felt uneasy about how long I was spending on one chapter. A couple of good coaching questions later and an honest look at my Product Time Tracking Table, I realized I wasn’t stuck, procrastinating or buried in perfectionism. I was making progress, even though it seemed glaciers moved faster than I was.

Laura helped me see that I needed to highlight that my POV character’s struggle in Chapter 63 is caused by a mistake she makes in Chapter 61.

I finally finished Chapter 63 this week. It’s been seven weeks since I started revising it. Seven weeks revising one chapter would be depressing if I didn’t have my coach and the tracking data to reassure me. I can look back and see what I’d been doing for seven weeks.

My notes about what I did during Product Time each day shows how changes in Chapter 63 rippled both forward and backward, requiring changes in other chapters. The tracking data tells me exactly how many hours I worked on each chapter.

Tracking also details the time I invested in research and when. I’m confident I wasn’t procrastinating because the research was spread throughout the seven weeks and focused on multiple topics relevant to the chapter: rappelling, geology, rivers, whitewater rafting, whitewater rafting at night, night vision goggles vs. thermal binoculars, laser weapons, particle weapons, hovercraft, and how to write an effective battle scene.

writer-workingThe tracking table shows when I split and rearranged chapters in the last quarter of the novel, which will make this draft more powerful.

It reminds me that I wrote several different openings to Chapter 63. While only one of those openings made the final cut, I needed to write them all. I needed to discover what happened offstage so I could write the pages that are in the final version.

The tracking data makes it clear I need to revise my target dates. Instead of completing this revised draft by the end of 2016, it’s more realistic to shoot for the end of February 2017. More importantly, the history shows me why this isn’t “bad news” or a sign that I’m slacking off or doing something wrong.

Revising is not a straight-forward, consistent, connect-the-dots process. Some parts take f-o-r-e-v-e-r-r-r.

Tracking keeps you motivated, rewarded and armed with the information you need to stay on-track through every writing stage in all your drafts.

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2 Comments on “Writers Who Don’t Track History Are Doomed…”

  1. kperrymn December 16, 2016 at 4:36 pm #

    I’m interested to take a closer look at my tracking info to see what I might learn. I’ve developed the habit of tracking–now I want to do some analysis. Thanks for the example of the never-ending chapter 63!

    Like

    • rosannebane December 21, 2016 at 2:23 pm #

      Hi Katy, let me know what you find when you analyze your tracking info. I’m glad the example of chapter 63 helped.

      Like

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