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Happy Birthday to Me... Again
Welcome back to my traditional birthday post where I retrospect on the prior year and set goals for the upcoming year! It's only the second year I've done this, so it's not much of a tradition. Not yet. But hey, all traditions have to start sometime, eh?
Just like last year, I'll give you all the data about how I spent my time, complete with pivot tables breaking things down to the tenth of an hour because I am a madman who loves Excel. And how often does a writer get to use pivot tables? Come on, I'll take any excuse I can get!
To recap, last year's goals were:
- Publish An Ocean of Others
- Reach 50 newsletter subscribers
- Start publishing a serial on this site
I failed the first two of these three goals, and we'll dig into the lessons learned later on in the post. First, a data dump to see how I spent my time. If the nitty gritty doesn't interest you, I put the TL;DR section up front so you can catch the highlights then skip to the next section, Lessons Learned.
- June 2021 - July 2021: Began outline for Grave of the Waiting and 3.0 of An Ocean of Others.
- August 2021 - September 2021: Finished 3.0 of An Ocean of Others.
- October 2021: Finished outline for Grave of the Waiting.
- November 2021: Began drafting Grave of the Waiting.
- December 2021 - January 2022: Finished 4.0, 5.0, and 6.0 of An Ocean of Others.
- February 2022: Continued drafting Grave of the Waiting.
- March 2022 - May 2022: Writing, revising, and releasing chapters of Grave of the Waiting.
Year 30 Data
Luckily, unlike last year, there's no inexplicable chunk of time missing from my logs. I've been very disciplined about keeping these logs accurate, because they're the only quantifiable way to track my career as a writer so far. Eventually, I'll have better metrics such as book sales and Kindle page reads. You know, little things like that. But for now, this is what I've got. Let's see how my data stacks up against last year's.
This year, all of my new writing was for Grave of the Waiting. I wrote a total of 59,931 words in ~81 hours, spread over 52 separate days. My average rate was 771.8 words per hour.
Apart from the average hourly rate, everything was a pretty significant decrease from the last year. However, it's due to so much of my time being spent on revisions of An Ocean of Others. Those were coded as Editing work:
From June 2021 through Jan 2022, I was focused on the revisions of An Ocean of Others. I completed the 3.0 draft in September, the 4.0 in December, and the 5.0 and 6.0 in January. Revisions from February 2022 to May 2022 were for Grave of the Waiting.
Unlike my Writing time, my Editing time saw big upticks across the board this year. That's what happens when you've got to finish a book, I suppose. Moving on to outlining:
All of this was spent on the outline for Grave of the Waiting. In June 2021, after returning from vacation and deciding I really did want to publish it as a serial, I alternated my days between writing the outline and revising An Ocean of Others. I hated doing that – it felt like I couldn't focus on either one, but more importantly, it slowed down the 3.0 draft way too much. I put the outline down until October 2021, when I could finish it up, apart from some minor changes I made in December.
I've talked about how I fall pretty heavily on the outliner side of the continuum (side note: holy crap, that was over a year ago!? Before I started doing monthly newsletters even... Where has the time gone?), but the truth is... I really don't like outlining. I always feel very unmotivated during the days I have to outline.
52 days spent, but only 42 hours in Year 30. 32 days and 32 hours in Year 31. That's an average of an hour per day or less. To be fair, it's not much worse than my average of ~1.5 hours per day when writing or editing, but still! It's 50% worse.
At least my hourly rate has massively improved this year. It helped that I gave myself a goal to finish the Grave of the Waiting outline in a month so I could move on to the 4.0 draft of An Ocean of Others. Monthly deadlines work for me. Good to know.
The last category of data I looked at last year was for time spent working on content for the website (these yearly posts are excluded for simplicity's sake, as is the serial).
Until June 2021, I was doing something akin to weekly posts. I cut that down to monthly newsletters. So, while these numbers actually look similar from year to year, keep in mind those Year 30 numbers only came from three months. In three months, I did nearly as much work for the website as I did in the entire previous year. Safe to say it was the right call to cut back so I could focus on writing my stories.
But... and this is a big but... I also added four more work codes:
- L(abor) for miscellaneous work done for the business.
- G(roup) work for time spent working with my writing group.
- V(ideo) for time spent working on YouTube or other video content.
- A(udiobook) for time spent recording audiobooks.
Let's quickly look at how much time I'm spending here, because my hunch is that I'm going to have to make some changes to accommodate this year's new goals.
When I say "miscellaneous work", I mean things like emailing freelancers, taking care of financials, doing marketing such as creating graphics, and setting up distribution of the serial on this site and my books on Amazon. I feel like it shouldn't take me over an hour to send a single email to an editor or cover artist, but the fact that it does means it's a good idea for me to track this time. Nothing I can do to change it though, it just pops up and needs handling.
In the past year, I joined an amazing writing group. Seriously, every writer in the group is super talented and brings a unique perspective to their critiques. And I'm not just saying that because they read my newsletters! 😉 I learn so much from them, whether I'm critiquing their work or they're critiquing mine. This looks like a lot of time, but I consider it professional development. It cuts into my writing time a bit, but I'm confident it makes my writing much stronger, so it's worth it. Plus, friendship! That's cool too, I guess. Or are writers supposed to be reclusive hermits? I'll have to check my notes on that one...
In case you didn't know, I have a YouTube channel. I started in February with weekly update videos, then missed a couple weeks and cut back to biweekly videos. I'm basically just using YouTube as a way to update everyone on my Writing Sprints, which are two-week periods in which I've been setting goals to write and revise Grave of the Waiting. They really don't take too much of my time, but if I need to free up a few more hours, these might become month long sprints. Time will tell.
Finally, we come to my time spent on both the Grave of the Waiting and An Ocean of Others audiobook. Ah... I do love recording these. I've sung the praises of an author recording their own audiobook a number of times. There are lots of benefits, but sadly I think they're outweighed by the time commitment it demands. Each chapter of Grave of the Waiting takes two or three days of my writing time, averaging about 4.5 to 5 hours each. Between that, writing new chapters for Grave, and revising in time for each month's release, I haven't had any time to record the An Ocean of Others audiobook.
In order to accomplish this year's goals, I need to free up some hours for some good, old-fashioned writing. So, even though only 5 chapters of Grave of the Waiting are recorded, I'm calling it quits on the audiobook. After the serial is done and I release it as a standalone book, I'll think about hiring someone to take it over. It's better this way – even if I gave it my all, it still wouldn't be as polished as a professional audiobook narrator's performance. Best to leave it to the experts.
All right, we're getting to the end of the data dump, I promise! Just a few more things to cover. First, the total words written per month across all categories.
I think this is my most important yearly metric. If I'm going to call myself a writer, I'm going to have to write, God help me. Total words written includes some words that have come about during edits (though for some revisions I don't track words, like the 4.0, 5.0, and 6.0 in Dec. and Jan.), but most of these words are newly minted chapters. First drafts, fresh off the presses. The more of those I'm pumping out, the more books I'm releasing, the more successful I am as a writer – presumably I'm following through on those first drafts and getting them ready for publication. Crazy talk, I know.
So how does this year's number stack up against last year's?
Slightly worse, which I don't like to see, but since so much of the year was spent on revisions of an already completed book, it's no surprise. Good old NaNoWriMo saves the day again, giving me a 30k boost, just like last year. Where would I be without you, my fair NaNo?
Apart from that metric, here's another that for some reason I didn't include last year.
I've included both the number of days and total hours in my time metric. Note that although it says Days Spent is 334, it's only counting the number of unique entries in my spreadsheet, which sometimes includes two or three different tasks on a single day. I manually removed those and found the real Days Spent is 261.
Fun fact, 261 / 365 equals 0.715, while 5 / 7 equals 0.714. So, it's as if I worked every single weekday on a writing project. I feel like that's a pretty healthy spot to be. Consistent, but not overworked.
Here's how these metrics stack up against last year's:
Virtually the same Days Spent, but a good chunk more hours than last year. This tells me I'm spending longer on average per writing session, which is good. Longer sessions are more productive because they give me time to get into the flow.
I definitely want to improve the number of words I've written this year, which will be reflected in Year 31's goals. All in all, however, I think these metrics are pretty solid. Despite that, I did fail two of my three goals this year. Let's dive into that next.
Goal 1: Publish An Ocean of Others – FAILED
This was my primary goal for the previous year, but looking back, I think I set myself up for failure almost right away. I had a specific cover illustrator in mind to do the artwork for the book, and I contacted him in September 2021 asking if he'd be available to do artwork in April 2022. We agreed on that, but because Felix is awesome, he actually delivered the final files in March, a month ahead of schedule.
However, I was completely unaware how long the process of cover illustration, then cover design, and all the rest actually takes. Thinking I could get it done in 2-3 months was unrealistic. For my next book, I need to make sure I give myself at least a 6-month runway, and coordinate with the artists much sooner to make sure that everyone's schedule lines up.
Other than that, I don't think I made too many other mistakes with the book. I got through the final revision in January 2022, which would have left me plenty of time to get ready for a May or June release if I hadn't borked up the rest. Ultimately, this failure just comes down to this being my first book and not knowing enough about the whole process, from writing to publication and all the steps along the way.
Future releases will hopefully be much smoother now that I know what kind of timelines to expect. And it's not all bad – despite pushing back the release by 3 months, almost everything is ready to go now. I've got my orders in for paperback proofs from Amazon, and the eBook is up for pre-order today. Now I've got until September to focus on marketing and building interest in the book ahead of its release, and that's a whole new set of challenges!
Goal 2: Reach 50 mailing list subscribers – FAILED
Okay, to be honest, I'm a bit stumped on this one. I said this in last year's post:
I'm convinced that in order for a self-published author's book to do well, they need to have some sort of online following before the book is published.
In some intrinsic sense this must be true. No book is going to sell well if no one knows the book exists. But I think it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. An online following is necessary for a book to sell really well, but people won't follow you if they aren't interested in your writing. The only way for them to know if they're interested in your writing is to read it (duh!). So, to generate an online following, you need to release good books first... which is a dilemma given what I wrote last year.
At this point, all I can do is make sure the release of An Ocean of Others is as successful as possible, to attack this problem from the other angle. The chicken, rather than the egg.
It wasn't a total failure, by the way. When I posted last year, I only have 6 followers. Now, we're up to a solid 23. It's a start!
Goal 3: Begin publishing a serial on the website – SUCCEEDED
Hey, we did it! A successful goal! Woohoo!
My rationales for setting this goal were 1) to challenge myself to make sure 1st drafts are near-publishable so I can release them at a rapid pace, 2) to publish something on the website more broadly enjoyable than niche essays, and 3) to entice a few more people to join the mailing list.
For #1, Comparing my first draft of An Ocean of Others to my first draft of Grave of the Waiting (so far), well, there really isn't a comparison, to be honest. Grave's chapters are so much more polished than Ocean's, it's insane. I clearly had no idea what I was doing when I first started writing, but I think I've been improving greatly. Of course, there's always a long way to go. The journey never ends.
For #2 and #3, I've gotten feedback that people are enjoyable the chapters. I've never gotten any feedback about the essays I published in 2021, so I'll take that as solid evidence that I've accomplished what I set out to do. 😛
Anyway, I absolutely love this story and can't wait to keep telling it. That's why...
Year 31 Goals
Goal 1 – Finish the first draft of Grave of the Waiting
My primary goal this year is to finish drafting every chapter of the sci-fi horror. Right now, I've got 18 chapters and an epilogue left to go, which I estimate will be 77k words if they're consistent with my current chapter lengths. Since I'm cutting out my audiobook time, I should be able to get through 3-4 chapters per month and finish this before the year is out.
Goal 2 – Finish the first draft of the Second Dance of the Sibling Suns
After Grave is fully drafted, my focus will shift to the sequel to An Ocean of Others. I don't want to wait too long between releases, so I need to get started on this ASAP. I've already got the outline done and I have a really good idea of how this story starts, so as soon as it's time to work on it, I'll be off to the races.
Still, this is going to be a challenge. I estimate this book will be around 120k words, so if I have half a year to do this (assuming I finish Grave in December), I'll need to maintain a pace of 20k words per month. This is on top of still needing to edit and release serial chapters.
As I said above, I'm really trying to push myself to write more this year, so I set these goals with that in mind. I'm limiting it to just 2 goals this year instead of 3, because these alone will require me to write almost 200k words this year. I'm no Brandon Sanderson or Ryan Cahill, so it'll be a stretch, but one I think I'm capable of achieving.
All right, this post has gotten very long. Apologies! Year 30 has been a crazy one, a year in which I've gotten engaged, moved in with my fiancée, bought a house, and more. Will Year 31 be as exciting as the last?
Thanks, Magic 8 Ball!
I'll be back with another update next month, updating you on the first of three months I have to market An Ocean of Others. See you then, and as always, thanks for reading!