Productivity: Checking in with 2016

Some of you may remember that at this time last year, I created a new work schedule to boost my productivity. So, how did it go? Let’s look at the numbers and find out.

I had some hope of hitting 500,000 words this year, but I fell short. My grand total was 417,914. Not bad at all. Now, I didn’t write all those words from scratch—those are how many words passed through my brain in some form or another this year.

I break my word count into 3 categories: Drafting (words from scratch), Revise/Rewrite (major reworking of already existing words), and Copyedit/Polish (nitty-gritty editing in the final stage of writing). The breakdown looked like this:

Productivity word count breakdown

Not surprisingly, the Drafting was the lowest number (25.3%) since it takes the most time and effort. Revision/Rewrite (also a lot of thinking involved) came in at 27.1%. Copyediting/Proofreading (when the manuscript should be fairly clean) topped out at 47.5%.

Here’s what my monthly word totals came to:

Productivity word count monthly break down

You may recall that in August I bemoaned the low total for July. So you are probably wondering if I also lost my mind when I saw the abysmal 8,586 for December. No, I did not.

Part of my reason for not getting down on myself for December’s low productivity is that I had adjusted my expectations. The Thanksgiving-New Year’s timeframe is always a very hectic time, with lots of traveling, visiting, and special events to attend. Even hitting my monthly average of 35,000 words would have been unrealistic.

The other reason the number didn’t upset me was because I had a very important project that I simply could not quantify via word count. I finished a new book with my co-authors, and by December it was ready to be sent to agents. So I spent a great deal of time in December researching agents. Once I compiled a list of 50, I put together the query letters and their accompanying pages/synopses.

So, I begin 2017 content that my work schedule has increased my productivity, and hopeful that the queries I send out in January will move my career ahead by getting me an agent.

Have you re-evaluated your current work routine? Is it still working for you? Will you be making changes in 2017?


The Best of The Goose’s Quill 2016

As 2016 winds to a close, I take a look back and see what Goose’s Quill posts resonated with my readers the most. I often get surprised! Here are the top 20 of the year:

  1. Productivity and Expectations
  1. A Clean-Out Vacation
  1. Summer Slump: Is it September Yet?
  1. Gans Family Reunion 2016: Blood is Thicker than Water
  1. Beta Readers: A Vital Part of the Process
  1. Trans-Siberian Orchestra
  1. The Best of the Goose’s Quill 2015
  1. Research and Citations: Save Time, Get it Right from the Start
  1. The Dread Synopsis
  1. Book Launch! But What to Read?
  1. Critique Groups: A Resource Worth Having
  1. Book Fair Magic: Casting a Reading Spell
  1. Evolution of a Speaker: From Wrecked to Relaxed
  1. A Successful, Grateful Book Launch for The Witch of Zal
  1. My First Author Panel: The Student Becomes the Teacher
  1. Learning to Excel: Spreadsheets and Writing
  1. How To Cope With Book Launch Anxiety
  1. My Biggest Takeaway: 2016 Philadelphia Writer’s Conference
  1. Musings on Grief and Comfort

And my #1 read post of 2016:

  1. The Witch of Zal Book Trailer

Thank you everyone for reading The Goose’s Quill! Have a safe and Happy New Year, and I will see you in 2017!

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Beating the Frustration of Great Expectations

Sometimes Life just doesn’t conform to our expectations. As John Lennon famously sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” We expect things to go one way, and they turn down a road that isn’t even on your GPS.

I’ve been having one of those “off-roading” months (which may explain the quiet but insistent voice that keeps saying, “Turn around immediately”). Life has been getting in the way of my writing. My 21-month-old demands a great deal of my attention, plus we are in the process of moving. And then there are the million other things on the To-Do list (which never gets shorter, somehow).

I made the choices that have put me in this position, of course. And although I do not regret those choices, I do sometimes regret the loss of time those choices have forced upon me. Note I said “regret” and not “resent.” Resentment is a destructive emotion, robbing you of the ability to enjoy any part of your life. But even when you love the life you have (as I do), you can still be frustrated when trying to balance your expectations with reality.

When I don’t get as much writing done as I expected, frustration grabs me and I wonder what is wrong with me that I can’t find time to write more. I mean, you hear about these moms who raise twenty kids and cook all the meals from scratch and have pristine houses and still find time to run a successful business out of their home. Why am I not one of those? Am I not efficient enough? Do I not have a strong enough work ethic? Do I sleep too much?

No matter how many times I look at my schedule, I cannot squeeze more time out of it. I am highly efficient in that I get everything done that NEEDS to be done. I have a very strong work ethic, judging by the fact that I sleep much less than I should in order to get done all I need to get done. And still I feel like I am stuck in that dream where you run as fast as you can but don’t move. I am putting out fires in my writing, but don’t feel that I am moving forward as a whole—at least, not as quickly as I would like.

So (other than cloning myself), what’s the answer? Do I need to lower my expectations? Am I expecting too much of myself? Probably—I have a habit of setting the bar pretty high. But as an unpublished writer, I am the only one who DOES expect anything from me. I do not have editors and agents pushing me for deadlines. So without my own high expectations, it would be easy to slack off to the point of stopping altogether. To do it when the baby’s older, when we are not moving, when summer craziness is not a factor.

But the truth is, there is always SOMETHING. Life will always get in the way. A friend once told me that there was no perfect time to have a child, and if you waited for that perfect time, you never would have children. Writing is like that, too. There is never going to be a perfect time to write. So I just write.

I write (and accept) my less-than-utopian daily word count knowing that someday I will have more time again. That someday we will have completed this seemingly unending moving process and be in the new house. That someday my child will go to school and I can work during the day. And that when that day comes, I will miss the hours spent with my child and being the central figure in her life.

So, I let my frustration melt into the delight of watching my daughter grow and develop—that daily miracle we so often take for granted. I listen as her vocabulary soars and her imagination opens up new worlds for both of us. Her laughter brings light, her face shines with the wonder of play, her eyes glow with the fascination of exploration. On any given day, her joy trumps my frustration, and she shows me how to truly live.

What’s your cure for your writerly frustration?

The 3 “C”s of Believability

Reality can be strange.

On June 11, within hours of each other, my great-uncle Ed and my great-aunt Clare passed away. Uncle Ed was married to Aunt Clare’s sister, so they were in-laws. One lived in Pennsylvania, the other in Washington state. If an author put something so odd in a book, people would say, “That could never happen in real life.”

This got me thinking about the importance of believability in our writing (rather than something profound, like, say, my own mortality). No matter what world we are writing about, whether it is contemporary or science fiction or fantasy, readers must be able to believe in it—to feel that it is real. I identified three elements that make—or fail to make—that belief happen.

The first is context. You need to situate your readers firmly in your world. You need to lay out what they need to know early on, so their expectations match what you are going to give them. They need to understand the rules of your world and then you must follow the rules you set. The events that occur in a story must be plausible—not merely possible, but probable.

The second element is consistency. By this I mean internal cohesion in both events (see above) and in character actions. Characters must always act in accordance to their personality. If you have them suddenly do something far out of character, it rattles the reader. This doesn’t mean that your characters cannot act in surprising ways. But the characters must act in accordance with the internal logic of the story and of themselves. All of us know that sometimes we act out of character—but there is always a reason, and that reason is always consistent with who we are as a person. As long as you clearly show that reason for your character, the reader will believe in him or her.

The last is confidence—a deft authorial voice. If readers feel that they are in good hands, they will follow you more willingly. They will suspend disbelief just a shade more because they have faith that it will all make sense in the end. A tentative, hesitant, or wavering voice will give readers pause and perhaps even make them more attuned to flaws in believability.

If we lack any one of those three elements, we run the risk of breaking the dream for our readers. The moment we step outside the believability box, the spell breaks and we may not get the chance to recapture the magic.

Are there other elements of writing that you think are essential to creating and maintaining believability in our writing?

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