You can’t be perfect with your writing every week.
As much as we want to hit our word count goals, or make progress in our current draft just like we said we would, the fact remains that when we make these kinds of promises we are just guessing.
That said, you can still become good at guessing. Here’s one way I’ve learned to do it quite well:
- Record your progress week after week
- Keep a running list of your results for 5 sample weeks
- As you get well past 5 weeks, keep the 5 sample weeks that most accurately reflect your performance
For example, I record exactly how much time I spend on reading and writing every day. I keep the tally for the week on a small sticky note I attach to my phone case. Every Sunday, I total my week.
I’ve been doing this for about 20 weeks now, and because of this, I’ve been able to notice the following:
- On a “very bad week” I only get in about 17-18 hours total
- Typically, I get in a little over 20
- Occasionally, I can get in over 25 hours
- Very, very rarely can I get more than 30 hours, even though my goal is 33 (20% of the 168 hours in the week, according to the Pareto Principle)
What I like about this method of tracking is, it’s realistic. I’m not beating myself up week after week for “failing”.
I learned this method by analogy from how I do my workout.
I follow a fixed routine of sets that cover a variety of exercises, i.e. deadlifts, bench press, barbell row, etc.
I do 5 sets of each:
- 1 light weight (~50-70 reps)
- 3 medium weight (~30-40 reps)
- 1 heavy weight (~5-10 reps)
I track my progress on a spreadsheet. Instead of pushing artificially, I simply track how I do, then next time I complete my sets, I compare my results. I shoot for the same, or slightly better. If I do worse, that’s okay, because sometimes you have to fall back and build back up.
But I’m not shooting for artificial results that aren’t based on the reality of how I’ve seen my body perform.
Writing is the same. Your goal is, week after week, to figure out what you can put in to move forward.
This week was a “failure” for me, if I believe in the mindset of shooting for the “perfect standard”, 20% of my time committed to reading and writing. If I looked at it that way, I’d feel bad that it’s Sunday and I’m well short of even 20 hours.
But under this healthier mindset of tracking and comparing, I can see that, actually, I got 18.5 hours of reading and writing done.
That’s 18.5 hours of work. That’s better than 5 hours. That’s better than 10. That’s better, even, than 15.
Sure, it’s not 20. Sure, it’s not 25.
But procrastination is a greedy monster. It will eat you, if you don’t eat it first. So whatever you carve out, it’s better than the zero you’re guaranteed if you don’t take a small step forward.
The beautiful thing about starting small and learning just what you can do, is you start doing. Starting doing is the first step toward doing more.
The other danger though is doing too much. With this comes burnout.
It’s Sunday. Sure, I could push and get in 4 hours, burn the midnight oil. I’ve done it before, and know I have it in me.
But I’m mentally exhausted. The only thing I’ll get out of pushing for 4 hours today is 4 hours of written words, and 4 hours off a good sleep that will recharge me to have a great day tomorrow. 4 hours toward starting Monday on the wrong foot, and 4 hours toward possibly screwing up the week.
Instead, there is no fail for me. There’s simply the act of logging the hours, and checking out where they fit in my running list of 5 sample weeks. Learn and accept.
Hey! Actually, jotting this week’s “failure” down I see this is far from my worst week ever.
So there we go. Sunday is done, the next week is coming. And this next week is going to be amazing. I can already feel it, especially with the great sleep I’m going to get tonight, and all the energy zinging in my creative batteries.
Fellow writers, remember that regardless of what kind of week you have with writing, it’s never truly a failure. Look for progress, even if it’s small.
Ask yourself: where has your writing practice evolved since the same time last week? How have you grown and improved as a writer, in your vision and skill, not just the words on the page?
Here’s to a great week, and many more to come!