In my previous post I wrote about the excitement of starting a new project and the first stage of writing nonfiction, which is the research. But after that post, you may have noticed that I disappeared from blogging. That’s because I was busy with the next writing stage, the first draft.
I had a couple of deadlines for my current book. The first chapter and an outline were due last week. It’s not hard for me to come up with a basic outline, a listing of what I plan to include in each chapter. However, since I only have a few weeks to write the book once the outline is approved, I try to get more work done up front. That means by the time I turn in the first chapter and the outline, I have a pretty good first draft.
Unfortunately, the first draft is the hardest part for me. So I’ve spent the last few weeks writing and fretting. I did a lot of cutting and pasting to figure out the flow of the chapters and went back to the research many times to find what I needed to fill in holes in the narrative.
It seemed like I was doing a lot of work, but I had a long way to go and my deadline loomed. So I worried and daydreamed about how much easier my life would be if I gave up writing. As I contemplated telling my editor that I couldn’t do the book after all, the words “you’ll never work in this town again” played in my mind. Clearly, I had reached the next step in my writing process – the freaking out stage!
I’ve been there many times, so I knew how to deal with it. I needed to be more accountable with my time. I sometimes think I’m very busy writing when in reality I’m spending a lot of my time just thinking and worrying. So I did what I always do when I reach the freaking out stage. I started keeping track of my hours.
It’s not a complicated system. When I sit down to write, I jot the time down in a notebook. When I get up for a snack or a trip to the bathroom, I write down the time I stopped. When I get back to the computer to work again, I write down when I started. At the end of the day, I use my notes to figure out how much time I spent actually working.
Being more accountable for my hours helps me in a few ways. First, it gets me to the computer early because I’m hoping to show that I worked a lot of hours that day.
My time chart also keeps me from checking email or Facebook because as soon as I switch to something other than writing, I need to take myself off the clock. When I’m not keeping track of my time, I do those things without thinking. I guess I feel that as long as I’m at the computer, I’m working even when I’m not.
Finally, being accountable for my time helps me calm down. I begin to see that I can get a lot done in just a few hours when I’m focused on writing and not getting distracted with other things.
My time chart got me through the freaking out stage and I made my deadline for the first chapter and outline. Now I’m happily working on rewriting to meet my next deadline which is for the complete book. When you hear from me again, I’ll be on the final stage of my writing process, the empty nest. More about that later.