I timed myself the other day, and in 25 minutes, I wrote 329 words in spite of two interruptions. Rounded slightly down, that’s 13 words per minute as my average, and multiplied by 60 minutes, it’s 780 words per hour.
Not a bad hourly average, even though I know that I’ve written as many as 1200 words in an hour in the past. 😉
Over the past 5 years, I have not written as much as I used to. There are a number of reasons why, including the fact we began to home school our daughter, stepped up the pace on our home remodeling/improvement efforts, and I injured my back so have issues to deal with from that. All writers have things that affect them, and those three happen to be my major things.
Because of those things, and my continuing efforts to improve as a writer, I’ve dropped down to the point I’m lucky if I manage to release 2 novels per year. That’s ridiculous, considering that for nearly two years, writing is how I’ve been earning my living.
I’m not going to get into the discussion of exactly what “earning a living” means, because it depends on a variety of factors for each person. Let’s just say that I earn a better living as a writer than I did at any other, full-time job I’ve ever held. I’m not getting rich here, and that’s absolutely fine, because I’m thrilled to be my own boss, doing something I love to do, with the bonus of doing better financially than I ever did working for others.
Yet part of being my own boss means spending time determining ways to be more productive, and making the necessary changes so that those ways become habits. I’m here to tell you that a little success as a writer doesn’t equate a steady income from month to month. The peaks can be high (a new release), but the valleys can be low and frustrating (beginning about 60 days after a new release, and really bottoming out about 90 days after one).
It’s become common advice to indies that the way to build a “sustainable” writing career is to write a lot, and release often. As near as I can figure, based on my experience, I need to release at least 4 new titles each year, preferably in the middle of each quarter, in order to stabilize my income—at least as much as any writer can stabilize income since there’s a lot of factors involved that we can’t control.
So there’s that, but then throw in the fact that I have one series (Discord Jones) doing the heavy lifting. It’s great to have a series readers enjoy and want more of, but diversity is a good thing, and spreading the work load around several titles instead of a single series is an important goal of mine.
Actually achieving that goal is the hard part. First, I have to finish those other projects, and that’s sticky, because I have to keep releasing new Discord titles or my sales will eventually shrink and I can’t pay my bills. That’s not griping, by the way. It’s just noting the obstacles and how sales jump up and down from month to month, based on how many new releases I have and all the factors I can’t control.
I’ve discovered I suck at returning to older projects and finishing them. Some are years old, and I’ll pretty much have to start over from scratch on them, thanks to my improving as a writer since then. Other projects aren’t that old, but leaving them for weeks or months throws me out of sync with them. It’s hard to get back into the right “voice” for them after an extended leave of absence.
But that’s exactly what happens. I finish a Discord book, start writing something new (or pick up an older project and begin getting back into the groove for it), and before I can finish it, the 90 Day Cliff occurs and I have to get to work on the next Discord book to make certain I can pay my bills in future months. Let me add: There’s no guarantee non-Discord books will find an audience, but I still need to try and diversify, because having it all hinging on one series is pretty freaking nerve-wracking, y’all.
Once again, I’m not griping or bitching, just laying things out because they do affect what I have to do to keep this writing thing going. I also know that each book isn’t going to sell a certain average number of copies daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly. Sales drop off, that’s why new releases are important. This is all business thinking, not emotional hissy fit throwing. 😉
Returning to my word count mentioned at the start, I needed to figure out a way to maximize while “working smart”. I experience mild burnouts after finishing a novel length work, or in the odd case, two in a row. I don’t even want to think about writing for a while, and when I return to normal, I don’t usually want to think about writing about those characters, but new ones.
Writing about the same characters for 8 hours a day, whatever number of days in a row, turns my brain to mush. Not that I write 8 hours per day, every day. There’s always life to throw wrenches into my plans. I have days I don’t get any writing done, days I only manage a few words, etc., and of course, some days I do get to binge on writing new words for hours and hours.
Anyway, I made a table illustrating how many words will result based on how many hours I write per day. One hour equals 780 words, two 1,560 words, and so on up to 10 hours equaling 7,800 words.
Then I multiplied each result by 15, 22, and 25 days, as my choices for how many days per month I’ll spend writing. If I wrote 10 hours per day, 25 days per month, my yearly word count would rocket up to 2,340,000 words. Just for comparison purposes, my most word productive year thus far was 648,129 words. That’s a HUGE difference.
But let’s get serious. I can’t write 10 hours per day 25 days of each month. For one, I’d never be able to stand straight again, spending that much time with my butt in a chair with the back problem I have. For two, I do have other things to handle on a daily basis.
However, I can set myself a word count goal range to strive for, and go from there. I’d like to write a minimum of 50k words per month. I’ve done NaNoWriMo in the past, and often reached that goal days ahead of schedule, so I know that’s totally do-able for me. Fun fact: Arcane Solutions was my 2009 NaNoWriMo project, which I first released in January 2012.
After weighing in the pros and cons of less days writing with more hours per day, or more days writing with less hours per day, I went the middle ground: 22 writing days each month, with a 3-to-5 hour range per day. Three hours per day equals 51,480 words per month, while on the high end, 5 hours per day equals 84,216 words per month. Or if you want the yearly result: 617,760 to 1,009,512 words.
Writing 3 to 5 hours daily, 22 days per month, leaves plenty of time for all the non-new word production stuff involved—revisions, editing, etc. related things—as well as leaving time for my other life stuff.
The trick is making that a habit. I don’t live in a bubble where I can do what I want all the time, but am lucky enough to have supportive people in my immediate circle. I have bad habits such as getting distracted by the internet (not helped by getting a tablet, but I’m working on that). I write by hand, but am trying to switch from pen and paper to writing on my tablet. That’s actually more difficult than I thought it would be. Not sure if it’s nearly 3 cases of spirals I still have waiting to be used, or what.
And of course, I’m deep in the midst of trying to finish the 6th Discord novel, the end of the year is nigh with all the accompanying holiday fuss, and it’s ginning season in these parts, so my allergies are having a huge blast. Can I count in the fact that our drought is finally over, we’re having a lot of gloomy days, and gloomy days kill my desire to get any work done?
Setting that new habit isn’t going to be easy. It’s been said that it takes, on average, a little over 2 months to set a new habit. I’m not sure how that’s going to work out since the new habit I want to set doesn’t include writing the exact same number of hours every single day. It doesn’t even include writing daily for any set number of days in a row, though of course I’ll have to in order to hit that 22 days of writing per month goal. Depending on what’s going on at any point in time here, I can’t even say “Oh, I’ll write on Monday through Friday, and take weekends off” because the world doesn’t revolve around me.
The thing is, I want this writing gig to be a long term career, and it’s up to me to make that happen as far as the things I can control. I can control, within the limits of Murphy’s Law, how much work I do. I can control when a new book is ready to be released. It’s all a matter of fitting in those writing hours, and stepping up things if I have too many days of stuff interfering with butt in chair time.
There’s far more things I can’t control, with examples being changes at retailers, readers not liking certain books, and life stuff happening. Concentrating on what I can control, and changing those things to be more productive is key.
Wish me luck. I have the feeling I’ll need it.