5 Ways To Track Your Writing Progress

I know some writers hate NaNoWriMo and others love it. And agents are understandably wary of any NaNo novel that’s queried within 3 months of pencils down. For those who are unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo stands for ‘National Novel Writing Month’, otherwise known as the pledge to write 50,000 words (or 200 pages of a novel) during the 30 days of November.

But me? I’m a fan.

I like setting goals where I can measure my incremental progress and watch myself get closer to my goal. When I was weight lifting, it was exciting watching my lifting weights go up every couple weeks. When I hit my body weight on my deadlift and squats… when I hit my ex’s body weight on my deadlift and squats… those were exciting numbers to see.

But that was a couple years ago. And a couple pounds ago.

These days, most of my incremental goals are with my writing.

NaNoWriMo is faster than my natural writing pace, and involves cutting a lot of things out of my life in November to make it happen. BUT! In the off season, there’s two sessions of ‘Camp NaNo’, one in April and one in June. Best of all? During Camp, you set your own goals.

This year, they’re working on improving the websites, but CampNaNo has expanded their tracker methods. For those of us who might be in an editing or revision phase? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I LOVE the new options.

Yes, these are listed on the Camp NaNo site, as options for tracking your current progress, but you can use them anytime, anywhere!

Writing Tracking Methods

  • Words – the traditional NaNo yardstick.
  • Lines – helpful for those writing poetry or other sorts of works.
  • Minutes – Useful for those of us, squeezing in our writing (or editing) time when we can.
  • Hours – Useful for those of us who are working on research or editing or workshopping or making index cards and plotting out. All those side tasks that don’t feel like ‘real writing’, but are, and are oh-so-necessary.
  • Pages – ME! All the pages I’m revising get counted in here. I’m loving being able to track this coherently through their system!

Speaking of, it’s time for me to stop stalling and get back to those pages. They aren’t gonna revise themselves, now are they?

What’s your favorite tracking method? How does that change up depending on which writing phase you’re in?

It’s Okay To Write In Layers

I’m an unlikely person to compare writing to painting.

I’ve confessed in the past, but my imagination is far more conceptual than it is sensory. Imagery is almost more of flavors to my mind than a movie played out in my head.

To make up for this, I have a Pinterest board for all my characters, settings, and clothing. (I should probably make one for meals). I do a google image search on actors or models (I try to avoid non-public figures, because they haven’t volunteered to have their likenesses used in media, and I feel a bit stalker-y even thinking about it.) Then, I just keep looking until I see an actor or place that looks ‘right’ to me.

Because of this, my writing can get sparse on description. Well, I describe the main character’s emotional state, and physical reactions, and mental calculations. But? It’s all quite a bit in her head and not so much outside of her.

So, to avoid my plot happening in a descriptionless void — otherwise known as ‘white room syndrome’ — I end up writing in layers.

Fortunately for my dreams of being a writer who creates breathtaking worlds, even experienced writers have confessed to writing in layers.

You start off with your draft looking sparse and clunky. (or over detailed in the main character’s head) Then? You despair of ever measuring up to the writers you love.

But that’s because, to quote Victoria Schwab:

(Twitter)Victoria/V.E. Schwab:
That's because a finished book has, say, 30 coats of paint. But when you write, you can only put down a single layer of paint at a time.

You can't even fathom how many coats of paint are in the finished product. You can only see the top one. It seems like one coat. That is the lie.

Each and every draft, every revision, every polish is a coat of paint. Focus on putting down one coat at a time.

And she’s right.


Several months ago, I went to a “paint bar” with my cousin. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a bar where you reserve your table, and at the set time, a teacher leads you through creating your own version of the painting of the night.

Sort of like watching Bob Ross, only they have all the materials ready for you, and they’ve got plenty of snacks and drinks to keep you going.

Morgan’s attempt

That painting I made all those months ago? The instructor showed us how to fuzz out the reds and oranges, giving a haze that suggested leaves. But when I tried? I couldn’t get the technique right and found myself adding far more detail than the sample image held.

Neither way is right, but the parts have to blend and meld and hold consistent. A painting where portions are in crisp clarity, and others are a fuzzy blend of colors, when done without skill or a plan, will look amateur and unpolished.

Luckily, this painting isn’t something I plan on trying to sell. Plus, I only had 3 hours to get it right. With my writing, I get a lot more chances.

I recently sent off my first chapter to my new mentor. I thought it was ready for prime time, but with her fresh eyes? I can see where some parts of my story aren’t crisp. I can see where the colors aren’t blended properly.

Getting the balance between colors on a canvas is a lot like getting the balance between backstory and plot, detail and background.

So, I’m editing my manuscript. AGAIN.

I do worry that I won’t be able to take all these lessons and attempts and turn them into a streamlined process. But? The only way to find out is to finish, then try again. And I’m determined to create a world that even the most visual-minded reader will find entrancing.


Are you a visual reader or writer?

If so, what do you find yourself layering into your writing? Or struggling to connect with in your reading?

If not, here’s a hug for those of us trying to fulfill the expectations of the visual-reader. Let me know I’m not alone.

Morgan’s 2018 Retrospective

2018 was a year unlike any other. Some parts were stressful, some parts were lazy, and some parts? Some parts were productive.

As with 2017, I may not have ended my year with a signed agent, but I didn’t just sit around.

I queried 9 agents, attended 2 writing conventions (including my 1st time as a panelist!), wrote my fourth novel, several short stories, 31 poems, and revised my first novel twice, including that R&R from 2017 (that turned into a rejection).

Between Balticon and WorldFantasyCon, I hit 21 panels, (plus the one I was on), attended 3 different writing groups, joined 3 groups (although not all the same ones), hit a local writer’s workshop, and even picked up the mic at a poetry jam night.

This year, I did a lot more interacting in person, versus all the virtual interaction I’ve done in the past, but I love comparing numbers, so let’s look at them.

orange and green pen on graphing notepad
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

My Writing Goals Last Year

I made sure to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound) goals.

2018 Goals

  1. Query novel #1 at least 3 times every other week until I get an agent
    • unless I’m revising it
    • Let’s hear it for caveats. The only way this possibly qualified.
  2. Move forward with my picture book
    • Nope!
  3. revise at least one of my shelved rough drafts
    • Nope!
  4. Write something NEW during NaNoWriMo
    • half credit if I rewrite something old
    • WIN
  5. Keep blogging and decide if vlogging is worth it
    • WIN
  6. Try to use  social media better
    • more one-liners on tumbler
    • more consistent posts on twitter
    • instagram at least 1x a week
    • WIN
  7. Read an average of 2 books a month,
    • rank them on GoodReads
    • Bonus Points – review them!
    • WIN

And give myself a pass if I get nothing done in March (likely moving) or December (recovering from NaNo + holiday/family obligations).

The move was longer than expected, but December was as predicted. Things outside this list I achieved though?

  • Joining Write By The Rails and The Broad Universe
  • Reading my poem (written about my nerves waiting for query feedback) at a poetry night
  • Being on my 1st panel
  • Writing a poem a day for October
  • Writing 1 short story for querying and tossing 3 short snippets up on Reddit

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.
Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

Blogging!

Top Lifetime Post

My sleeper hit from 2016 had 1,145 views before this year, was published in a book of writing essays here, and now it’s up to 1,945! Beating viewings this year alone of my next most popular post by a factor of FOUR!

This year, I started 2 new features on my blog, and participated in a blog hop. None of these items proved very popular, but I hope their following will grow and plan to keep doing them. My features are, of course, my Query Corner — where I rewrite queries with authors preparing to enter the query trenches, and my Author Spotlight — to help promote friends works. I’m no longer hustling for entries, but will share them when I have content for them. (If you’d like to participate, please contact me at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com)

My Top 10 Posts of 2018

My Top 5 YouTube Videos! of 2018

My Top 3 Posts of 2017


My Top 3 Posts of 2016


My Top 3 Posts of 2015


Social Media Stats

I like stats and tracking progress, so here are my numbers for 2018. I tried to be both engaged and engaging, while still invested in upping my content creation in all mediums.

Followers

First off, I worked on getting more followers for my Youtube channel and Instagram. I was sporadic in my Pinterest and Reddit usage. Having hit the Twitter follow limit, I can only add people as people add me.

Between all my social media accounts, I added 2,721 followers, about 300 shy of last year’s additions. As always, Twitter was the bulk of the adds, but percentage-wise, my Youtube channel was 1st, with 73% growth, Instagram and Tumblr followers more than doubled, and even WordPress was up around 43%.

Content

This year I maintained my streak of blogging at least once a week and kept up with the vlogging. My Goodreads stats are books added to my library, the last 2 years are the books I’ve read. (My FB page wouldn’t give my year stats and stopped letting my scroll in mid-2016, so, those stats are incomplete, but I can compare to last year.)

Based on my plans from last year, I averaged posting to Instagram twice a week, so doubled my goal. And I did start using Pinterest, even if it was horribly inconsistent.


Account Break Down

  • WordPress – I started this blog in April of 2015.
    • Here are my stats as compared to last year are as follows… I have to admit, I’m liking the improved engagement!
    • 8,759(+981) views
    • 5658(+447) visitors
    • 107 posts
    • 1406 (+494) likes
    • 587 (+377) comments

  •  Twitter MorganHzlwood – I joined in March of 2016.
    • I could be more engaged. I should try at least once a week to go through and read a couple of my lists back a few days. Mostly, I just post and respond to my notifications. It’s a good way to avoid the drama that it can be prone to.
  •  Tumblr MorganHazelwood – I joined in June of 2016
    • With the new regulations, I’m not sure if Tumblr will still be kicking this time next year, but I’m still trying to stay active with the writeblr community. And I’ve gotten better at reblogging content and using their queue feature. I’d be pretty solid on use if I queued up stuff for 20 minutes once a week.
  •  Instagram MorganHazelwood – I joined in 2015.
    • Confession: I was about 50 followers shy of 1k last week, but there was a BookBlogger and Writer community group follow event that I joined. And I *think* I saw a prototype for making groups or lists on here, which would be awesome for clearing some of the clutter.
  •   Pinterest MorganHazelwoo – I joined in 2015.
    • I’ve stepped up my usage, but only sporadically. I should keep up with this a bit more. Definitely should make a mood board for my MG novel.
  •  Facebook PagesMorganHazelwoodPage – I joined in 2015.
    • FB often shows my posts to fewer than 10% of my followers. It’s annoying, but I’m not paying. I’ll just keep reposting on my personal page as well.
  •  Facebook MorganSHazelwood – I joined in 2013.
    • Most of my new followers were new members of the PitchWars support groups and people I met in person at actual events.
  •  Google+Morgan S Hazelwood – I joined in 2013
    • Stats!  37 (+9) likes and 2 comments. I counted. This is supposed to die this year, though.
  •  GoodReads Morgan Hazelwood – I joined in January 2016
    • I read 26 books this year, beating my target of 2 books a month!
    • I rated all of them and reviewed 3 of them.
  • Reddit – Morgan Hazelwood  – I joined in January of 2017.
    • I actually started using reddit this year, and now my karma is 406!
    • I had 19 posts, 3 of them were short stories, and 1 was that poem I read for the open mic night.

In Conclusion

I didn’t do as much as I’d hoped.

Some of that was external. People who are reading your work out of the kindness of their hearts and working around their own schedules aren’t necessarily going to adhere to your schedule. My paying job got very busy for the second half of the year, really ramping up in the 4th quarter.

Some of the issues were the consequences of decisions.

  • I bought a house in April and moved in May.
  • I’m still running 2 Facebook PitchWars support groups and administering another SFF writer’s group. That takes time, energy, and spoons.
  • I decided to do my best to keep up with at least 5 different types of social media.
  • I really like 9 hours of sleep a night, even if 7 is more standard.
  • I still have scheduled social time with friends Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights. Add in my blog post writing and uploading Wednesday nights and full weekend social schedule…

One could argue that I’ve been de-prioritizing my writing over my networking this year, but… honestly? I’m a bit burnt out and I’m going to be gentle on myself.

However…

I DID do a lot of writing, more revising on my first novel than anticipated, grew my vlog, critiqued novels for friends and family, and read an average of more than 2 novels/novella’s a month.

I may have fallen short, but you know what Les Brown says about that?

222r9n

How well did you do on your goals?

Had you given up on them in January, did you rock the BLEEP out of them, or did you do okay but think you might do better with concrete, SMART goals?

Writer Confessions

After last week’s post on avoiding burn out, I thought I’d give myself a break. But, I’ve got a few confessions to make…

On Accepting Limits

Writer Confession #1: I am, indeed, quite bad at taking my own advice.

Once I’ve accomplished a thing two or three times, I have trouble letting myself stop. See: this blog. See also: my NaNo word count. Even when it might not be the healthiest choice for me.

Instead of accepting the inevitable, I’ve buckled down and written past my bedtime every night since we last spoke. I wrote while on a date, I wrote at one of the three Thanksgiving’s I attended, I wrote through an evening visiting my mother. As a coder-by-day, I’ve taken my work laptop home to meet deadlines and wrote during the 3 minute breaks while my new code was compiling.

As expected, everything non-essential in my life is being sorely neglected and I’m eagerly burning the candle at both ends, praying for December.

On being a Plantser

Writer Confession #2: My story looks nothing like I intended. (or at least, expected)

I’ve written about being a plantser before, but every time, it looks a little different.

Instead of kids saving parents from a brain-washing book, my story is ninety percent about a school play. Then again, as I sort of had the 90’s TV show “Wishbone” in my head as my mental concept of what sort of story to aim at a Middle Grade audience, I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising.

There are several meal scenes that likely serve no purpose — although, of course, I can probably fix that in edits. Although, I probably shouldn’t repeat a breakfast scene unless I make it part of my character’s preferences? Why have I decided that my characters love bacon and breakfast foods? Well, I mean, who (whose diet includes pork) doesn’t?

Warning — if you write a story that centers around books and a play, that means you’re gonna have to sort of plot ALL of these things. Separately!

My play currently has roles such as “Sworsdswoman”, “Storyteller”, and “Sidekick”. I made up half a song from another non-existent kids’ musical about “The Flannel Bear” (my world’s Velveteen Rabbit, which my sister was in during OUR middle-school years). [If enough people ask, I might post a video singing it for you. Although, be warned, I can follow a tune, but I can’t carry one.]

With the changes in my story, I’m not really sure what a satisfying ending will look like, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to end at the cast party, so that’s what I’m writing towards now.

On Novel Prep Work

Writer Confession #3: My prep work wasn’t actually a waste of time.

Despite my story looking nothing like I intended, my first 9 chapters almost aligned, and then it kinda went sideways because of the new direction.

But! Working out the main characters, their personalities and families was helpful. Charting out that the two main characters would alternate chapters and would be friends but NOT romantically invested has been a cornerstone of my novel.

And? My massive list of random names definitely came in handy to help me keep up my pace while writing. Although, next time, I should note who they got assigned to. Especially when they only get mentioned once or twice.

On Writing Sprints

Writer Confession #4: My novel would NOT exist without these.

Three years ago, I started using Twitter to ‘clock in’, as sort of a type of accountability. Usually something like, “It’s 9pm and I’m clocking in”. Last year, NaNoWriMo.org created sprint timers integrated in their website where you could invite people to your sprints and race each other for the most words. Or, at least, have a focused 15 minutes where you could usually convince yourself to ignore social media and just write.

The timer breaks this massive “must write all the words” into an achievable chunk. 50,000 words sounds intimidating. 1,666 words a day seem to drag on forever. But 10 minutes? 15 minutes? I can sprint that long.

This year? My NaNo region has a Discord channel. It’s a chat application (often used by online gamer and, it can do audio), that has a sprint feature built in. You type in “_sprint” and anyone can join in. When the timer goes off, you enter how many words you’ve written and it tallies the ‘winner’.

Knowing you’re not writing alone, seeing everyone else’s progress, and comparing your own words-per-minute against your results last sprint can be very encouraging. Or shame you into focusing better next sprint. I’ll even sprint against myself, if no one else is on. But, there are early writers, day writers, and evening writers. You can usually find someone on the channel

On Rewarding Myself

Writer Confession #5: It’s all about TV and chocolate.

I got a large box of dark chocolate and orange truffles as my NaNo writing treat. They’ve lasted a lot better than I’d feared. I’m not sure if I’ve slowed down my consumption as I’ve gotten used to them, or if I greatly overestimated how fast I was going through them. Because the store sell them in bags of 15, and I got a box of a 150.

My daily reward for getting my words in? Getting to go to bed.

And if I have a spare hour, I’ve been catching up on the new Doctor Who. But really? I’m looking at the December 5th arrival of season two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as my reward for making it through NaNoWriMo. 


Confess to me!
Does your writing look like you expected it to?
What about your writing process?

If you’re not a writer, how do you handle deadlines and staying focused?

Plotting and Planning for 2018

Most people I know have given up on resolutions. Sweeping declarations of fixing their lives and doing everything they think they should have been doing all along.

Me? I’m an eternal optimist, with what I like to think is a decent realistic bent. I’ve read too many fairy tales to think that happily-ever-after is a permanent state.

So, while I’d love to state a resolution of ‘get an agent, sell a book to a publisher’, I’m going to stick to things I can actually control.

And I think setting goals and working towards them helps you keep from stagnating, to make sure inertia isn’t what’s keeping you from making your dreams a reality.

Last year, I was super ambitious… or I ended up being side-tracked a few times. That doesn’t mean that Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and
Time-bound (SMART) goals are bad. In fact, I plan to use them again.

Without thinking too hard, this year I will:

  1. query novel #1 at least 3 times every other week until I get an agent
    • unless I’m revising it
  2. move forward with my picture book
    • researching picture books, perhaps my word count is in the wrong place?
    • revise it
    • then query it 3 times a month, or until I get an agent
  3. revise at least one of my shelved rough drafts
    • Sequel to Novel #1 or Genderbent Robin Hood
  4. write something NEW during NaNoWriMo
    • half credit if I rewrite something old
  5. keep blogging and decide if vlogging is worth it
  6. try to useĀ  social media better
    • more one-liners on tumbler
    • more consistent posts on twitter
    • instagram at least 1x a week
  7. read an average of 2 books a month,
    • rank them on GoodReads
    • Bonus Points – review them!

And give myself a pass if I get nothing done in March (likely moving) or December (recovering from NaNo + holiday/family obligations).


Did you set any goals?

They don’t have to be year long ones. What are you going to get done this January?