It’s that time again. NaNoWriMo is over. For better or worse, so is the writing year. Time to assess, see how it went, and decide if next year needs to be a year of improvement, drawing back, charging forward, or just steadily walking the tightrope between writerly productivity and that thing they talk about, you know, the thing? What normal people do? Where they go out with friends, and do stuff, and take vacations, and…
A life! That’s what they call it. Having a life.
So, how did I do this year? Was it a good year? Was I productive? Did I learn new things? Did I take new risks? Did I have…a life? How does a writer measure productivity when it can mean so many things?
I could go by word count. That’s the quantitative way. Let’s see how I did, November to November.
- I drafted Tree Gods, and three sequels, completing a first draft of each book in what I hope will be a new fantasy series.
- I drafted and submitted a handful of short stories, one of which ended up an Honorable Mention in Writers of the Future.
- I revised Tree Gods from first draft to second draft in six weeks.
- I revised Tree Gods again into third draft form while revising Ironsfork. I did both in six weeks. It was eight-hour days, seven days a week to get that done. I practically ate every meal in front of the laptop. This would be the third time I revised Ironsfork in one year, too.
- I wrote queries and synopses for most of the stories I have, including the ones for all the Tree Gods books, and what I hope will be the Ironsfork Trilogy. I drafted queries for two standalone novels, including Flipping, which I hope to finish in first draft form by the end of December.
- I wrote spin-off novel from the Ironsfork trilogy to discover what happens when the entire world has changed as a result of Ironsfork and all that happens there. It’s halfway finished.
That’s a lot of words. I’m estimating because I’m way too lazy to go look them all up at the moment, but if we just count the novel material, I wrote right around 460,000 new words this year, and I revised two novels three times. Boy, was I ever productive!
What very few people know was just how stressed I was. I write when I’m stressed.
- I went on sub. Never done that before. I didn’t know many writers on submission. I’d heard it could be a very lonely, devastatingly rejecting sort of place. It wasn’t as bad as all that, but it was scary. I wrote.
- After a breast cancer scare in January of 2018, in April of 2019 I developed a lump in my shoulder in my right supraclavicular space. Top differential was some sort of lymph node enlargement. I spent most of this summer hoping I didn’t have cancer, and trying to get some sort of diagnosis. Nobody seems to think it’s dangerous now—thank goodness—but they also can’t tell me what it is. If I still don’t have a name for it by the end of December, I’m calling it George. I’ll probably dedicate a book to it. “Many thanks to George who scared the words right out of me.”
- I parted ways with my first agent. That was one of the hardest decisions and scariest things I’ve ever done. I’m still processing that. I’ll probably be processing it for a while. I wrote.
- I euthanized two ancient cats two weeks apart in January, including one of the best cats I’ll ever own. I have her graphite portrait that I drew hanging above my desk. It’s hard being both a pet owner and a veterinarian, making that call to let your baby go, and then actually taking that life yourself. That’s one of those inward skewerings of the heart that never fully heals, and probably never should.
Now, how does that productive year sound? And compared to some things that writing friends of mine went through this year, I had it easy.
I’m incredibly grateful to my writing friends who helped me through “George”, who were my sounding boards and advocates through what happened with my writing career this summer, who sympathized with my losses of my pets. I am beyond grateful to my new agent, Naomi Davis, who took a chance on me, my novel, and helped me through that difficult process of changing agents and agencies. Still, all that “productivity” was my form of coping with things that are so hard to articulate they only come out screaming and bleeding on paper.
I’m looking forward to another productive year (hopefully a little less dramatic!), but I’m not looking at word count to quantify that. I didn’t look at it much this year. I just wrote. And that’s all productivity really means to me: going forward in whatever way I can over whatever obstacles are in front of me.
It’s very easy for a writer to fall into the habit of looking at a word count and seeing that as the basic measure of productivity. But out of all of those words, the most productive month I had was October 2018, before NaNoWriMo 2018 kicked off my writing year. I wrote only one thing. I wrote 50 pages of character work on Holly Hillwalker. Those 50 pages spawned a new world, a new series, and a forest full of characters I love. I was happy. I wasn’t distressed by health issues. I wasn’t on submission. I wasn’t grieving my pets. I was just being me, and doing what I do best—creating characters and building imaginary worlds.
My goal this writing year? Recreate that feeling I had back in October. Relax more. Read more. Be more. Even if I write less, I may ultimately move further ahead in my writing life. And after all, the only way I should measure productivity is forward progress.