What a writing journal can teach you about productivity

This week, I reached 115,000 words on my novel. I’m three and a half chapters from the end, on the home stretch, and already dreading the editing.Since October 2015, I’ve been tracking my progress with a writing journal, in which I record the time of each session, its duration, the number of words written and what chapter I was working on. A year later, I’m up to my eyeballs in data, and can draw some enlightening conclusions therein.

But first, a graph! Gadzooks!


As you can see, there are a number of lulls in productivity, loosely matching life events: Christmas in December, getting married and going on honeymoon in April, and being on holiday in August. Oddly, it is my holiday time that I’m at my least productive.

Getting deeper into the data, I can glean which type of session I get the most out of. I have four core writing slots: in the morning before work, on my lunch break in the pub, at home in the evenings, or at some point over the weekend whenever I’m free.

Of the 229 data entries, 111 were morning sessions, 43 were during lunch, and 24 took place on weekends.

Considering I’m trying to write every morning, and there are 225-odd working days (kill me now), it’s worrying I’m not quite hitting half of those mornings (111). Something is clearly going wrong there. I need to make a note of why I’m missing a day when I do.

But let’s take a look at the average for these different sessions.


So, mornings are most common with 111, but I’m getting the most done on those few weekends (589 words). Of course, that’s because I can spend longer on a session on a Saturday or Sunday. But check that lunch break efficiency, dawg – 9.06 words per minute.

The stats just told me to keep drinking beer!

There’s a reason why my words per minute are so much higher on my lunch break. And it isn’t just the creative lubrication of alcohol (although that doesn’t hurt).

Nope, it’s called THE INTERWEBZ.

When I take my laptop to the pub on my lunch break, I’m suddenly in a place without access to the web. There’s no procrastination. It’s just pint and type. No matter how hard I try, the first thing I do every morning is check my email/Twitter/Scribophile/Facebook (in that order), which cuts 10-15 minutes off my session. And heaven help me if something catches my attention on Twitter.

So, keeping this spreadsheet has taught me some (hopefully) valuable lessons.

  • I need to hit more mornings
  • I need to refrain from social media until I’ve made progress
  • I need to keep hitting the lunch breaks, maybe up the frequency
  • And for the sake of the data, I need to note excuses!

But keeping a writing journal also helps sustain productivity. You become much more aware of lost opportunities to write – and while you shouldn’t beat yourself up about missing a session (relax, life has a habit of happening; read Lisa Sell’s post about not hating yourself for missing a day and give yourself a break), you can at least identify behaviours that help or hinder your creative flow.

Do you keep a journal? What has it taught you? Or was it a total waste of spreadsheet cells?

5 thoughts on “What a writing journal can teach you about productivity”

  1. I love number crunching! I’ve tried tracking my progress as well, and sometimes do well with it, but I always end up forgetting after a few weeks.

    Lately I’ve been creating Month Maps of my monthly goals (October’s: http://www.hhaydenwriter.com/ensigns-log-entry-37-october-month-map/), however, and that’s been helping me more with my motivation. I might not write every day, but I have a goal in mind and my determination to complete said goal keeps me moving on the days I do write.


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