How Rubbish Was January?
January was another one of those months, wasn't it? With another lockdown here in England, my life didn't exactly change but the shroud of gloom settled heavier than before. No kidding, it's difficult to write and edit when the world looks the way it does right now, and my impetus to "get up and get it done" pretty much got up and went.
So, how did my January writing life shape up?
Well, I set a wonderful system in place to finally track what projects I'm working on when (in timeline form) and also to monitor my writing/editing counts on a daily basis feeding into a monthly totals table. This neatly links to project-specific pages, although I'm still working on the detail of that.
For someone with 15 live projects on the go at the turn of the year, I knew I needed to get them in some semblance of order. My writing process works as a conveyor belt in some respects, but instead of a project going from Concept - First Draft - Second Draft - X Draft - Final Edits - Publication, we end up with something more like this:
Project 1 - Concept & First Draft
Project 2 - Concept
Project 3 - Concept & First Draft
Project 2 - First Draft
Project 1 - Second Draft
Project 4 - Concept & First Draft
Project 1 - Third Draft
Project 3 - Second Draft
Project 1 - Final Draft
Project 4 - Second Draft
Honestly, that's a completely normal workflow for me, but it isn't a completely workable one. Projects get stuck on the conveyor belt, looping around like pieces of lost luggage in an airport. I know all these projects need time to germinate, yet I also know I need to move them all on a notch. If, say, I'm struggling to get Project 2 from a first draft to a second one, a complete rethink is likely to be necessary. But if I can't see those problems in context, how am I supposed to act?
I've been playing around with this all-in-one workspace tool for a few months. My aim is to bring all the disparate systems I have for my writing life, Rhubarb Writing Shed and other client work into one place. The theory is that it'll be easier to handle in one location, and that's why I decided to migrate my novel project management over there first. As I mentioned above, the novel tracking system I'm putting in place is definitely viable for the future. Just like with everything, though, it takes some getting into.
I haven't yet added the bells and whistles many people do when they're designing dashboards in Notion, but here are some key elements of mine so far.
These are the first two columns of my Novel Status database. Further along, there are columns for various rewrite stages and relational links to other databases.
Further down, this is how my daily word tracker looks. Note: the rest of January was incomparably rubbish, but I'll get to that in a moment.
And this is how my monthly progress tracker looks:
Yes, my overall figures for January were absolutely lousy, which brings me full circle back to that question I asked earlier: How rubbish was January?
If I'm looking at words written and edited, pretty rubbish. If I factor in the pandemic, my attempts to focus on growing Rhubarb Writing Shed, and my freelance commitments? Oh, plus two kittens and a grouchy cat. It might not be all that terrible.
The important thing is that you can always start afresh at any time, not just on the 1st January or the 1st of a month. I'm afraid I'm guilty of liking things a little too neat. If I don't fill in a spreadsheet for January, for instance, I'll be reluctant to fill it in for February because I've "already failed".
But I'm the one who defines failure, aren't I? One of the hardest things about being an indie publisher AND a freelancer is grappling with the fact that every time I don't meet my own (huge) targets, I haven't ruined everything.
What do I need to get back on track properly is to continue building the systems that are going to help me, and concentrate on the month-to-month picture as well as the overarching one.
So, what do I want to achieve in February?
Complete the final edits of Allegra: Book 1 (actual title TBC)
Restart newsletters for my fiction readers and Rhubarb Writing Shed subscribers
Work on another novel
Finally publish 99 Random Questions to Ask Your Characters
That might not be completely workable, but it's something to aim towards. And if I fail in February . . . Well, there's always March.