J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Keeping a Daily Writing Log

Picture unrelated to post (except in a feeling kind of way) ... mostly I'm just into the photography of Luis Hernandez right now.

Picture unrelated to post (except in a feeling kind of way) … mostly I’m just into the photography of Luis Hernandez right now.

Recently I read two posts that approach the same problem from different directions; how do you get to a different place in your career (or develop a new career) when you are far away from your goal? Pavlina talks about the cumulative effects of daily habits, while Newport talks about the false narrative of courage in relation to career changes (hard work, persistence, and planning are more relevant).

With the same topic in mind, I’d like to share the initial results of a new habit of my own,  keeping a daily writing log (inspired by Phil Jourdan).

(I don’t want to be one of those bloggers who announces new plans and techniques with great enthusiasm and fanfare, and then never follows up, leaving the reader to wonder what the hell happened next. Not that you should ever base your life decisions on anecdotal reports of n=1 blog posts, but n=1 is even more worthless if you never get the experimental results. That’s why I followed up on my “30-Days of Trying To Be More Lucky Experiment“, for example.)

In short, keeping a daily writing log is a fantastic habit that I plan to continue for life. The first draft I’m working on has gone from 30K words to 60K words in just a few weeks, and I sense the quality has gone up as well. Here are the data elements I’m tracking (in a spreadsheet, though a written log would work just as well):

  • date
  • start time
  • end time
  • number of words
  • exercise (before or during)
  • food & caffeine intake (before and during)
  • mood
  • writing ritual completed? (yes/no)
  • moon phase
  • previous night activity

I use LunaMenu to track moon phase in my menu bar, primarily because I’m curious about Douglas Rushkoff’s claim that moon phase is related to neurotransmitter levels and productivity in various areas. (I haven’t collected enough data yet to even look for a correlation, but I’ll let you know if I find one).

“Previous night activity” is either “Social” or “Music”. Jourdan claims that he has more productive writing sessions in the morning when he has worked on music composition/production the night before. So I’m tracking that to see if the same is true for myself. I suspect that both social stimulation and music-making have positive brain stimulation/synergistic creativity effects, and I’m limiting myself to those options because I decided I’m done with giving entire evenings over to either TV or videogames or the internet. Nothing wrong with blinking-light-thingys in moderation, but for me it’s too easy to binge, leading to sleep deprivation. Also, since I’ve committed to a morning writing habit, and I’m not willing to give up music-making, evenings are when the beats are going to happen if they happen at all.

Obviously this is all specific to my life — what is universal is that while it’s tempting to just zone out after a long day of work, I’ve learned that I’m happier if I rein in that impulse and try to get an hour or two of creative engagement in after dinner. Either that or enjoy time with my family and friends, and/or a good book.

More experienced authors can squeeze in their writing, “stealing time” as Lev Grossman describes in this post. I can do that with music production, which I’ve been at for over twenty years now, but I’m not there yet with fiction writing. I need a dedicated chunk of uninterrupted time, with a start ritual, the internet unplugged, etc. (and even then sometimes it takes me an hour or two to write the first sentence). As frustrating as the process sometimes is, at the end of a session I always feel the effort was worth it.

Once I have a year or two worth of data I’ll do some crunching and see if I can find clear correlations between any of the factors I’m tracking and productivity. At the moment the main difference I’ve noticed is the productivity boost simply from keeping a log. I sense that moderate amounts of exercise, not eating too much, and not being overcaffeinated are also associated with higher word counts (this lines up with Jourdan’s observations) but I don’t have enough data to say that for sure (even for my n=1).

So consider this follow-up #1. I’ll continue to share.

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2 Comments

  1. There’s also commit… The best author in the world could be out there and we may never hear about him or her because she or he was too lazy to sit down and write.

    I read about the moon phase method… Sounds interesting.

  2. altamisal

    Thanks, inspiring to read these posts about your writing practice.

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