How to Keep a Writing Log (and Why You Should)

A few minutes a day can make all the difference.

Photo by Jordan Madrid on Unsplash

I’ve been keeping an online writing log. Yesterday was day sixty.

At first I thought — who would want to read this? I mean. It’s boring. How many days in a row can I write I worked on my edits?

(Sixty, by the way. And, spoiler alert, probably another ten or so before I’m done. After that there will be another sixty or ninety days of I worked on my first draft today.)

A lot of the time, when I write about writing fiction, I think about myself at age twenty or so. When I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how to make that happen.

I didn’t even now how to start learning how.

It all seemed so big. So hard. So impossible.

I often write for that girl. I try to offer her a way in. I write things that I wish I’d been able to read twenty-seven years ago. In a weird way, I try to be my own mentor.

Not because I think my twenty-year-old self is still around and needs one, but because I think it helps me focus what it is I want to teach, and how I can best manage it.

Back then I would have loved to read a boring daily work log from someone who was a full-time writer. I would have wanted to know what she was working on, what her days looked like, what she was reading. How she was struggling. How she dealt with the struggle.

So, I’m happy to let you in and show you what it looks like to write full time. How being a fiction writer balances with being a freelance writer. My slow creep toward being able to just be a fiction writer. Maybe some day.

And I think that keeping a writing log is something that you might find useful for yourself. Even if I stop making these public someday — and I might, if people stop reading them — I’m glad that I’ve formed the habit.

Keeping a writing log keeps me focused.

I’m at the end of a big round of edits for my next book. My natural tendency is to put off deadlined work until the deadline is upon me, and then I have to work like a maniac to get it done on time.

I did it in high school and all through college and graduate school. And I still do it. I probably always will, if I let myself get away with it.

My writing log has helped me to make goals for staying on top of my deadline. That’s been a wonderful bonus. I’ll turn my work in on time, without giving myself a heart attack.

Keeping a writing log helps with work/life balance.

This winter has been especially rough for that. I struggled, moving away from Nevada for the first time since I was a teenager, to a place where I don’t know anyone. To a place where there isn’t much sunshine from November through April.

It’s been so easy for me to get lost in work. Keeping a writing log the last sixty days has helped with that. It helps me make sure that I get some exercise, that I remember to read for pleasure, that I talk to people.

Having a writing life means figure out how to actually have a life and be a writer. It means staying on top of things like low-key depression and overwhelm and my health. The balance, for me, shifts too easily and quickly toward overwork.

And occasionally (although not in the last sixty days) it shifts just as far over to the other side and I find that I’ve become so busy with all the rest of life that I haven’t written anything substantial for weeks. Or months.

A writing log is a straight-forward record that makes the balance very clear and much easier to maintain.

Keeping a writing log reminds me of just how hard I’m working.

I like being able to look at my writing log and see that I really am living this life. I am a writer. Not an aspiring writer (although, I still aspire, believe me.) Not a wishful-thinking writer. A real writer.

The kind of writer that twenty-year-old girl wanted to be.

Without a boss or a human resources department or even a dependable pay check to pat me on the back and tell me I’m doing a good job, it’s useful and healthy for me to have a way of really gauging my work.

Keeping a writing log makes me feel professional.

Maybe I shouldn’t need to be reminded. Or some outside thing to convince me that I’m actually a professional. But sometimes I do.

Keeping a writing log is kind of like keeping a captain’s log. I’m the captain of this ship and I need to know where I’m going and where I’ve been and what happened along the way.

When the doubties creep in — the nasty little thoughts that insist that I’m not good enough to be a real writer — I have proof that they’re wrong. Maybe I’m not good enough, but no one can deny that I’m working hard to get better. And it’s working.

How to Keep Your Own Writing Log

Have I convinced you?

If I have, this should be easy. There are a few ways to do this.

You could download FRED. He’s got a writing log attached.

You could use a notebook.

You could use dockets.

Or you can do it digitally. Either here on Medium, if you’re feel like you need or want the accountability of something public. Or just a Google Doc or something like that for yourself.

Or some combination of the three. I’ve been writing my log here on Medium, of course. But I also use dockets and a notebook (which I use as my FRED — which is just a cute name for tool to keep yourself on task with your writing.)

Start by just writing in a sentence or two what you did toward your work in progress for the day. That’s actually enough, if you want to stop there.

If you want to do a little more, make note of your WRITER framework progress for the day. The dockets are good for this part.

That should give you a good start.

Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.