At the urging of James Scott Bell in How to Making a Living as a Writer, I started keeping a word count log. I don’t need much encouragement to make a new spreadsheet, because that’s the kind of thing that speaks to me in a weird, nerdy way, so I did it.

And it has had an unexpected consequence. Guilt. When I go a few days at a time without having done any creative writing — it’s important that I distinguish between creative and legal writing, because while there’s no shortage of writing for work, it doesn’t count for these purposes — I feel a sense of conviction coming over me.

Make time for creative outlets

It can be difficult to make time for creative outlets when it’s only a hobby or a side hustle. I don’t anticipate that my books and writing projects will ever yield enough income that I can walk away from lawyering. Knowing that, some days I have a hard time forcing myself to engage in creative writing when I could instead be doing work that leads to additional income.

But I know the importance of making time for my creative outlets. I need to force myself to disengage from my billable work and recharge my batteries with some creativity. Even if I’m writing about some aspect of managing clients or improving my law practice, doing so activates parts of my brain that doing the work does. Creative writing reduces my overall stress levels and gives me a sense of fulfillment that work cannot.

We all need to step away from our jobs to participate in hobbies and creative outlets. Whether that is running, painting, or building model airplanes, our bodies need creative time to recuperate from the other daily activities of our busy lives. So when I’ve gone a few days without writing and start to think about how my word count log has gone a while without an entry, I know it’s time to put away my timesheet and open up a writing project.

Keep a word count log spreadsheet

I really wish I’d started a word count log three years ago when I first started my law blog. I could always go back and re-create it based on the blog entry dates and word counts, but that would be more time and effort than I’m interested in putting into it. I started tracking my word count on April 15 with a simple 3-column spreadsheet that tracks the date, word count on that day, and which project I wrote for. Here’s what the last three months have looked like for me (excluding the names of the projects since some of those are still in the early stages):

  • 4/15 – 1238
  • 4/17 – 1205
  • 4/19 – 700
  • 4/20 – 375
  • 4/22 – 178
  • 4/26 – 233
  • 5/04 – 378
  • 5/07 – 210
  • 5/09 – 502
  • 5/10 – 191
  • 5/27 – 478
  • 5/29 – 557
  • 5/30 – 911
  • 6/03 – 542
  • 6/04 – 428
  • 6/05 – 364
  • 6/06 – 868
  • 6/12 – 1270

You may have noticed, as I have, that my writing periods tend to cluster together. I’ll have several days within the 2-week period that I write fairly consistently. Then I’ll have a couple of weeks where the creative writing is sparse or non-existent. That’s been a fairly consistent pattern for me over the past three years. It is, of course, its own form of consistency. But it’s a far cry from the 500 words a day or myriad other daily writing habits propagated by Jeff Goins and other successful writers.

I console myself with the half-truth that this is the best I can do for now. But my word count log now stares at me, emotionless. Awaiting the next entry. So today, I get to add another 579 words to it.

Photo by Ak~i.