Creating a Writer’s Logbook

By Cathalynn Labonte-Smith & Jeff Hortobagyi

When a pilot completes a flight, they enter it into their Pilot’s Logbook. This is a valuable record of the hours they spend as the Pilot-in-Command or Co-Pilot of an aircraft. There’s a thrill each time a pilot enters another flight into their logbook. 

Logbooks and Logging Time - AOPA
Inspiration for Writer’s Logbook

This is what inspired the creation of this Writer’s Logbook. Each time you sit down to write, you are in command of the words that land on the page, so why not record your journey every time you takeoff into that world of creative skies. It feels fantastic to make an entry in your logbook and see how the word count starts to add up. Filling up the log sheets is motivation in and of itself to write your way towards your goals. 

You can track progress. Are you writing for longer each session? Are you writing more words? Does one coffee shop over another more conducive to your work? Do you write better in the morning or the afternoon? Do you write better with a timed writing group, or solo? It’s only if you log your work you can see patterns emerge.

What Gets Measured Gets Done 

Every writer’s process is their own. Now let’s put that aside and consider ways to get writing.

Looking through time | Antiques | Artistic Objects | Pixoto
Manual measuring tools.

What gets measured, gets done. A business rule that has become a cliché and that everyone can find something disparaging to say about it. But we also know intuitively that there is something right about this flawed advice.

  1. Wake up at 1 am and write until 9 am
  2. Break
  3. Write until 6 pm
  4. Eat dinner
  5. Bed at 7 pm
  6. Sleep until 1 am
  7. Repeat
    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s schedule while writing The Gulag Archipelago fitting two writing days into one.

Solzhenitsyn aside, productivity is probably the lament of most writers but probably new writers mostly, who have not established regular writing processes or just aren’t confident in their abilities. The Writer’s Logbook is a tool to focus on productivity and to identify writing processes that enable your productivity.

How it works

The log should take no more than 2-3 minutes to complete. Anything more than that means you are spending time that would be better used for writing. For each writing session, log the following:

  1. Date. The Date column gives you self feedback on how often you are writing. Is it every day? A couple times a week? Less? See if you can manage to write daily.
  2. Location. At home, at your desk, sitting on your bed or in the bath? At a coffee shop, alone or with others? At the library or on a park bench? Somewhere special like a plane or train?
  3. How long you wrote for. The Time column can be used as a goal to slowly increase the amount of time you spend per writing session. For example, if you wrote for 10 minutes on Monday to Friday, by the following week make it your goal to write for 15 minutes per session. Keep building your time by five minutes per week, or more if you can. This is one way you can get to a point where you can write for as long as you want to.
  4. how many words you wrote. Sometimes this isn’t possible as you may be moving text around, cutting text out, or working collaboratively.
  5. Rate the quality of your writing experience, how you feel about it. Was it highly productive, moderately productive, a waste of time?
  6. Why was it productive or not? If it was productive, identify no more than 1-2 success factors. These may be things you may continue to do. If you weren’t satisfied with your productivity, identify 1-2 factors that contributed to that and one thing that you could do differently next time. 

Over time, you will have a log of your productivity to let yourself know if you are meeting your goals as a writer. It will also give you a list of processes that enable or limit your productivity. However, the writing process can be slippery and what is successful one time may not be another time. The logbook provides a list of tools to use.

. . .Nothing had prepared me for the liberation and absorption of this extended literary labor, the joy of allowing fantasy to play on stored experience, the joy of the comedy that so naturally offered itself, the joy of language.

VS Naipaul on writing his first book, A House for Mr Biswas.

But what about quality, you may ask. A well-crafted haiku is better than a thousand words of gibberish. Productivity isn’t the only goal, but it is an important one for a writer. The Writer’s Logbook is focused on productivity, but you have to keep quality in your back pocket. Here’s an example of a completed Logbook sheet.

Writer’s Logbook (Cathalynn’s Example)

2020LocationName(s)RemarksRating P, G, ETime Words 
Month/DayHome, OtherSolo, Dual, GroupExercises, Stories, OtherWhy was it successful or not? Approx.Start/Finish
5/09HomeLibrary ZoomCover Art, Writer’s LogbookE Quiet Goals1.5 hours0/911 image
5/11HomeN. Van Zoom Writer’s Weekly PlannerE Goals2 hours91/1579
5/13HomeSoloWriter’s PassportE Goals2 hours1579/2737c
5/15HomeGib ZoomEdit Flying bookImport 1 blogE – AM is good time to write2 hoursN/A
5/16HomeLibrary ZoomBook promo Grey
Writer’s Wheel
Writer’s Gantt Chart
E – Had a lot to write6 hours2737/4889
5/17HomeSoloRevise Grey
Chris’s Book
E – 2:30 – 7:30 AM is very quiet 10 hoursN/A
5/18HomeNV ZoomRevise GreyG – Interruptions 2 hoursN/A
5/20CondoSoloRevise GreyE – 4:00 AM – 1:00 PM 9 hours
5/21CondoSolo“              “E6 hoursN/A
5/23CondoSoloLib Zoom“              ““              “E 6:30-8:30 AM 9:30 – 7:30 AM2 hours9 hoursN/A

Grand total =  55 hours 5500 Page totals 55 hours (Columns 1-10) Hours/Minutes Word Count Hours/Minutes Word Count
Observations: Totals Fwd 0 0
When I write with a group that’s all the writing I do for the day vs. writing solo. Hours/Minutes Word Count

Totals to date 0 0
Hours/Minutes Word Count

Writer’s Logbook

Page _______

20____LocationName(s)RemarksRating (P, G, E)TimeWords 
Month/DayHome, OtherSolo, Dual, GroupExercises, Story Ideas, OtherWhy was it successful or not? Approx.Start/Finish

Grand total =  ____________ __________ Page totals ___________ ___________

(Columns 1-10) Hours/Minutes Word Count Hours/Minutes Word Count

Totals Fwd ___________ ___________

Observations: Hours/Minutes Word Count

Totals to date ___________ ____________

Hours/Minutes Word Count

Achieving quality is a complex process and it is a process just as productivity is.  

When I looked at the hours on the logbook sheet, I noticed a trend that when I met with the virtual groups I only wrote for the two hour session. However, when I wrote on my own I wrote for the entire day. Although, for one session I started writing early in the morning then joined a virtual group, wrote with them for a while and continued to write on my own. I wrote this trend in the Observation area. 

Now that I’m aware of the fact that I’ve been cutting writing sessions short on group days, I can adjust expectations of myself and continue to write once the meeting closes, if not immediately after a short break. The other option is to attend fewer group meetings

An alternative Writer’s Logbook worksheet follows. Choose the worksheet that works for you best. You can try them both out, if you wish. Make copies of worksheets as needed.

Writer’s Logbook 

Page _______

20__LocationTimeWord CountProductivity RatingWhy productive or not / Sustain or Change 
Month / DayHome / Online / CafeApproxHigh / Moderate / Waste of Time1-2 reasons
1 thing to sustain/change

Grand total =  ____________ __________ Page totals ___________ ___________

(Columns 1-10) Hours/Minutes Word Count Hours/Minutes Word Count

Observations: Totals Fwd ___________ ___________ Hours/Minutes Word Count

Totals to date ___________ ____________

Hours/Minutes Word Count

2 thoughts on “Creating a Writer’s Logbook

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