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  • Melissa Westemeier


In the olden days, I used to write like mad in the summertime and set aside my stories during the school year. When I quit teaching, it took a minute to sort out how life as a full-time writer should look. Since I enjoy metrics and data, facts informing my thinking, I needed to set some standards for myself as a writer. (Yeah, I follow Type A behavior patterns. You can picture me as a Girl Scout, achieving my merit badges in rapid succession and sewing them to my sash, right? I'm all about charts and to-do lists and crossing stuff off.) What does success look like in this gig? How do I measure my productivity? By words? Pages? Hours? Sales?

Frankly, I like tracking words because let's face it, it's easy to fudge a page count. Adjust the margins, add a bit to the line spacing, write loads of dialogue, include frequent chapter breaks, I know all the tricks. Word counts don't lie, however. But what's a reasonable word count for a full time writer? Do you know? Me either.

I asked around a little, and was gratified to learn my goal of 7,000 words/week aligned with a few writers whose work I admire.

Of course, some weeks the words roll out in rapid succession and I'm jumping up from my seat within a few hours after getting started. Other weeks I sit and stare, type, delete, type more, delete more, and start another load of laundry. And writing doesn't just involve word counts. Editing, revising, marketing, outlining, conceptualizing the next project, and networking are also part of the gig. How many hours each week do I spend on these tasks? How many craft workshops should I attend? How many books by other people should I read? Do I get to count time spent hiking in the woods while I'm noodling over my next big story idea? What about this blog? What about the words I write when filling out a character chart or a plotting outline? Do only the words I keep in the final manuscript count, or do I get a more generous accounting?

I've had to shed my expectations while adjusting to this new gig. It was easy to churn out 7,000 words a week during the summer when I knew I only had 12 weeks to get my work done. Sustaining 7,000 words a week year-round is a different deal. I'm still figuring out the right balance between typing words and doing all the other tasks.

Then there's the matter of my workspace. For almost twenty years it looks like this:

Pros: It gets plenty of natural lighting, and has a decent view. There's a bathroom just around the corner. Never too hot or too cold. Quiet. Quick commute.

Cons: That tiny desk in the corner doesn't exactly let a gal spread out her pages of notes and set up her laptop. There's a lot of furniture sitting around the room, all of it family heirlooms, inherited from beloved grandparents and I don't know where else to put it and none of my kids is in a position to inherit any of it from me yet. I need more space to spread out and display current WiPs (Work in Progress). The desk and shelves are too cluttered.

I'm torn between having a pretty library and a functional office. Maybe I can have both, but right now I have neither. I need proper space, better seating (unless I want a world of back and shoulder pain every day), and a honkin' big bulletin board to hang up charts and lists and other visual aides for my projects. Things need to change. What doesn't serve me here has to go.

When I get back from this year's Screw Iowa Writers' Workshop, I'm giving this room a desperately needed makeover. Watch this space for updates.

Meanwhile, spill it. Do you measure productivity in your work? If so, what does that look like for you? What have you needed to shed to achieve greater success?

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Jul 11

Looking forward to seeing how you remanage your space!

I don't do word counts but try to go by chapters/scenes and leave myself knowing what's up next.


Karen C
Karen C
Jul 10

My so-called craft room is horribly cluttered, PLUS it is sandwiched between dh's "habitat" (a.k.a., his desktop work station) and the pathway to the back door. The natural light is great, but the room is too hot in the summer and the floor is terrible for finding dropped beads.

While there is much about the space that I cannot control, I need to be ruthless in downsizing my stash of supplies. I've been avoiding it.


Jul 09

Having an ergonomic space to work is vital. I'm looking forward to seeing how you resolve your situation.

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