Some seventeen years ago, I was discouraged. After five years of writing, my motivation to continue was waning. I had written three complete novels, and while my rejections always came with good feedback, it wasn’t easy to find the will to keep going. Especially when I felt like I had less time than I wanted for writing, even with my kids in school all day. Maybe God was trying to tell me I had other things to do instead of write. But writing was the thing my heart desired most, the crazy dream I truly believed the Lord had given me. What a conundrum!
So at the beginning of 2005, I set up a simple spreadsheet. I decided to keep track of things I did which constituted my writing life for an entire year. Because while I “felt like” I got nothing done, I needed to discover whether or not that was true. I figured knowing would either convince me to quit or keep at it.
Of course you know the end of the story. I kept at it. But my total that year wasn’t overly impressive: 58,501 words written and meeting with my critique group 41 out of the 52 weeks that year. The meetings were good. Consistent. But the word count? I’d done almost that in one month back in November of 2000. But somehow I saw that my hit-and-miss days of writing had added up. So I prepared a new spreadsheet for 2006 and determined to better my total.
Not surprisingly, my numbers did rise. In 2006 I added some other stats to track besides words written. Now I counted pages revised and pages edited for my critique partners. I also kept track of books read.
Every year my totals grew. I added column for time I spent researching and pre-writing. I got a contract, and my totals jumped even higher.
I’ll be honest, those numbers puffed me up with pride a bit. “Look how much I can get done!” “Look how I’ve pulled myself up out of the doldrums and made a career.” But as we know, pride goes before a fall.
The book contracts stopped. My statistics plummeted. In 2018, I wrote fewer words than all the way back in 2005. Again, I was discouraged. But after 13 years of tracking my writing time/pages/words, I couldn’t just quit. I continued on. Somehow I felt the numbers would help me know when it was time to let it go for good.
The words written numbers hovered fairly steady for a few years, but at each year’s end I noticed something: The number of books I read and the pages I critiqued for others had jumped up. Maybe my writing life wasn’t dead, just different. And maybe the end of each year, when I totaled out my spreadsheet wasn’t meant to be a reason to celebrate me at all anyway. It was meant to be a testimony to God’s faithfulness, even in the changing nature of the numbers.
I knew this year would bring another shift in my spreadsheet. As I totaled out 2021, I saw that my words written had jumped up again, especially since I did so much re-writing on this year’s book! But I noticed that even with this, the numbers in other categories didn’t dip as significantly as before. Even in giving me new writing work, the Lord hadn’t decreased my time to help other writers or find pleasure in my own reading. Nor had I neglected the relationships in my life in favor of work. As I looked over the year in numbers, I sat in humble thanksgiving for what the Lord had done in 2021.
This is why my favorite year end task is to total out of my yearly writing spreadsheet. It makes me recognize what God’s faithfulness not only in the current year but in past years. And as the numbers stretch across almost two decades, it helps me see the bigger picture of what God has been doing, both in and through me.
What is your favorite task at the beginning or end of each year?