Why Should I Keep a Writer’s Log?


Realize your creative potential and avoid procrastination by logging your work.

You can be more productive and make writing less adverse if you write in brief daily sessions. By keeping a log of your writing efforts, you can:

  1. Motivate yourself. By tracking your accomplishments on a daily basis, you can develop a better sense of how research efforts and invention strategies help you break through writer’s block. Tracking your work can help you maintain the enthusiasm needed to realize your creative potential: Logging your work can help you see how many different activities—such as locating sources in the library, talking over an idea with a friend, working in the field or laboratory, or just struggling to express an idea succinctly—are essential parts of the writing and research process.
  2. See the value of generative writing. As discussed at the Writer’s Guide, you can discover your best ideas when your write. Tracking your work by log provides an excellent tool to help you realize new directions in your research and writing.
  3. Prioritize. Keep focused on completing important tasks and do not get mired in busy work.
  4. Learn to write regularly. Logging your efforts each day can help motivate you to work on a project even when you are in a slump and unsure of how to proceed. Your writing log will demonstrate how small blocks of time spent writing can lead, over time, to major accomplishments.
  5. Provide a reward (or punishment) schedule. When they are not productive, some people apply “negative contingencies.” For example, if the writer enjoys showering, he may prohibit himself from showering. Or if a writer likes chocolate, she might deny herself. Alternatively–and this is probably healthier–some writers provide “positive contingencies”–i.e., rewards, such as time at the movies, massages, nice dinners out, etc.
  6. Record your efforts on a group project.Your teacher may ask you to keep a private record of your work in a collaborative group.

Many well-known professional writers and researchers report that they would never complete a project if they didn’t keep track of how well they were meeting writing goals and due dates.

“I started keeping a more detailed chart which also showed how many pages I had written by the end of every working day. I am not sure why I started keeping such records. I suspect that it was because as a freelance writer entirely on my own, without employer or deadline, I wanted to create disciplines for myself, ones that were guilt-making when ignored. A chart on the wall served me as such a discipline, its figures scolding me or encouraging.”
Irving Wallace

Logging Work Facilitates Daily Writing

Rather than waiting for that illusive large block of time and rather than procrastinating until the last minute to begin researching and writing, you can ensure your success by using small blocks of time to accomplish your research and writing goals.

There are serious disadvantages to binge writing as opposed to regular writing as research has demonstrated. First, binge writing tends to stimulate manic-depressive behavior (Boice). Proponents of binge writing may enjoy the adrenaline rush of waiting until the last minute to research and write and then frantically putting words to one’s thoughts. Yet once the project is submitted, people often feel an emotional letdown—particularly if they were up late trying to complete the task. Second, binge writing does not provide authors with the emotional and intellectual distance they need to be critical of our ideas and presentation. As all of us who have binged at one time or another know, we can have difficulty critiquing drafts that we just composed. In contrast, when some time has passed since we completed a draft, we’ve experienced the surprise of identifying large numbers of problems with our rough drafts. Third, if binge writing leads to a less effective final product, then we are likely to face additional criticisms from readers. Finally, and this may be the most important point, binge writing is likely to result in greater emotional and physical stress.

Sitting in front of the monitor until all words dance together, furiously typing into the keyboard until the hands cramp and carpel tunnel sets in, straining our necks and backs by sitting stiffly for extended periods—all of these behaviors associated with binge writing may further our dislike for additional writing in the future, thereby ensuring a continuing cycle of extensive procrastination and bingeing. The value of regular writing as opposed to binge writing, like the story about the Tortoise and the Hare, is perhaps best depicted in the commonsense saying “Find a busy person if you want to get something done.” Successful researchers and writers have learned that momentum is essential to success, and momentum is enhanced by regular, daily writing. In short, as one wise author quipped, “Inspiration is the art of applying the seat of one’s pants to the chair in front of the word processor.”

Suggestions for Maintaining Daily Writing

  1. Log your research and writing efforts on a daily basis.
  2. Establish priorities and act accordingly.
    1. Set aside a minimum of one hour each day for writing.
  3. Reserve your most energetic time of day, if possible, for writing.
  4. Break each document into manageable sections.
  5. Establish due dates for first, second, and subsequent drafts.
  6. Write when you are sick and tired.
  7. When all else fails, establish contingencies. (In Bob Boice’s research, for example, he has found that people are very motivated when they apply negative contingencies. For instance, in one of his research studies he found that writers were eight times more likely to write on a daily basis if they agreed to submit money to a despised organization if they failed to write daily. In contrast, you can make positive rewards contingent on getting the work done, such as exercising, buying flowers, having cream in your coffee, eating sweets, or seeing a movie).

Examples of Writing Logs

1. Simple Log Sheet HTML This is an example of a log created with Microsoft Word.
2. Table Daily Log HTML This is a table example–i.e., a log in table format that has columns for various items the writer wanted to track.
3. Word Calendar Daily Log This is an example of a way to use Word’s calendar template.
4. Calendar Daily Log This example employs HTML and hyperlinks, enabling readers to go immediately to work when completed. Hint: You can download calendar templates that work in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or FrontPage at Microsoft’s Template Page.

Table 1: Simple Log Sheet HTML 

Table 2: A Writing Log

Date/Day Hours Worked Number of Words Written Class of Writing Activities Goals

Figure 3: Word Calendar Daily Log

January 2014

Table 4: Calendar Daily Log

Januar2014 with hyperlinks

You may initially be hesitant about daily writing—what Boice calls “bds”—brief daily sessions. Some of you may have been told by other professors that binge writing works for them. And it is possible that binge writing can result in some fine prose (Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein comes immediately to mind). In short, you will be looking at a lifestyle change.  You will reap many benefits from regular writing. While you may never come to love writing, you will learn—once you’ve gained momentum—that you can find your voice, develop ideas with greater authority, and produce more effective documents less painfully and in less time.

In Table 2 above, a sample log sheet is provided that you may wish to use to help support regular writing on your part. As with any other “new habit” you try to develop, it is recommended that you try logging your work for at least 21 days before even contemplating whether it’s a helpful strategy. In the beginning, silence the critical voice within you that says this technique just won’t work.

By logging your work, you will be able to observe how small blocks of time spent writing can lead to major accomplishments. You can reward yourself, also, by noting how many different activities—such as locating a source in a library, talking over an idea with a friend, or going into the field or laboratory—are an integral part of writing.

The rationale for recording the date, hours worked, and number of words written and deleted is fairly obvious. (For example, by recording our true working schedules, we’re less prone to exaggerate our writing loads and more aware of exactly how much time it truly takes to complete a project.) What may be less apparent, however, is the need to monitor the “Class of Writing,” “Writing/Research Activities” or “Feelings about self as a Writer .”

“Class of Writing,” is referring to Maxine Hairston’s observation that different written products are likely to require different composing processes. Hairston describes “Class 1” writing as routine message writing—sort of like the notes you might write to a roommate about grocery items that need to be purchased at the store. Unlike Class 1 writing, “Class 2” writing may require one or two revisions, but in general this form of writing refers to the kinds of writing we do routinely as part of our professional and personal lives. In contrast, “Class 3” writing is speculative, open-ended, likely to require extensive revision. When we are doing Class 3 writing, we are discovering our meaning as we compose(as opposed to recording what we already understand), allowing our thinking and writing to mature and grow. By identifying the class of writing you are attempting to do, you can better understand your composing behaviors. As a result, you are more likely to be less hard on yourself when you get stuck, mired in a writing block. In other words, if you feel frustrated and unsure about how to proceed, you may be confronted by the knowledge that such feelings are typical of Class 3 writing. Also, if you find that all your writing falls within the class 2 category—that is, if you always know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it—then you can benefit by realizing that you may need to let go a little, be more flexible, and attempt more Class 3 writing.

In turn, recording your “Writing/Research Activities” can help you get a better grasp on what it takes to successfully research and write. For example, many writers who have reported that recording their activities helps them see that they really are working on a project when they feel as if they’re standing still. It is possible, for example, to feel as if we’ve accomplished nothing on our project, but then, when we sit down to record related activities—such as talking with friends about an idea, making phone calls to gather information for the project, conducting a database search—we can see that indeed we have been involved in the project. More importantly, by recording the activities you’re conducting, you can better ensure that you don’t become obsessed with one particular activity. For example, if you prefer researching to writing, you may fall into the trap of spending more time than necessary researching and less time writing. (After all, in our world of information where dozens of are published every minute, one could literally spend one’s life analyzing a research question without writing.) Unfortunately, one cannot give an exact percentage to direct how much time should be spent researching rather than writing. Each document you write is likely to make different demands on you, especially when the documents address different audience and purposes.

It is strongly encouraged to monitor your “Feelings about Self as a Writer.” It demonstrates how pernicious, how expansive, negative thoughts can be. As we all know, writing can be difficult work, surrounded by self-criticism, the criticism of others, and the limitations of our minds and schedules. Unfortunately, we can be crippled into silence if we listen to the negative voices within us—the voices that say the project isn’t worth pursuing, or that we lack the ability to express complex relationships simply. If you find yourself always recording negative thoughts about your research and writing processes and about your potential as a writer, we suggest that you actually write down on a page your negative thoughts. Often, once the terrors are written down, we can see how illogical they are and then begin to substitute more positive thoughts. You may also find it helpful to share your logs with other writers who are willing (and prepared) to discuss their writing processes.

Maintain the Weekly Writing Log in a flexible and positive way. When you record the number of words written and revised, for example, do not get caught up on trying to give an exact word count. Instead, use your word processor to count the words before you write and then the number of words in the file after you’ve completed your day’s writing. Don’t worry about getting an exact count on the number of words deleted. Your teacher, after all, does not work for the IRS. Remember, above all else, that the Weekly Log is designed to help you find your voice as a scholar and researcher. The Log is not intended to be a guilt sheet or the sort of record you think a prisoner should keep to become a better person.

Instead, the Log is a way of recording and monitoring your daily writing, a way of showing your progress toward your writing goals.

Read More: