Keeping Track of Writing Time

I’m sorry I missed last week’s blog, but a call from my brother-in-law had us hurrying to close up the place in Florida and head north. We didn’t make it in time to see my mother-in-law before she passed, but we did make the visitation and funeral. Now that the funeral is over, I’m trying to mentally adjust to Michigan’s weather (rain, snow, sleet, followed by spring-like temperatures) and prepare for Friday—TAX DAY.

A few weeks ago there were several email questions regarding Schedule C; what could be legitimately deducted from writing income and what couldn’t be. One concern that came up was how to prove your writing is a business and not a hobby. Since I’ve always thought of my writing as a business (I want to make money doing this), I’ve never considered the instructions that question if I devote 500 hours during the year to this “business.”

I’ve been filing a Schedule C for years, and I know how important it is to keep records of what I spend on writing and proof that I am treating my writing as a business. I keep copies of queries, rejections, office supply purchases, miles driven that pertain to writing, postage, dues, conference fees, travel, meals, and lodging connected to conferences, retreats, or seminars, and everything else that directly assists me with my writing.

But how does one keep track of hours? I have a 35-mile drive to Kalamazoo. When I go there by myself (which is often), my mind wanders, bouncing from thinking about a book I’m working on, to a cover design I need to find images for, to what book reviewers I need to contract, to if it’s time for a newsletter, and if so, what to put in it, to…

Well, you get the idea.

And maybe those thoughts take 5 minutes. Or, maybe they take 25 minutes.

Then there is the time on the computer when I’m reading email posts about marketing techniques or new markets to try, blogs by other writers, or doing research for a book or blog. I use email to contact my cover artist, ask questions about ways to cultivate new readers, or ask experts the best way to kill someone. There’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. We writers are encouraged to have a social presence, so those activities are also a part of my writing business.

Sure, I can keep track of the time I’m actually writing, but what about the minutes (or longer) when I’m staring out the window, trying to think of the right word or mentally digging deep into the psyche of my characters so I know how they would think and act. Rarely do I read a book simply for pleasure. I read other writers to learn from them and see what publishers are looking for right now.

It’s after one a.m. right now. I couldn’t sleep because this blog was forming in my head. Maybe it will take me 20 minutes to write this, but how do I measure the time while I was in bed thinking about it?

What I’m trying to say is most writers who are producing stories (whether they sell or not), who send their work out or self-publish, who work at promoting their work, should never worry about reaching that minimum of 500 hours the IRS requires to prove this isn’t a hobby. It might actually be easier for writers to figure out when they’re not mentally or physically at work being a writer.

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13 Responses to Keeping Track of Writing Time

  1. So true!
    Great post.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Good luck and God’s blessings.

  2. PS: so sorry to hear about your MIL passing.
    May God rest her soul and bring peace and comfort to all those who love and mourn her.

  3. Melissa Keir says:

    Very true… Even time visiting blogs is working/writing time!

  4. Diane Kratz says:

    Please except my condolences to your family for the loss of your mother-in-law. I love reading your blogs.

    Diane Kratz

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thank you, Diane. I’m so glad you find my blogs interesting. Some weeks I’m not sure what to write, but then I start thinking of questions I’ve been asked or questions I have and the blog takes form.

  5. Lucy Kubash says:

    Agree! Even when we’re not actually writing we are still thinking about writing and everything that goes with it. I’ve never kept track of the time I do spend writing (and was truly not aware of the 500 hours) but I figure having a certain amount of published work should prove one is serious about it. Welcome back to Michigan. Let’s hope we’re done with the snow and all the other nonsense.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I started thinking about how many hours, and if I simply spent one hour a day writing (or editing, or working on a plot idea, or all the other non-writing that goes with writing), I would have 365 hours. 500 hours barely touches what a writer spends.

  6. I’m sorry to hear about your mother-in-law, Maris. Thank you for sharing more timely tips!

  7. Catherine Dilts says:

    My condolences on the loss of your mother-in-law. Your article is so true. I did not know about the 500 hour requirement. I do track my writing time, but definitely don’t capture all the staring out the window thinking about my story moments.

    • Maris Soule says:

      If I tried to track my time, nowadays, I would spend almost as much time doing the tracking as the writing. However, twenty years ago, when I had roughly 6 hours a day when husband and kids were out of the house and no interruptions, tracking my time would have been easier.