I’ve been setting a writing goal for the year and keeping track of exactly how much I write every day and on what project for six years now. While I’ve changed exactly what I’ve tracked and how I’ve tracked it over the years, the basic day by day data is all still there so I decided to do a little retro-fitting so I could see how the things I track now compare with past years.
Before we dive into this, keep in mind that I have limited and sporadic writing time. These are not the numbers of a full time writer. I’m an evening and weekend warrior such as yourself with only an hour or two here and there with which to write around other responsibilities.
(Don’t be alarmed if this data doesn’t match up to the total’s I’ve given for past writing years. To simplify the fact that, prior to 2014, my writing year matched the calendar year but post-2014 my writing year goes from November to December, the following data is rearranged to use the real calendar year again. In other words, though December 2016 is technically part of my 2017 Year in Writing, it’s included in the data below for 2016 which is why the total I gave for my 2016 Year in Writing in this post won’t match what’s below. I know, it’s stupid and confusing, just roll with it.)
First, let’s look at the numbers…
|Total Focused Writing||279,194||98,523||58,720||307,509||484,169||446,756|
|Average Word Per Day||1,097||601||411||1,267||1,848||2,055|
|Total Writing Days||204||141||128||288||317||329|
|% of year I wrote||56%||39%||35%||79%||87%||90%|
How does 2016 compare to past years?
- Total Words: This one’s easy! 2016 was my highest word count year ever!
- Average Word Per Day: Stands to reason my highest word count year is also my highest average word count but this number still blows my mind. I would never consciously set 2k words a day as a goal (well, maybe I would if I could do this writing gig full time but not now, with my current sporadic schedule and limited writing time) because it seems impossibly large but yet I somehow hit it anyway but just focusing on the day to day. There’s a lesson there but I think I covered it in this writing goals post so I won’t repeat myself.
- Total Writing Days/% of year I wrote: This is an interesting one to me. 2016 was also my highest number of writing days in a year. I’m not a person who worries about writing every day (except during NaNoWriMo so I can get that stupid 30 day streak badge) so it’s somewhat pleasing to discover that I end up writing 90% of all days anyway. But while part of me thinks the fact that I’m writing for more days out of the year is a good thing, I’ll show you a graph in a minute that makes me less sure.
Let’s talk about Focused Writing for a minute. It’s a designation I invented to separate the writing I do just for the heck of it, such as journal and blog entries, from the writing and editing I do on projects destined for sale, such as books and plays. It became necessary to track this because I needed to focus my writing more so I wasn’t just shooting for big word count numbers, I was also getting projects done and out the door. But I’ve also started to question how I’ve divided things up here. For example, I’m certainly not writing marketing emails for fun but I’ve designated them as Not-Focused writing. Ditto all the forum moderation and emails blasts I’m contractually obligated to do for NaNoWriMo.
So as we talk about Focused Writing here and how it breaks down, I do want the grain of salt thrown in that it’s not a perfect system so I’m not sure how much I should sweat these numbers as long as they hover roughly above 50% of all writing. Also worth noting: my system in 2011 was completely different than my system now so, while that looks like a super productive year those numbers are suspect because of how I tracked things back then.
Anyway, back to the numbers…
- Total Focused Writing/Focused Writing: At 446,756 words, I wrote more focused words in 2016 than I wrote total in 2011 through 2013 (and I was only 20k under that number in 2014) so that’s a good thing for sure. Weirdly, though, I did 12% less focused writing this year than I did last year, even though I wrote more words overall in 2016. This difference is about 40k which could mean this year’s weird stressful November is to blame but I also want to consider this chart.
Ignoring 2011’s suspect numbers, this sure seems to tell a story about how the more days a year I wrote, the LESS focused work I got done. I don’t exactly know what to make of this discovery, both because of the disclaimer above about how I track Focused work and because I keep a journal now, something I didn’t do before 2013 and which falls under Not-Focused. I’m not going to let this info change how I work, as I’m still writing more Focused writing a year than ever before, but it does tell me one big thing: those days when I really need a break but I force myself to write anyway because I feel like I should are days when I’m probably better off just taking the night off.
What is the point of all of this?
This. This is the point:
With the exception of 2012 and 2013, which are outliers because of personal life turmoil, there is an undeniable steady increase in how much I’m writing each year since I started this project. More than that, what the charts don’t show, is the other growth in my writing career over these past six years in the number of things I’m finishing, selling, publishing and otherwise getting out the door each year despite still having only minimal, unpredictable writing time. It’s a huge difference in production and what, really did I do to achieve it? I started keeping track of my writing. That’s it.
It sounds too simple to be true but, the fact is, simply keeping a record of how much I write and what I’m working on day to day has increased how much I’m writing overall and, more importantly, increased the amount of writing time I spend on the projects that are the most important to me and need to get done leading to more career opportunities such as publication and productions. I’m living proof that being mindful of when, what and how you are writing is actually all it takes to increase both the quantity and quality of what you put out.
Fun fact: I had over four times more writing time in 2011 & 2012 than I do now but yet I’m getting almost double the writing done.
But while keeping track is truly enough to make a difference, you’ll notice I take it one step farther. The reason I get nerdy and audit these numbers and charts both monthly and yearly is because it allows me to learn about my process. I’ve been able to maximize the little bit of writing time I do have like this exactly because I spend so much time learning about my writing process and figuring out how to tweak it to get more done. It’s about becoming more efficient, sure, but it’s also about tapping into the patterns and habits I gravitate to naturally and riding them into greater productivity.
Maybe tracking word count isn’t your bliss. You can also track writing progress by pages, time spent working or some system you invent yourself. But no matter how you choose to track your forward progress, keeping a record is a must if you want to increase the amount and quality of writing you produce. To help get you started, here’s my own personal word count spreadsheet which you are welcome to adapt to your own needs.