A Better Way of Looking at the Numbers

I read an interesting blog post by David Haywood Young a couple of days ago and saved it in Evernote to read again when I could, because I wanted to think about it for a while. It was a really great post about writing processes and goals that you can control. This morning, I reread the post.

While I’ve been sick with this cold, I’ve been mulling over how to discipline myself to write in a way that’s going to sustain my career. I’ve tried lots of stuff over the last year and a half, the most usual being variations of different word count goals. The one thing I haven’t stuck to is a daily time goal that takes word counts out of the equation. My problem is I like math. I like my spreadsheets, and word count goals have always seemed like the only real way to track productivity and production. And maybe they are.

But as David Haywood Young says:

…some days I could write 5000 words or more, and other days I wrote nothing at all (which generally involved a lot of pacing and cursing), and…I might as well say my goal is to “sell 1000 copies of my next novel in its first month without advertising”…that’s more of a dream than a goal.

Later, he says:

You know what I can control? Whether my butt’s in my chair.

His words really brought home to me that I’ve been chasing something out of my control.

Now, I know I generally average 500–600 words an hour and that this average is something I’ve calculated based on timed writing sessions over 338.85 hours. ;) I no longer track this because it was  dejecting to see that average never really budge. It is what it is and I’ve accepted that for the time being. After another 500,000 words I’m going to revisit that average, but I don’t see a lot of point until then.

Some days I just don’t write fast, maybe 200 words an hour if I’m lucky. My spreadsheet proves that. Some days I really get on a roll and write 1,000 words an hour and manage 3,000–4,000 or even 5,000 words in a day. And again, my spreadsheet has data that proves that.

Word count goals aren’t working well for me. I don’t meet them most of the time, for various reasons, not the least of which is that if I’m doing really well, I stop too soon because I’ve hit my goal. When I’m doing badly, I end up working long hours to try to meet that number. And although I know my average, I can’t really predict how much extra I should write on the days I’m doing well, to keep ahead of the curve.

So I always end up feeling like I’m behind—and frankly it’s because I usually am behind.

What it comes down to is that I keep going at this all wrong.

If I set a time goal, I’m going to end up with a fairly predictable word count over time. Maybe not on a day-to-day basis, but weekly, and definitely monthly.

So I did the math.

At four hours a day of writing (and nothing but writing during that time), I’ll end up with plenty of words to fill one of my average-sized novels, which is more than double what I’ve averaged in the last year.

So that’s my new goal. Write 4 hours every day.  I don’t see a need to worry about whether I do 30 minute sessions, or 25 minutes, or 1 hour blocks. It’s all irrelevant. The goal is to write 4 hours every day. Simple as that.

Thank you, David Haywood Young. I don’t know you, but your blog post was just the spark I needed. ;D

2 thoughts on “A Better Way of Looking at the Numbers”

  1. Hi!

    Thanks for the mention, and I’m glad my musings seemed likely to be helpful. I’m trying to focus more on process than results lately, with…ah…good results so far.

    I actually saw this fairly soon after you wrote it, and meant to respond, but as you can plainly see I plainly didn’t. Still: it was fun & inspiring to read.


    1. Oh, that’s fine! I follow your blog in feedly and it just seemed like the post hit right when I needed to come up with a better way of thinking about it all. It’s working wonders for me now. I made a nice schedule for 2014 that I’ve committed to sticking to all year and the shift in thinking from daily word count quotas to time quotas has gone well. I like averages, and letting them work for me so I can focus on process instead of product has been refreshing. I think I’m going to love this. So thanks again. It was one of those serendipitous moments that come around every so often in life. Right post at the right time. :D

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