Tracking productivity for writing projects is difficult. Writing, the act of putting words on paper, is only part of the process. There is editing, re-writing, researching and marketing (to sell your work) and marketing again (to promote your work after it has been published). So how do I know if I had a good writing day?

I look at my word count for the day. My goal right now is a modest 1,000 words a day. I push myself hard to generate that amount of raw output at least 5 days a week.

Word count - Brandice
Photo courtesy of Brandice Schabel via Flickr

Tracking productivity via page count these days is just silly. With the ability to change font sizes and document margins, you can write 23 pages in minutes with a 72-point Times New-Roman font on pages with 2″ margins all around… but let’s face it, this isn’t writing, it’s gaming the system.

To get an accurate page count consider this: The average number of words on the printed page of a published book is about 250. This also is close to the number of words that fit on a double spaced manuscript page using 1-inch margins and a 12 point font such as Courier.

I’ve also tried establishing a daily “Ass-In-Chair” (or AIC) time devoted to writing, but this is too vague for tracking productivity. During the scheduled writing time it is too tempting to spend some of that time doing “research” on the internet, and because of my ADD nature, one link leads to another, which leads to another, and pretty soon I’m reading about “Why Thousands of Spiders Are Crawling in the Skies Over Brazil”  or watching a video about the home office of the 21st century, as envisioned by Walter Cronkite back in 1968.  Staring off into space also takes up some time. I look at my bookshelf full of books on creativity and writing with a nagging sense that there is something interesting and applicable to this project hidden in one of those books. Then I get a phone call interrupting writing time (and I don’t notice how many minutes I had left before the phone rang). Soon I realize that AIC time is up and that I’ve made no significant progress on any writing project. Do I start over? Or do I just forget about it and vow to do better tomorrow?

I found myself doing the latter. A lot. Always promising to do better tomorrow, next week, or next month and breaking my promise almost every time. And hating myself for it. Questioning again if I really could consider myself I writer if I NEVER SEEM TO DO IT.

I tried setting monthly deliverable goals: Write a complete article on the benefits of writing flash fiction and submit it to Writer’s Digest by the end of the month, and write 2 flash fiction stories to present to my online flash fiction writing workshop, oh and don’t forget the 4 required story crits for the workshop as well.

How many projects did I manage to complete? Let’s just say the workshop administrators were very lenient with me before being forced to kick me out of the workshop for not submitting the minimum number of story critiques several months in a row. Each month I vowed to do better, and each month I failed.

So, inspired by the 1,667 words needed per day to reach 50,000 words at the end of NaNoWriMo. And the edict that the words only need to be present, not necessarily good, I found my metric: 1000 words of project output per day. It didn’t have to be of publication quality (and in fact, it rarely is) it just had to be raw words on the page that could be counted by a word count feature.

How do I manage this with all of the other writing tasks that I may be devoting my writing time to, such as editing or research? For now, that time doesn’t count. I’m exploring a couple of metrics to track these things which I’ll share with you in a later post. I’m currently working under the belief that a serious writer should be able to produce 1000 words of raw project output a day, every day. It can be anything: a blog post, an article, comments providing value posted to other blogs, a draft of a short story,etc., it all counts toward the daily word count total.

And although 1000 words a day at least 5 days a week is an ambitious goal, it is manageable. Right now I can reach this number with 60 to 90 minutes of concentrated effort. I’m hoping as this becomes a habit that I can increase my speed and generate 1000 words in 30 to 45 minutes.

Is it working? I’ve been doing this since January 7th and I’ve written about 23,000 words that I might not have been produced without this target.

So try this: Set a daily word count goal of 1000, 500 or 250 words of raw output per day for at least 5 out of the next 7 days. Track your word count on a calendar, planner or spreadsheet. I LOVE writing this number down. It makes me feel more like a writer than all of the words written to reach that number. There is something very satisfying about this I can’t explain right now.

So how do you track your writing progress? Word count? Page count? Number of minutes spent writing? How is it working for you? Share your experiences in the comments below.


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