Keep Progress in Perspective

 

How do you measure your writing progress? Do you count words or pages? If you do, then what happen when you’re revising? Do you count pages or hours? Then again, what if you write children’s books? A children’s picture book is generally less than 750 words. Each title in my Kids Throughout History series is 800 words. But neither type of book is written in one sitting, one afternoon, nor even in one week.

This is probably the hardest detail for new writers to understand. You make progress on your writing when you are inching toward your goal. You cannot compare yourselves to other writers and how they measure “progress.” As creative writers, we also need to consider the hours that go into thinking about and planning the scope of the story—or the research and organization necessary for writing nonfiction.

It’s not clear-cut and each project is different. So, how do you know whether you are making progress on your project? It’s subjective. Only you can decide. Are you satisfied that the story or book idea is developing? Has a pattern emerged—or a regular routine—for the steps necessary to reach your goal of writing a book, story, or article?

Remember that many tasks are part of the writing process. Not all of them involve putting words to paper or screen During prewriting, for example, you work with ideas, plan scenes, sketch out characters, create plot points, think about the best sequence for the story conflict and resolution. You might also need to  do research and—for nonfiction—plan the best approach for sharing facts and details about a topic. During drafting you’re getting words onto paper, but the number of chapters or words you are aiming for is an estimated range which will change while you’re revising. During revisions you’re working with the words already there, and this involves rearranging, rewording, deleting, and adding words. You might also move back to the prewriting (planning/researching) and drafting stages as needed. At any stage in the process it’s a good idea to begin looking for potential publishers or agents. So, aiming for a goal is far better than trying to track progress by counting words.

When you think about the tasks involved in writing—and the many tasks that have little to do with actually putting words to paper—it’s easy to become frustrated about “missing” a daily or weekly goal to generate a specific number of words. You need to align the idea of “writing progress” with the many stages in the writing process.

Making progress on your writing is very subjective. For me, it is also dependent on the project scope. How I approach a project (my process) and how I track progress changes with the project. In the long run, it’s truly up to you; only you can decide if you are making progress in your writing. So, continue plugging along toward your writing goals.

A Measure of Productivity

measure-success How do you decide–day by day or week by week–whether you’ve been productive? When we work for someone else, the tasks are spelled out one way or another. Meeting deadlines, reaching the bottom of an in box, completing a project, preparing for a presentation. We often spend the day answering phone calls and emails and leave at 5 (or 6) p.m. knowing we’ll be paid for a full day of work.

pieces-add-upPerhaps, as I once did, you spend your evenings and weekends writing (or pursuing some creative project) hoping one day you’ll eventually get to quit your “day job.” Or, perhaps you are now a self-employed or freelance writer (or artist or musician or …) and so your progress fall squarely on your own shoulders.

How do you measure that your time is well spent? Writers often talk of word count. When I coach writers this concern for daily output seems to cause tremendous anxiety. It’s true that a book length project is especially daunting. (Not to mention the misconception that it’s completed in two rounds–draft and revision–when my published projects have taken anywhere from five and up.)

It’s rare that I track my word count during each writing session so when asked, “How much do you write each day? Each week?” I have no idea. I write as I always have–allowing sentences and paragraphs and pages to stack up. In the end, you are not “done” when you reach the 70,000 word target for your novel anyway. You simply have your draft and then can begin the real work of shaping it into a finished product.

onestepjpgIt wasn’t until I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November and then CampNaNoWriMo, that I realized why my coaching clients were stuck on this word count thing. For NaNoWriMo the goal is to draft 50,000 words in 30 days. That equates to 1667 words per day. That amounts to 6 or 7 manuscript pages (double-spaced) each day.

onestepattime Now I get how overwhelming a focus on word count can be to new writers. Now I understand why the thought of sitting down to write can be daunting. Now I see how important it is to place output into perspective. Do this: First, sit down to write. Write a scene and note how long it took. One hour? Thirty minutes? Fifteen minutes? Now, look at the output. How many pages? How many words? It’s true that every scene and every writing session will vary. But knowing what you accomplished in whatever time it took will help you see the words adding up. Second, ask yourself how many sessions you can fit into your week. Two? Three? Even one will help you make progress.

During CampNaNoWriMo in April, the word goal is flexible. It’s the end of season for me and very busy so I selected the lowest goal: 10,000 words. I wanted the challenge to make time to work on a new novel idea even in the midst of other commitments. Putting this into perspective, I needed to write 334 words per day to “win.” That’s only 1.5 pages (double-spaced MS format) OR not even a full single-spaced typed page. But, I didn’t plan to write every day. The first weekend, I wrote as I normally did and produced just over 2,000 words in one sitting of several hours. That was 1/5 the month’s goal and the equivalent of writing for 6 days. Setting time aside twice per week, I met my goal. (Actually, I ended up meeting this goal plus wrote scenes for a second work-in-progress for over another 5000 words.)

wordstackI put this into perspective, thinking: If I can write everyday (on this one project), imagine what I’d accomplish in a month! When you do the math and put your productivity into perspective, it’s a lot easier to see what you’re capable of–which makes it easier to commit to writing on a regular basis. In the end, it’s not how many words or pages you write per day or per week; it’s that the paragraphs, scenes, and pages add up. Getting started is the hard part. Once you do, it becomes easier. Until you do, commit to writing just one sentence a day. (I’ll bet you’ll find it hard to write just one.)