How do we train ourselves to be more productive, as writers? Writing productivity, unfortunately, mostly ends up being about quantity when quality is really the ultimate end measurement. We have to have a body of material to work with before we can focus on quality, though, so in many ways this order makes sense. If you actually manage to get a ton of writing done in a reasonable time span, that is.
So how can you keep track of your progress? By word count? Page count? Minute count? Is one way better or worse than the other? Is one right and the others aren’t? Let’s look at the options.
Word count and the 500-word hurdle
A lot of writers use word count as a way to track their progress. It’s the foundation of my 30,000 Words in 30 Days challenge, which you can join today if you’re subscribed to my newsletter. It’s why WriMos (writing months) are so popular among aspiring novelists and screenwriters. Giving yourself a number to look at, psychologically, just does the trick for some people.
In my experience, 500 words seems to have proven to be the magic number. No matter how much kicking and screaming it took to get myself to sit down and start writing, no matter how much I would rather be doing something else, something other than sitting in front of my computer and forcing myself to write words, the moment I hit 500, I’m good. I fall into an immediate flow state, after which I could potentially write a few thousand words in that same sitting and not look away from my work once.
You’ve probably noticed the word count widget over on the right sidebar. It helps me keep track of my novella progress each month. If it weren’t for that, I would be even more behind than I already am. It’s a direct count of how much content, word by word, you have managed to produce. Setting a daily goal to work toward, big or small, has the potential to change everything.
Counting pages? It Depends on what you’re writing
When I first started writing regularly, I was really into counting pages. This was back when I was still writing in notebooks and re-typing everything into a Word document later (some people still do – nothing wrong with that). It helped me know if I was generally on track writing a book, because I knew in general how many pages books in my preferred genre tended to be in.
There isn’t much difference between page count and word count, except that it really depends on what you’re writing. I still keep an eye on page count when I’m writing fiction, as a backup number to keep in my head. I use word count for everything else though, especially when I’m writing articles, because clients both assign and pay you by word count, most of the time.
I would recommend pairing page count with one of the other methods here, since margins, font sizes, etc. kind of make it harder to know whether or not you’re writing as much as you want to be every day. But again, it depends on what you’re working on and your personal preferences.
Tracking writing time, or losing track of time
The advantage of using time as a measurement of progress and activity is that it’s easier to fit into a busy schedule. While you aren’t always sure how long writing 500 words will actually take, you know that, in general, writing for 90 minutes in the afternoon means you are hopefully going to be writing for 90 minutes. However much you get done in that time is less important, which means you might focus a little bit more on the quality of the writing you produce than you do the quantity.
As a part-time student, part-time writer and full-time over-committer, I have to be careful with using time as a tool for keeping track of writing progress and holding myself accountable for writing consistently. Even if I only have an hour to write, and I convince myself to actually spend that hour writing, one of two things will happen: I will either procrastinate, and only use part of that hour, or I will get so sucked into writing that I will continue writing even after the designated hour is up.
If you’re pretty good at making your own schedule with designated time slots for every activity throughout your day, going by time will probably work just fine for you. Even if you only have 30 minutes to write, that’s still better than nothing. If you need to start with something more quantitative to keep you on track, though, maybe save this method for more free writing or planning out what you are going to write about tomorrow.
How do you keep track of your writing progress? What kinds of writing goals do you set daily, weekly or monthly? Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter if you want a free copy of my 30,000 Words in 30 Days writing challenge. :)
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.