Project Tracking

The last week or so has been pretty good, writing wise.  I got at least some writing done pretty much every day over the last week, but some of those days were pretty sparse.  Until Wednesday.

I’ve read a lot of writing and business advice over the last year.  One thing that many different pros have said is that I need to keep track of my writing – how long I spend each day on which project, how long each project takes, that sort of thing.  I knew this was a good idea for many reasons: accounting, production scheduling, and cost forecasting spring straight to mind.  But I’d never done it, for whatever reason.  I’m actually shocked that I hadn’t, because normally I love tracking data, tweaking and analyzing numbers, and doing that sort of thing (there’s a reason my favorite classes for my MBA were finance and the two accounting courses).

Well Wednesday I decided, after reading a couple good blog entries about how to write fast on Tuesday, to create a spreadsheet to use as a writing progress tracker, arranged by project.  It’s pretty simple.  I enter the start time, end time, and word count, and it runs some easy computations to give me words per hour for the session, total words for the day, average words per hour, and the labor costs for the project.  I also put in fields to track time working on editing and cover art, too, so I can track all the labor that actually went into the project.  Here’s a shot of how it looks.  The project in question is the Writers of the Future story I mentioned earlier:

Wow.  I totally should have done that sooner.  Much sooner.  Because not only is it very cool to know exactly how long I’m spending actually writing and how long the projects really take.  But I also discovered that I write quite a bit faster than I thought.  Over the last three days, I’m clocking about 1,500 words per hour average.  I figured I was more like 1,000 maybe.  Wow was I off.

Beyond that, I’m finding tracking my writing like this makes it a lot easier to get the daily word count up.  Because it becomes a game: how many words can I get out in this session?  If you look at the shot, Wednesday I cranked out 2,400 words in 1.7 hours.  But I did it in a bunch of short sessions: 20 min here, 15 min there.  The longest session was just under 30 minutes.  Yesterday and today are similar.  As soon as I noted the start time, I just cranked until I got distracted or had to do something else, then I noted the end time and called it until I decided to start again.  Doing it that way not only made the words seem to add up quicker, but with a lot less pressure, probably because I wasn’t focusing on some big huge goal but just small, doable chunks.

On Twitter, I will occasionally see writers team up to do writing sprints like this.  At time 10, write for 15 minutes non-stop then come back and report number of words written, thing like that.  This tracking bit helps me do just that, but by myself.  The key, though, is to start the clock as soon as I’m beginning to write and stop it, and record the session, as soon as I stop, for whatever reason.  Wife needs something?  Stop.  Kids need a diaper change?  Stop.  Bathroom?  Stop.  Just bored and want to surf the net or play a game?  Stop.  I’m finding it’s really effective.

Of course, this means I now have no real excuse for not writing quickly, or at all.  Hell, if I can get 350-400 words in fifteen minutes, there’s really no reason I can’t crank out 1,000 words or more a day.  At 1,500 words/hr, 1,000 words takes just .67 hours – 40 minutes and 12 seconds.  I can’t really tell myself I can’t find 40 minutes a day if I care to.  Which just further reinforces what Dean Wesley Smith said in his Sacred Cows post about writing speed.  It really does not take a lot of time and effort to crank out a bunch of words if one simply puts in a bit of time.  And now I know just how small a period of time it really takes.