Friday, May 28, 2010

Tracking Time

Most writers keep track of how many words they write every day, week and month. Many writers write and recommend a total of 1000 words per day. Stephen King in ON WRITING says he writes 2000 a day (by the way, this is the second post in a row where I've mentioned ON WRITING. That wasn't planned. I'm not a huge King fan. But ON WRITING is perhaps the best book I've read about the craft of writing. Worth checking out!). The joy of NaNoWriMo is pushing writers to write 50,000 words in the month of November.

However, word count has never been that important to me. While drafting Project Sparkle I kept track so I could get a sense of how many words I was writing a week and therefore how many weeks, at the pace I was going, it would take me to finish my draft. I've been using a writing tool called Scrivener (the best writing software ever. I'll have to do a post on that later), which keeps a running total of words typed per session and towards my total goal, so it was easy to keep an eye on word count.

But I set much more stock in "butt in chair" time. Every day in my notebook I start a new line, write the date and the time. When I'm finished, I jot down my end time and add up the minutes. Occasionally throughout the week I transfer those minute totals to an Excel spreadsheet. I total all of my minutes worked, Monday through Sunday, every week. When I was drafting Project Sparkle, I also listed all chapters drafted that week. In March, when I was aiming to finish Project Sparkle by mid-April, I was writing 4 chapters a week, roughly 5000 words.

Time spent is perhaps a more subjective measure of efficiency than word count. I could spend 45 minutes looking out the window (and I frequently do!). But sometimes I need to spend 45 minutes looking out the window to then turn around and write two chapters straight through. By tracking my time spent, I'm ensuring I have plenty of time to accomplish my writing goals. Perhaps it makes me a bit lazier than my word count counterparts, but it helps me focus on the one aspect of my writing I can control: how much "butt in chair" time did I put in today?

Now that I'm revising Project Sparkle, "butt in chair" time seems an even more accurate measure. Keeping track of how many words I've written isn't nearly as important as taking time to find the right one.

This post was inspired by a Tuesday Tip from Literary Rambles' blog. It's definitely worth a read. Guest poster Ryan describes how he tracks date, chapter, time spent, words written, and running total.

I find it really interesting that there's so much variety in how writers track their goals. How do you do it?


  1. {waves hand in air} I track time and word count, too! Also keep a running tally of the word count and time. I picked this up from a book about writing for children by Phyllis Whitney, who was big in the teen market in the Fifties and Sixties, I think. I found the book in the stacks at the library about 15 years ago.

  2. Interesting! Good to know I'm not the only one. Thanks, Anne. I'll have to go give Phyllis Whitney a look now.

  3. I track time and pages (rather than word count). On a work day, a half an hour of writing or 3 pages is good enough for me. On days off I expect to do more.

  4. Oh, that's interesting that you do pages, Medeia. Do you write long hand or on the computer? 3 pages in half an hour seems awfully enviable to me! I used to work in half hour chunks, too. It really is amazing how much can be accomplished in a week or a month or a year of half hours.

  5. I don't track words, pages, time ... anything. I only have three days a week of *solid* writing time, and I write and write until I feel like I've come to a part that needs more thought. Or sometimes I just push through.
    I think tracking would just depress me and stress me out. And, I'd like to note, STephen King can write that much EVERY DAY because he has a wife.
    All writers need a wife!

  6. hehehe. "All writers need a wife." Love it!
    I wonder if because you have such a limited amount of time to write, you are quite self disciplined at getting the most out of it as possible.
    It's so interesting how we all have completely different ways of doing the writing and have to find the way that works best for us, psychologically, emotionally, mentally, etc.

  7. I do most of my writing on the computer, and I'm a fast typist; it also helps that I write a detailed outline, so I know what will happen next. If I'm stuck I'll use my stash of pens and notebooks.


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