Sometime in late September I decided it would be a good idea to track how many words I write on a nightly basis. Why? It’s a question I am still wondering if there is an answer to, I think I heard someone mention they do it on a writing podcast, or a social media post, or maybe I dreamed it… who knows.
I started tracking the words I was writing in October of last year, every night after I had finished my work for the evening I’d run a word count and plug the figures into a spreadsheet. I still am, and intend to keep going for the foreseeable future. Not everything I write is in there, copious emails go uncounted, which is a shame in some respects, but writing I do for my freelance jobs, for my own games, and my own fiction, all get counted and added.
Three and a bit months in and it has been interesting. I have found it variously depressing, uplifting, and informative. It has been a spur to action; to get the numbers up. It has also been affirming. One of my goals is to write a novel, and the question hangs like the sword of Damocles: but can you? Well, I knew I could get words on paper, but having some idea of how many has made a big difference to how I think about it. I have learned I can certainly write the required number of words for a novel, so that’s one tick.
Drilling into the numbers has been interesting, and from the outside it looks like no more than a bunch of numbers on a page; very nice, well done. What is has done is to highlight patterns. Importantly, those patterns relate to the types of writing I have been doing at the time. I know for example that I usually write between 1000 and 2000 words a night (in usually between 2 and 3 hours), when I am working on setting material for a role playing game. I know that when I am writing adventure material that rate increases. I know that when I write fiction, it typically decreases.
All of this is useful information that has given me a better understanding of what I am capable of given the tasks before me. I need to write an adventure? I know I can get the words down fast, but I also know that there is more pre-planning involved. Setting material and background? I can be more accurate about how long it’s going to take, but research is fundamental here. Fiction? Well, I really need to work to increase those numbers, but I am reasonably sure that the fact I do less of it than the other two is a factor in the word rate.
What it doesn’t show is also important, and perhaps there is an easy way to track these things, I haven’t given it much thought. It doesn’t show how much research and reading is involved. How much time I spent looking at maps of San Francisco. How much time I spent finding common Vietnamese surnames (and Vietnamese naming conventions). How long it took me to read about the structure of the UN Security Council. The hours spent finding out details about private military companies. Nor does it indicate the time invested into dubious searches about what materials are required to make various drugs and explosives (yes, I have no doubt I am on a watch list somewhere, probably all writers are).
Tracking the numbers has been informative, and I intend to keep doing it for a good while yet. Some of things I hope to learn include how the time of the year and the various things that happen at those times influence my productivity. January is quiet, everyone is getting back and getting moving. December is full of ‘Nights Off’ a short hand for anything that keeps me away from the keyboard, and at that time of year means functions, family, work and so on, in the build up to Christmas. I’m sure the availability of freelance work will influence my productivity as well, the last few years I have had jobs lined up months in advance and no time for anything else. How that fares into 2019 and beyond will be interesting.
Would I recommend doing something like this? Yes, I think I would. There are nights when I don’t hit 1000 and I feel guilty, like I failed some unspoken agreement. I have to remind myself I’m not racing anyone, and that even a night off, or a few hundred words is ok. It’s something. The last three months of 2018 saw me write about 76,000 words, and a lot of words are not included in that. That information is affirming. I have averaged about 25,000 words a month, and that’s not bad, not that I have a yardstick to compare it to, just my own little self. The point is to keep going, keep writing, keep practicing. The only way forward to improvement is effort, and I feel like I am growing and developing. Keeping track of the words has been something I have enjoyed doing, and while I can sometimes beat myself up over not hitting the invisible benchmark I set myself, it tells me I’m moving forward, and it helps me work out where my strengths lie, and what I need to push harder at.
Annndddd…. at this point in the post I have reached about 925 words… and yes, they will be added to my daily total.