Track Your Work, Grow Your Words

Writing, as a hobby, art, and profession, tends to wear dysfunction like a badge of honor. I don’t think it should. And neither should reading, come to think of it.

Writers looking to improve productivity are a favorite target for those who are farther along the professional path. It’s common to see authors looking to pay their bills by selling tips, tricks, templates, how-to’s, etc. on their websites. They wouldn’t do this if there wasn’t a market for it. A lot of times people ask them for these tools.

In my opinion, the issue is just doing. There’s no shortcut around practice and failure.

This isn’t a popular philosophy because it’s time-consuming and doesn’t have room for “special talent”. Anyone can get better, and that includes the protégé currently gaining a following in their University lit magazine. At some point, what did well in college will not be enough and even that smug little monster will need to churn out work, tweak their technique, and address the places where they’re weak.

The most I can offer is how I’ve been increasing my word counts and improving my work/life/writing balance over the last several months.

I’m all about using what you have on hand to address the problem you have now.

I recognized my problem when I heard someone asking for volunteers for a job that would take 6-10 hours a week. My brother, who was with me at the time, commented that’s equivalent to a part-time job, and it would be silly for either of us to volunteer and do it for nothing.

This demand of time made me wonder whether I was treating my writing with the seriousness of a part-time job. I work during the day and was taking my writing seriously after hours, but was I doing enough in a week to really get the most out of the time I had?

I decided to track it.

I’m no wizard with Excel sheets, but I know enough to make a chart. For every day, I had one of these:

I put in a simple sum at the bottom of each column. I don’t convert the minutes to hours, but that’s an easy formula if you wanted to do that.

I started by doing sprints, working up from 5 to 15 minutes at a time. After a few days of that, I came up with my composition wpm. I can transcribe at 80+ wpm, but composition is a whole different animal. When composing, you think between the words, pause between clauses, stop and start even in the smoothest timed sprint. With a composition wpm I didn’t have to do sprints anymore. I could work backward from a word total to how many minutes it took. That helped a lot since I tend to get interrupted frequently.

This is a flexible format, but the simplicity is important as far as accountability goes. Put a number to what you’ve done and for how long.

I also started adding the name of the project next to the word count and time block. At this point, it acts as a record of how long a project has taken to complete as far as days/weeks/months which wasn’t intended but is still pretty neat.

I took it up a notch when I got tired of having to calculate a week’s totals, and when I was ready to set goals. I added two boxes, one on the top with goals and a simple formula for daily word count to reach it:

The formula for words per day is just what it sounds like. Word Goal / 7 days You can adapt this for your schedule.

And one on the bottom to keep running totals for the week:

Also simple – adding by selecting the total boxes for each day for the total words. This is where I put the minutes into hours.

The tracker is always evolving. I’ve set up a workbook where every month is on a different tab, and I may add a monthly total later on. At this point, I’m happy with it and I feel I’ve grown some.

Everyone’s needs are different, so if you think this will help you, you fix it up for the goals you have.

Some notes, as far as what to count and what not to count. I can only vouch for myself on these, though the goal is to track how much time you’re dedicating to writing as work.

  1. Count reading only if it’s writing-related. Books on craft, articles on writing, following up on writing-related blogs you follow, checking writing contest posts/prompts, etc.
  2. Count emails about projects, either with editors, beta readers, critique partners, or any other person helping with that project. If it’s not attached to a specific, namable project, I wouldn’t count it.
  3. If you have finances separate for your writing work, I’d definitely count time spent keeping those records and reviewing them as part of the log. Not everyone has to do this, but if you get any income from writing, this should be carefully tracked.

If you can only get 1-2 hours a week to write, or even just 10 minutes that one week because everything seemed to happen at once, that’s totally fine. I’m purposely not including any completed boxes here because this isn’t about reaching someone else’s goal, it’s about helping you grow wherever you’re at and in whatever direction you want.

Be fair to yourself. Don’t make yourself a martyr over a cruddy day/week/month, but also, don’t overlook the opportunities you have that you’re quietly blind to. If you really do want to write more, then maybe that second/third/fourth/etc. episode of that show on Netflix shouldn’t be the default activity for the night.

And if you do want to write more, realize getting out there and joining a sports league isn’t going to kill your writing career. It’s important to find balance so you’re healthy, happy, engaged, creative, and motivated.

Go do you.

Happy writing!


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