I track Product Time, that is, the amount of time I spend doing anything necessary to move a writing project forward. Here’s why.
For a week, I’ve been revising and reworking Chapter 61 in my novel. The daily word counts shifted from 1675 to 1700 to 1911 to 1731. If I tracked words as the primary measure of my progress, I’d be at loss. Was increasing from 1675 to 1700 a good thing and from 1700 to 1911 even better? What then to make of the reduction to the current count of 1731?
For me, ending up around 1700 words rather than 1900 words is preferable. I tend to write long and my overall goal in this revision is to reduce word count. Another writer might want to keep expanding the word count. Either way, the word count alone can’t reveal whether the words or revisions are effective.
I’ve wrestled with Chapter 61 and three other chapters near the end of my novel for weeks. I’ve wondered if I was ever going to finish revising one chapter, let alone the entire novel.
If word counts were the primary focus of my tracking, it would be difficult in the extreme to reassure myself that I’m making progress. And I have made progress; the current version of 61 is much improved, sets up the next chapter, and raises the stakes all the way to the final chapter.
Why I Track Time
If I focused on word counts, I might not have had the heart to keep wrestling.
I can look back in my Product Time Tracking table and see that, even though it feels like I’ve been stuck for weeks and put in endless hours, I’ve worked on Chapter 61 for five days and invested just over 5 hours.
My tracking table is proof that I’m showing up. I can see the days where I struggled and stayed with it. I see the days I got “a-ha” moments. Because I can see all this, I’m motivated to keep showing up.
I track many elements including words (at times). But the best measure to focus my attention on is how much time I invest in Product Time. Even when I’m drafting and creating new copy, when word count can be an appropriate and effective measure for many writers, I’m better off keeping the focus on the time.
What’s Your Best Measure?
For some writers, a steady climb in word count is a powerful motivator and a drop indicates the need for corrective action. Even so, I think making word counts your primary tracking focus is a mistake.
A drop in word count when you are maintaining or increasing the time you invest indicates you are making progress. It might seem like nothing is happening and, indeed, there are days when nothing changes in the word count. But the time you invest brainstorming, incubating, revising and wrestling is never wasted time. Your tracking chart should reflect that.
What Do You Need to Know?
- Motivate you to keep working
- Reflect both the effort you’re putting in and the results you get
- Reveal when reality doesn’t match commitments and intentions
- Address problems before they get too big
- Highlight when you’re resisting writing, distracting yourself, etc.
- Identify patterns (e.g. particular days of the week, seasons of the year, type of project or project status that deviate from the norm or from expectations)
- Alert you when you need to change what you’re doing
- Show the development of a project (e.g. when you started and completed particular steps)
- Reward you (seeing progress is an intrinsic reward) or remind you to reward yourself.
Whatever measures you use — word count, time, tasks completed or other project status indicators — you need to record your commitment, target and actual.What did you say you would do on a specified date and time, what (if anything) were you shooting for or hoping to do beyond the commitment, what did you actually do on that date and time, and how did you feel about it?
Please comment on what you track or what you wished you started tracking years ago.