Probably one of my favorite courses to teach was undergraduate statistics. I loved teaching it because you can rave about the big ideas and because it is everywhere. Moreover, I got to stress the importance of good data. People’s memory is deceptive; anecdotal reports tend to exaggerate or distort. But hard data? Well. That’s something I can get behind. That’s why I keep a log of my writing, so it is an indisputable fact. But this year, I decided to take it to 11.
I used to keep my logs on little yellow legal pads, because they were easy to keep handy and there is something charmingly tactile about seeing those pages fill. At the start of January, however, I transcribed that data and built a fairly elaborate multi-tabbed spreadsheet. Ostensibly it was so I could do a more thorough analysis, but some of it is just honestly I really like spreadsheets.
The actual data I collect is relatively modest. I simply write down the date, the total amount of time spent, and the time. When I put the data into my spreadsheet I simply change the time, say 12:20pm – 12:50pm into a decimal (0.5) hours.
That’s not much. But from there I derive three metrics to measure my success:
There’s three metrics I judge myself by.
- Total amount of time spent writing
- Average amount of time spent per day (to help compare, say, Feb to Jan)
- Percentage of days I wrote (I can bring this percentage up, and get more done)
These three measurements are more than enough for me to answer a simple question: how much am I writing?
My Results and some Surprising Conclusions
Let’s look at those metrics. For December, I only wrote 14.25 hours. For January, I managed to write 37.5 hours. I wrote on 67% of the days in January, or about 2 out of every three. And for the month of January I, on average, wrote 1.1983 hours a day (the mode is clearly 1 hour. I most commonly write in hour chunks).
I also have a few conclusions from that data. First: the vast majority of my writing days aren’t coming in 4 hours chunks. I don’t need massive blocks of open time. It looks like in general I need about an hour to really get progress. If I’m writing a rough draft or doing some polish, I can get away with 30 minutes, but I really work best with an hour or so.
It also refutes a myth. I used to get a little upset if I didn’t have a completely wide open day to write on the weekends. The thing of it is… even those days I did have a completely empty day, I only managed to write 3-4 hours usually. So if I get a relatively busy weekend, I should still be able to at least find an hour or there. Saying I need a whole day to write is, factually speaking, false.
The other thing that’s really neat about this myth is that I have clear benchmarks for myself. Write now I am hoping to improve on at least 2 out of the 3 metrics (I may not be able to beat the cumulative amount of time spent writing this month because February is such a short month – though I am hoping to). I can see how far ahead or behind I am compared to the month of January, and make changes to my habits. The best part is now that I have these metrics, I can tell you if those changes actually make a difference.
Take, for example, writing over lunch. Does it actually help? Do I accomplish very much? The answer is a resounding yes. As a matter of fact, almost all of my progress on the Iron Stars novella has been done exclusively on my lunch break at work. Those days I wasn’t writing on it at lunch – and that was honestly most days in January – it didn’t get worked on. The days I do write I manage to usually get in 2-3 hours because I come home primed to write some more, and write more in the evenings.
Plus, I get a wicked awesome chart:
Anyway, time to quit playing with spreadsheets and get back to what’s really important: getting those words down on the page. Hopefully I can make the little red line (February) pass the blue line soon.