Anyone who has taken part in NaNoWriMo knows the smile-inducing feeling of watching their daily word count graph increase. It’s a simple, visual representation of achievement, one that’s satisfying and motivating.
Popular writing software Scrivener has a similar feature, where it tracks your progress in a single session, with a tracking bar that turns from red to green as you march toward your word count goal. I can’t count the number of times that tiny box pushed me to go that little bit further, to get down those few more words. Unfortunately, the current version of Scrivener doesn’t contain a function that supports tracking writing over more than one session. This is where other apps come in.
Personally, I’m a fan of Wordly - Effortless Word and Time Tracking For Writers. It’s a free app that allows you to enter your word count each day, similar to the NaNoWriMo data entry. You can also use it for time tracking, by starting a timer at the beginning of each writing session. All of the data can be viewed as graphs, and even exported to Excel. This allows you to track:
- Words per hour
- Words per day
- Words per week
- Words per month
- Hours logged each day
- Hours logged each week
- Hours logged each month
Personally, I like to go even further with my data collection, to look for other trends. I am particularly very interested in the ebb and flow of my moods, and the effects they have on all aspects of my life. I began to use an excel spreadsheet a few months ago to track my mood and related productivity, discovering not only that my writing is affected by how I feel, but that a few days of consistent creative productivity can in turn, increase my happiness levels. As part of this study, I spent time tracking what I did in the hours prior to each writing session.
Many writing coaches talk about finding the most productive time of day for your writing. While I know for a fact early in the morning is NOT it, I was mistakenly under the impression that I was most productive late at night. In fact, between 6.00pm and 8.00pm (I’m writing this sentence at 7.45pm) is my best writing time. My second best is early afternoon. I discovered this again through the use of an excel spreadsheet that charted time by productivity score.
Two other tools I use to examine my productivity are the apps Toggl Timer and Rescue Time. Unlike Wordly and my excel sheets, these don’t examine how productive my writing time has been, but they do show me where my time goes. Toggl Timer is a free app. You set up different ‘tasks’ and hit the beginning and end button as you start and finish them. For example, my ‘tasks’ include Writing, Lesson Plans, Internet Crap and TV. The data gets collected, and again you an export it as an Excel sheet. The problem with this is that you need to remember to reset the timer each time you change tasks. It’s not a viable option long-term, but if you were to dedicate a week to tracking your time, the information you collect is gold.
For those who just can’t remember to hit the reset button each time, there is a program called RescueTime. It runs in the background on your computer and phone, tracking the amount of time you spend using different programs or on different websites. The free version sends you a weekly report and you can access three months of data. This program is particularly useful if you are like me — you sit down to write and two hours later you’re not sure what you’ve done, but your word count isn’t looking good even if your butt hasn’t been out of the chair.
But now what? How does collecting data transform your creative life? What do you do with all this information?
Firstly, there’s a reason they say knowledge is power. You can’t make changes unless you know what needs changing. The sheer amount of time I spent on ‘Internet Crap’ horrified me. Horrified me to the point that I almost cancelled all of my social media accounts. Having proof of hours wasted in plain numbers on the screen in front of you… *shudders*. There’s being vaguely aware of the time suck and knowing it — a knowing that makes you super-conscious every time you open your web browser and impacts your behaviour.
Secondly, when you know what works for you, you can plan for productivity. For example, I gave up watching M.A.S.H on television. It aired in my prime writing time and though I desperately love it, I have seen every episode already. I also ditched The Project. My partner was informed that dinners would take place after eight o’clock and I spend the 20 minutes prior to writing doing something that makes me feel productive like tidying up, walking or yoga.
I don’t beat myself up for not writing on Monday evenings, because the data shows Mondays suck for me. But if I’m not writing on a Thursday night, I better have a damn good excuse. When I finally have the money to attend a European writing retreat (hey, we can all dream), it will be a summer one, when I’m likely to make the most of it.
I prioritised my Facebook feed (did you know you could do that?) so that I know I’ll see posts from my dearest friends as I cut down the time I spend on it.
Having an idea of when I’m likely to be writing more also makes it easier to plan — how much time to I need to leave to get that competition entry done? Can I really make that blog deadline? Is a finished manuscript by the end of the year realistic? Or am I setting myself up for failure?
Collecting your data and analysing trends WILL improve your word count. Most importantly, it gives you control. You will no longer be beholden to the mystical muse that governs your productivity.
Follow Samara @