I’ve found that the best way to meet goals that I set for myself is to track them. That means that the goal must be measurable, and this years writing goals certainly meet that criteria: write 500 words of new fiction every day. I thought it might be of interest how I go about tracking this goal in case anyone else out there is looking to do the same.
There are generally three tools that combine to help me meet my writing goals each day:
Scrivener is my workhorse, and where I do 95% of my fiction-writing1. I’ve recently revised my short story project template2 to automatically have a 500 word/session target. I also have it configured to use Growl to notify me when I’ve met the goal. So I sit down and write and write and then Growl pops up and says that I’ve passed my 500 word target. Sometimes I’ll stop there, and sometimes I’ll keep going. I write in full-screen mode, by the way, so I don’t have other distractions, and so the Growl notification is particularly convenient because it means I don’t have to keep checking how far along I am. If the notification hasn’t popped up, I haven’t met the goal yet.
I find it interesting to be able to go back and see what I wrote on any given day. I have a Notebook in Evernote called “Daily Fiction Writing.” There is one note for each day I write. That note contains a copy of the fiction I wrote in that day. Usually, when I finish up a Scrivener session, I copy the text that I wrote and paste it into a note in my Evernote notebook. This is not for backup purposes. I have sufficient local and cloud-based backups for my fiction. This is so that I can go back and see what it was I was writing on Thursday, January 12, 2012. Because I’m interesting in that kind of thing. Also, I only do this for first draft material. Here is what that notebook looks like:
3. Google Spreadsheet
I’ve developed a Google Spreadsheet3 for providing metrics on my performance against my goal. While the formulas the underlie the spreadsheet are rather elaborate (I am a software developer) the spreadsheet itself is simple, requiring only 2 pieces of information each day: what I worked on and how much I wrote. This is for new, first draft material only. Here’s what the daily sheet looks like:
Once I type in the words for a day, four other numbers are calculated:
- Cumulative: the total number of words written since the beginning of the year.
- Pace: the total number of words I need to be at on a given date in order to stay on pace.
- My Pace: the number of words I am above or below pace. Positive numbers are ahead of pace, negative are behind.
- Off Pace Days: the number of days I am ahead or behind pace. Positive numbers are ahead of pace, negative are behind.
You can see that I didn’t get any new fiction writing in yesterday4. That said, I am still ahead of pace on the year. But this early in the year, my concern is more about writing every day. Looking at the data above you can see that in 12 days, I missed three days of writing. So what I really need is some metrics that allow me to measure my consistency. That is where my summary sheet comes in:
This sheet is entirely computed from data on the previous sheet. I need enter no additional information. You can see it is broken down by month. Here is what I get:
- Total words: the total word count, to date, for the month.
- Avg Words/Day: the average number of words written to date, including days I don’t write.
- Writing Days: the number of days I’ve written that month.
- % Goal: the number of days I’ve written as a percentage of the number of days in the month.
- % Duration: the current date as a percentage of the overall month.
- Max words: the most words I wrote on any given day
- Min words: the fewest words I wrote on any given day
What is most important to me on this sheet is the combination of % Goal and % Duration. If I am writing every day, % goal and % duration should be equal. If I have missed a day here or there, % goal will always be less than % duration–it’s just a matter of how much less. My aim is to try and see that those two values are equal.
There is one more metric I’d like to add to the summary, but I’m finding it complicated to produce in Google Spreadsheet (it may require writing a script). I call this metrics, “Streak” and it would represent the number of unbroken days that I’ve written at least 500 words, from the present going backwards into the past. Since I didn’t write yesterday, my streak would be 0.
These are a lot of numbers and for folks who are not really number-oriented, it might seem like overkill. But it only takes me 20 seconds or so to update my spreadsheet each day. I may spent another minute glancing at the numbers. Most of my time and effort is focused on getting those 500 words written.
- The other 5% is done on my iPad using Elements. ↩
- I’ll be posting a new version of this template for download in the near future. ↩
- Why Google Spreadsheet and not Excel? Do you really have to ask? ↩
- I have an excuse, although not a particularly good one. On the other hand, I did make progress on my second draft of story #1 for the year. ↩