The Personal Analytics of My Writing and Reading

It has been a little over 2 months since I put in place automated processes for capturing data about my daily writing, blogging and reading. And given that I have reading, written, and blogged nearly every day for the last two months, it seems like a good time to share some of the numbers with you. First, a quick summary for folks who might not have been following along with this. In addition to having automated scripts to collect my daily activity, like data from my FitBit device, I decided I wanted to collect some data about my other daily activity, particularly my writing and reading. I was able to automate most of this so that I don’t have to think about it.

Collecting the data

I do my fiction writing in Google Docs. I have written a set of Google App scripts that do the following:

  1. Capture each day’s writing in Evernote. This includes highlighting any changes and deletions I’ve made so that I have a complete record of what I did on any given day.
  2. Count how many new words I wrote each day and record them in a Google Spreadsheet.
  3. Summarize my daily writing in an almanac entry that gets sent to Evernote.

Here is what my almanac note for yesterday’s writing looks like:

Daily Almanac for April 30

In addition to the scripts mentioned above, I have another script that grabs how many words I wrote on my blog for a given day. It does this by parsing the data from my RSS feed.

The only part of my process that is not automated is the daily update of my reading data. Since the vast majority of my reading these last few months has been via Audible, I use the stats produced from the Audible app on my iPhone. Each morning, I update a Google Spreadsheet with the previous days stats. While this is a manual process (for now) it takes less than a minute each morning.

Audible Stats
My daily Audible stats

All of this data resides in Google Spreadsheets, and with the exception of the Audible data, I don’t have to do anything to collect it. I write each day, I blog each day, and the data is collected automatically. That is important because I don’t want to have to spend my time gathering it manually.

Examining the data

First, some basic information about my writing over the last two months:

Month

This table shows how much I’ve written and read over the course of the last two months. As of yesterday, I’ve written fiction for 63 consecutive days. The same is not true for blogging. Still, I’ve written nearly 60,000 words of fiction and 43,000 words of blogging for a grand total of over 100,000 words in 2 months.

When it comes to my fiction writing, I just try to write every day. More and more, I am for at least 500 words. There are days that I don’t hit that mark and others that I far exceed it. In the last two months, it has averaged out to a little over 900 words per day of fiction writing and 700 words per day of blogging.

Many professional full-time writers aim for 2,000 words per day. That’s roughly 10 pages. Between my fiction writing and blogging I am maintaining 1,600 words per day. The thing is, I am not a full time writer. I have a full time day job, and two little kids on top of that. So I think 1,600 words per day is pretty darn good. Of course, only 900 of that is fiction, but if I converted the time I spent blogging to writing fiction (something that I have no immediate plans to do), I could come close to that 2,000 words per day while still doing everything else I do.

On top of all of that, I still manage to get in about 100 hours per month of reading. This is only possible because I started using Audible back in late February, which allows me to read book while I do other things throughout my day. I can read on my morning walks. I can read when I pick the Little Man up from school. I can read when I am doing chores around the house. I can read while I am doing yard work or grocery shopping.  Turns out, I manage to read a little over 3 hours each and every day.

Day-to-day

Plotting all of this data over time allows me to see what a typical day looks like for me when it comes to my writing, blogging, and reading. Below I’ve stacked plots of my fiction writing, blogging and reading over the last two months. Look down across all of them, you can see some interesting things. For instance, surprisingly, it looks like on days when I write a lot of fiction, I also do a fair amount of blogging. I wouldn’t have thought that was the case:

FictionWriting
Blogging
Reading

Not only that, but my daily reading also follows the pattern. Peak writing days also appear to be peak reading days. Maybe I get into some kind of zone. Maybe the writing feeds the reading or vice versa. I did a few scatter plots to take a look at this more closely.

First, I plotted my daily fiction writing against my daily blogging. Here is the result:

Writing Scatter

There are two few data points to derive meaningful correlations, but in simply looking at the data a few interesting things stand out. For instance, on days when I write between 500 and 1,000 words of fiction, I tend to get in a fair amount of brief (<500 words) blog entries. Even more interesting, on days I write more than 1,500 words of fiction, I also generally do 1,000 words or more of blogging.

I also wanted to see how my reading fit into this. So I plotted my total daily writing (fiction and blogging) against the hours I spend reading each day. Here is the resulting plot:

ReadingWriting Scatter

On this plot, my total writing words are plotted on the x-axis and my hours listening to audiobooks are plotted on the y-axis. Not too many conclusions from this data, save one. On days when I read for more than 4 hours, I also tend to write quite a bit. There are significantly more days when I wrote more than 1,500 words and read for more than 4 hours than those days when I read for more than 4 hours and wrote more than 1,500 words.


One thing I’d ultimately like to be able to capture in the future is when I am doing these activities throughout the day. Right now, that is a little too difficult to automate and I don’t have the time to record it manually. But I suspect it will become easier to do this in the future and that will give a better insight into the times of day when I am most productive with my writing, blogging and reading.

7 thoughts on “The Personal Analytics of My Writing and Reading

  1. I want to learn Google Apps scripting just so I can get such a well-automated spread of info. Feedback like this is so fantastic in finding daily inspiration to write.

  2. If there were a Geek Olympics for blog posts, this one would win gold and silver!

    (totally kidding – I find the amount of data you’re able to automate fascinating).

  3. I too find it fascinating. I would have no clue how to set those kinds of scripts together, though I’d love to see similar data on my own writing and reading patterns. Data as motivator…I love it!

  4. At some point (when I have more time) I really do plan to make my code available on GitHub. Then, if you use Google Docs for your writing at least, you can follow some simple instructions and it should just work for you. Problem is, I don’t know when “some point” is. Not likely before summer, I’m afraid.

  5. I find this article very interresting! It’s really great to read about your experience and the way you create your personal analytics. We are working with different types of analytics since a long time and we are now implementing the personal analytics (which includes productivity measurement… 😉 ). It would be great to share our point of view!

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