In 2014 and beyond, if you want to become a successful writer, you need to write A LOT, and you need to make sure that you’re writing the right things. So tracking needs to be a huge part of your writing process. You need to track not only how many words you’re writing daily, but also yearly.
This was made clear to me by Dean Wesley Smith’s amazing Year End Summary of Writing in Public: Year One:
I did (not counting comments on web sites) 1,281,675 original words in the last twelve months.
745,175 words of that was original fiction.
51,700 words of that was nonfiction. (So just under 800,000 words of fiction and nonfiction combined. More than I thought, actually.)
Dean managed to write all this while doing the equivalent of a day job in his business.
This made me think. How many original words of fiction have I written over the past 12 months? How much nonfiction? Short answer: no idea. Bad, bad, answer.
If You Want to Know How You’re Doing, Track Your Writing
Although I’m aware of my word counts in every project, I’ve never tracked word counts overall: how many words I write each day, of various kinds of writing, categorized. I track deadlines, and that’s all very well. However, by failing to track how much I’m writing each day, I don’t know where my writing roadblocks and time sinks are.
I suspect that my biggest time sink is email, and social media. We have many writing students, so each day I write several thousand words in email. How many thousand words? No idea. Until now, but that will be changing, going forward.
Dean has the data to make changes in his writing process:
Now this next year I’ll see if I can bring that “day job” hour count down and bring up the writing time and the recreation time as well. I would like to do over one million words of fiction next year. Which means that I need to beat last year’s total by at least 255,000 words. (I did approximately 745,000 words of fiction in the last 12 months.)
You can make changes once you have the data you need to see what needs changing. Dean’s inspired me to track my words carefully for the next year. I suspect that simply tracking my word counts for everything will soon show me what needs changing.
Your Biggest Challenge: Your Inner Editor
You may want to start tracking your word counts too, as Dean does. Although Dean works in his business, he gets a lot of writing done. Here’s the benefit of quantity in your writing process: when you focus on the quantity of words, your inner editor shuts up. You’re out-writing your editor.
With my writing students, their inner editor is without doubt their greatest challenge. My most common suggestion is: “you’re over-thinking this.” You can’t solve writing challenges by thinking about them, you can only solve them by writing.
Over the years, I’ve managed to cow my inner editor into submission, mostly. He still kvetches at me late at night, and at odd times of the day, but rarely when I write. Focusing on writing is the only way I know of to silence your inner editor.
Model Success to Improve Your Writing Process
Dean’s doing the writing community a wonderful favor with his Writing in Public challenge. It means that you can model his success, and by any definition, writing “1,281,675 original words in the last twelve months” is a HUGE success.
So, how can you model Dean’s success? You can:
- Set goals for your writing;
- Focus on original content;
- Track the words you write in each category of writing you do each day, and for the year to date;
- Make changes, both to your writing process, and to things which are holding you back from achieving your goals;
- Silence your inner editor, because you’re writing, rather than thinking about writing.
Kudos to Dean Wesley Smith, for his drive and persistence, and for sharing his writing process in his Writing in Public challenge. He’s both an inspiration, and the perfect model for any writer who’s determined to succeed.
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