I’ve been talking about productivity, word count, streaks, and sprints a lot this last month. Not to mention my own personal measure of productivity: Arse in Chair.
It’s something I’ve gotten super serious about recently. And at the beginning of this year, I decided I was going to start tracking my daily word count and trying to work my way towards writing a million words this year. After all, if I want to have a body of work as a writer, then I need to create that body of work. And the only way I have to measure how I’m doing on that front is tracking how much I’m writing.
Some people have asked me what I count as “words written.” The answer to that is basically everything. BUT, there’s a caveat to that. I count things that are meant for publication. So I do count these newsletters (I put a lot of effort into them!), I count blog posts, I count all fiction and non-fiction book projects, I count articles and I count essays. I DON’T count emails, feedback offered to coaching clients, or the writing I do in my own journal.
So, keeping all that in mind, how did I do in January, the first half of which I spent traveling?
Here are my numbers and then I’ll tell you what I learned from tracking all this:
Days I wrote: 27
Days I missed: 4
Total word count for the month: 43,794
Average daily word count: 1,412
Most words written in a single day: 6,030
Least words written in a single day: 287
So, what did I learn from all this that can help you as you move forward with your own word count and productivity goals? A few things…
1. It really (really!) does not matter how much you write in a single day because if you just keep showing up, you will have good days and bad days and it will all even out in the end. This one, more than anything else, has been the biggest revelation to me in the last few months. Would you believe that I had, count ‘em, THIRTEEN days in which I wrote fewer than 1,000 words? But because I had other days when I wrote a lot more, it averaged out nicely.
2. The keys to my writing more than 2,000 words in a day, on the days that I did, was that I was in the habit of writing and just opening up my computer and starting to type. The daily habit, more and more, is making me resist the writing less. So when I do show up and I have the time and inclination, the words are easier to come by.
3. All the writing I’ve done this month has been in extremely short bursts (sprints). I have never had a session that lasted more than 30 minutes; typically, I write for 10 minutes at a time. This keeps me exceptionally focused and instead of procrastinating or bumbling about as is so easy to do for hours on end, I know that it’s a focused 10 minutes. Then, I can decide whether or not I have the time, energy, or desire to keep going. On some days—like the 287-word day—I clearly didn’t, and that was okay.
4. This is something that is new to me, and has, ironically, made me more productive: I allow myself days of very low word count. I’ve done the 1,000-words-a-day thing and then been really hard on myself when I couldn’t maintain that. I’ve also played the each-day-has-to-be-better-than-the-last-one game, which is an impossibility. And of course, I’ll routinely beat myself up for not achieving some imaginary average word count. But I don’t anymore. I do some writing every day, I make sure to hit my deadlines, and then if I feel like continuing, I will. And if I don’t? I won’t. By giving myself the days off when I’m really not feeling it, I find myself being much more productive on the days that I am.
5. Tracking my sessions—how long they are and how many words I wrote during them—has helped with one more thing: It’s helped me understand how I work in a way that I never did before. I’ve done the sitting at the desk for four hours forcing the words to come out. And they do come out because I’m nothing if not persistent and motivated. But that way of working was never fun and enjoyable for me. Instead, now I do 10-minute sessions, sometimes a little bit longer, and I really enjoy that. I’m also very productive when I do it that way—with nonfiction, I can often write 600-700 words in 10 minutes (I touch type, and I type fast!) But then I do need a break. I can’t do hours upon hours at that pace. I would not have known this if I hadn’t actively tried to understand when I was the happiest, when I was writing more, and had I not given myself the leeway to stop when I no longer wanted to continue.
6. Finally, this is the biggest takeway for me, and I hope for you: Trust your gut. Get to know yourself. Understand how you work. There are so many ways and means to get your writing done. Do you really need to force yourself to sit for an hour in front of a blank screen every day or is there an easier, more enjoyable way to do this? Have you bought into what other authors have told you is the “right” way to do things without actually testing to see if it feels right to you?
My goal, this year and hopefully for the rest of my career, is to do a lot of good work, but to do it from a place of fun, happiness, and satisfaction. I’m no longer content being successful if that comes at the cost of my joy and my mental health.
So I’ve found methods that work for me.
You’ll need to find methods that work for you.
Hopefully, some of what I’ve shared in the last month will help guide you towards the many ways that you can try.
So that was my January. I’d love to hear how you did, too.
I’ll be back with something different tomorrow…