My Metric System

One under-reported way that 2016 sucked is that I didn’t write as much as I could have.

A thing I’ve been doing to try to improve my writing productivity – which is a thing I surely feel the need to improve – is to track various metrics. I’ve been doing it for a few years now, with gradual refinements over time.

Now that 2016 is done and dusted, I’ve taken a look back at the data I’ve collected to see what sense I can make of it and whether I can learn anything useful for the coming year’s writing.


(If you’re worried this is going to be a tedious exercise in statistical analysis, the good news is that it took me two attempts to pass a basic Stats course at university, and that was nearly twenty years ago. These days all I can remember from my studies is what a histogram looks like and how to work “standard deviation” jokes into everyday conversations)

Word Count

Starting with the obvious one – I track my words written every day, against each project and type of writing (short story, novel, blogging, newsletter).

The way I set my metrics spreadsheet up last year means I can’t easily segregate the writing types, because I am an idiot. [1] However I do have the gross word count, and it’s nothing spectacular: I wrote 83,300 words of “stuff that counts”.

That’s a shade under 7000 words per month, of which less than half was new fiction. It’s better than nothing but I’m not exactly setting a blistering literary pace.

My best months were June, October and November. All three months aligned with specific writing projects with deadlines. Two included lengthy rewrites of existing stories working with other people, one involved a short story for a competition with a cutoff date, and November included my blog-a-day project.

My shocking conclusion: I deliver more consistently when there’s a deadline involved. So I should probably organise more deadlines for myself.

Writing time

I track this two ways – the time of day when the writing session takes place, and how long each stint lasts. Looking over my data for 2016, I’ve confirmed a thing I already knew – the vast majority of my writing happens between 8:30 pm and 11:30 pm. Which is to say, after the kids have gone to bed.

I also note that most of those stints last less than 90 minutes. Again, not a surprise, because by nine at night I start to get a bit sleepy. It’s hard to write sparkling dialogue when my face keeps hitting the keyboard every two minutes.

Action plan: While my optimal writing time appears to be in the morning, for various family reasons I can’t do much at the moment to rearrange my schedule. What I am trying at the moment is to have a side project – a short story I’ve codenamed Chrysanthemum [2] – which I’m writing longhand in my journal in my spare moments. A bit here, a page there – it all adds up, keeps my writing brain ticking over and eventually I’ll have a finished story to show for it, clawed from the cracks of my so-called spare time.

As for everything else, I’ll just keep plugging away at night and on weekends.

Administrative vs Creative tasks

I have an extra classification to help me keep fiction writing separate from administrative things like website management, blogging and newsletters. The entire purpose of tracking this was to remind myself on a regular basis that the fiction has to come first.

I could easily spend all my time fiddling with spreadsheets, tinkering with website themes and churning out pithy screeds about some stupid thing or another. But I’m more interested in being a fiction writer than an internet crank, so having a stark metric that shows when I’ve not spent enough time on new words is a useful kick up the pants.

The ratio of admin to productive work was 40:60 in 2016. My feeling is that the ratio should be closer to 25:75, so that’s what I will try for in 2017.

New Targets

In 2017 I aim to up my game. For a start, I want to write at least 100,000 words, of which 75% is new fiction. That means I have to average 9000 words a month, or about 2300 words a week. (Don’t try to follow my maths, I’m doing a *heap* of rounding).

I want to write more short stories – I only finished two in 2016 and I am pretty sure I can do better than that. I’ve already finished one in 2017, so I’m on target.

I want to write more novels. I’m working on edits for A Flash of Black Wings right now. I aim to have it polished and to have first drafts of its two sequels complete by year’s end. Assuming I don’t get sidetracked, and I stick to my outline, that ought to be possible.

Oh, and a note of crass capitalism: I earned around $260 in 2016 from four short story sales. While I’m not unhappy about that, I would like to beat that number in 2017, and every year thereafter. With the price of liquor and limes being what they are, that sort of money is not going to keep me in gin and tonics for long.

Almost-accurate depiction of 2016 revenues

1: First productivity note to self: stop using stupid formatting that has to be stripped out before the data can be sorted.
2: Second productivity note to self: stop using really hard-to-type words for your secret project codenames.
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