Word Count Tracking – The Secret to Productivity
There are many tools and tips that writers can use to try and increase their overall productivity, but the one thing that is the most effective – and has been used at least as far back as Hemingway – is daily word count tracking. Today, Ginger breaks down what makes it so effective and shares how he uses it to improve as a writer.
Unless you’re one-hit-wonder Harper Lee, the fact is that you’re never going to become a successful writer unless you write and publish a lot. Authors like Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King are celebrated for their prolific publishing schedule and it’s certainly part of the reason for their success.
We’ve written before about how you should write every day and that’s certainly fantastic advice. I know from a personal perspective that any day I manage to commit words to paper, I feel better about everything – and it also means every single day I’m chipping away at the block of marble that contains my finished story. It’s much easier to finish a book if you write 1,500 a day over the course of a month than try and write 10,000 words a day for a solid week!
It’s also a lot easier to slot into your daily routine. Finding two hours to write is a lot more manageable than trying to work all day (or, all night.)
Yet even the greatest and most prolific writers needed some help to maintain this grueling schedule, and there’s one technique that is most often attributed to Hemingway – but will assist you greatly with your productivity if you adopt it. It’s measuring and recording your daily word count.
Back in 1958, George Plimpton of The Paris Review interviewed Hemingway at his Florida home and noticed a chart hanging above his standing-desk. He wrote:
Hemingway keeps track of his daily progress—“so as not to kid myself”—on a large chart made out of the side of a cardboard packing case and set up against the wall under the nose of a mounted gazelle head. The numbers on the chart showing the daily output of words differ from 450, 575, 462, 1,250, back to 512, the higher figures on days Hemingway puts in extra work so he won’t feel guilty spending the following day fishing on the Gulf Stream.
Hemingway was a man who enjoyed his leisure – the days spent at the racetrack in Paris, or fishing in the Florida Keys – and by keeping track of his daily word count and holding himself accountable to it, he managed to get a stage each day in which he felt he’d ‘earned’ his leisure and disconnect from the process. I know that this ‘disconnecting’ is incredibly important to be able to focus entirely on friends and family and so adopting this technique can really make a huge mental difference.
It also enables you to play ‘catch up’ to make up for days in which you fall short of an intended word goal. By focusing on a goal for each and every day, you’ll inevitably meet your goal for the week, month – even year – because it’s the same as that saying “if you watch your pennies, your dollars will take care of themselves.”
For me, though, there’s an additional benefit to keeping track of your daily word count – by improving it.
The legendary management consultant Peter Drucker is often quoted as the man who coined the phrase:
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
Basically, that means that you can’t figure out what’s working and not working for you in your writing process unless you actually use measurable data to be able to quantify your opinions. Our subjective experience – as in, what we feel – is often in contradiction to our objective experience – as in, what’s really going on – and unless you align the two of them, you’ll never be able to truly work on improving your productivity.
Fortunately, modern technology has provided us with a much easier way to track our daily word count than in Hemingway’s time – in which he’d probably have to count the words by hand. The Word Count feature on most word processors enables us to figure out exactly how many words we’ve written instantly. Now the only thing to do is track them.
Hemingway used the side of a cardboard packing container, but I think we can do a little better than that! This is why we’ve created a super-simple Word Count Tracker which you can print out and stick to the wall to track your daily progress.
You can also record it digitally, if you want, but I’ve always been much more of a print-and-stick kind of writer.
It should be super simple to figure out how to use it – just remember to write your goal, the date of the week and include any notes for each day, to explain why you exceeded your daily word goal, or failed to meet it.
Personally, I like to keep all of these sheets of paper and use them to create a chart which shows the progress of each day. I can then analyse it to work out which parts of my daily routine helped with my productivity (for instance, hitting the gym before or after writing, or getting extra sleep or waking extra early) and which days didn’t (for example, when the kids are home sick, or my wife decides there’s a ‘project’ that needs to be accomplished.)
After a while, this measurable information can be used to really help hone your craft – and you can even use it to change your daily routine. If you see something is working for you (or definitely not) you can try and use that information to optimize the layout of your working day.
We’d love to know in the comments below if you try this technique out, and how it works for you!