Driving Productivity

And I don’t mean in a vehicle. Although I got some excellent news to close out July! My youngest daughter passed her driving test. She’d put it off, and off, because she was afraid of failing, or of getting in an accident, or… something. Finally, the last straw was that she really needed to drive to get a decent job. That, and I’d told the girls they couldn’t move out until they had their driver’s licenses. You’re vulnerable without that, I told them. So I’m very proud, and happy. And this is totally not what this post is about, just a proud mommy moment.

Or is it? This post was supposed to be about overcoming doubt and reaching goals. I’m going to talk about writing, but the driving is part of it as well. We have to set goal in life. But as we found, my daughter and I, someone external saying ‘I want you to do this.’ even with the urgency that I explained the necessity of her learning to drive, was insufficient. It wasn’t until she decided that “I need this” that real progress and success happened.

For me, it’s the writing. I think I’ve talked about it in posts here on MGC this year, but I’m not sure. I have been vocal over on my blog about it when I do my monthly reports… I’ve been writing in public a lot this year. Not just with The Case of the Perambulating Hatrack, but being upfront about my wordcount goals. As the end of July approached, I was posting on social media about the stretch goal I added to the month (more about that in a minute) when someone commented that wordcounts didn’t really mean anything. The point was that just getting words out does not guarantee quality. Indeed. I’ve promised no-one quality with my writing. However, I have learned this year (so many things) that momentum helps me a lot.

Which brings me back to the stretch goal for July. My original goal when I came into the month was to write NLT 500 words daily. This is a slow, measured acceleration for me. I started early in the year with ‘I’ll write something daily’ which worked up to a hundred, then a couple of hundred, words a day. You can’t run a marathon from a standstill, and I had every intention of running a marathon so to speak. So! July was also the month where I had to take a vacation, like it or not, because work had a maintenance shutdown. My mini-goal then was to write 30,000 words in the 9 days off I had scheduled. I wrote over 23K in three days.

That’s where the long slow training for wordcount production paid off, right in those days. Almost half my monthly productivity in a microburst of butt-in-chair-hands-on-keyboard. Furthermore, although for a few days after I dropped back to my minimum days, I recovered and have had several days where the stories came readily. I’m not fighting the stories out of my head like chiseling ore from the ground with pick and shovel. I’m actually dealing with having too much. I’ve started doing dictation, and the time to transcribe a couple thousand words at the end of the day is hard to find! But it was and is exhilarating to know that rather than needing to give up on writing (or at the very least, publishing my stuff) I am achieving all my goals, and more. Like the stretch goal. I looked at my total on the spreadsheet two days before the end of the month, and realized that if I wrote 3200 words I’d hit 50,000 words in the month. I’d have done a novel in a month… without planning it.

The reality is that while pulp fiction, and Indie novels which are the new pulp fiction, are often 40-60K words in length, what I got done in this month was on several projects. I finished The East Witch. I wrote a bunch on Hatrack, and the military fantasy my husband and I are cowriting. I wrote a nearly-complete short story for my daughter. There may be something else in there, but I think that’s it…

My monthly total for July wound up being 50636 words. I didn’t set out to get there, but once I was close, the momentum to pick up my steps and run to the finish line was there. I did it! The elation of success buoys you toward more success. And if you didn’t succeed today? There’s always tomorrow. But that is why I’d chosen such an easy task in the beginning. Because momentum feeds on itself. I knew I could write every day with no expectations of more than, say, 5 words. My friend Dorothy Grant used a calendar and gold stars to track her writing streak. I use a simple spreadsheet I update right before bed (and I am tracking a lot more than just writing). Once you have the habit in place, you can start incrementally increasing your goals.

Driving productivity by tracking goals – having set  small, reasonable goals – and celebrating your successes, no matter how minor they may seem at first, is a great way to do anything. This isn’t just for writing. You can apply the technique to learning to drive… whatever you want to do.

I generate charts, too, because I’m such a data geek.

My July productivity. You can see that vacation spike!

And to put it into perspective, this is the annual stats chart.

July is going to throw off the trending for the whole year!

Now, I know I cannot do this in August. I don’t have the vacation time to sit down and pound out a massive quantity of story in such an immersive way. But I’m looking at my annual trend, and I’m thinking I may shoot for 700 words a day, to break through that 20K words in a month barrier I was approaching. With the dictation, where I can get a few thousand words just on my commute, it’s a reasonable goal. I don’t want to overshoot, that’s a self-defeating process. If I get more than 700 great! But if I am having a bad day I’m not averaging these counts – I still want to get the 700. I also know eventually I’ll hit a number where I’m going to top out and just… can’t. I only have so much of me. But I haven’t found it yet. Still looking. Find the brink, then back off of it a little. That’s the plan.

22 comments

  1. I am of two minds when it comes to talking about my own goals and productivity. On the one hand, I think it’s important to share positive stories and encouragement.

    And yet, I think that it’s also important to be honest about failure. Failure is an option, it does happen, and believing in oneself only goes so far. This year I have come hard up against my own limits, physical, mental, and artistic.

    It’s no fun having to admit the one thing that I’ve always wanted to do with my life is out of reach, probably forever. It’s hard to admit that to myself and damned near impossible to say it to others.

    I think it’s important, though. When all people hear are success stories and happy endings it gives an unrealistic view of creativity as a business. Worse than that, though, it isolates those of us who can’t make it. We think that we’re the only ones, and that it’s some moral failing. “If you just try harder and commit yourself more…”

    No, some of us aren’t going to be able to create on a consistent schedule no matter how hard we try. I can honestly say that I’ve given it my best shot for better than ten years, and it’s never gotten any easier.

    This is not to encourage people to quit. Instead I want to encourage people to be realistic about your own capabilities. Most of all, I want to encourage people not to be ashamed of failing to reach a particular goal. It’s not the end of the world.

    1. But I’m a fantasy writer, I don’t do realism!… Oh, all right. Scaled-down goals are preferable to goals so high that I just look at them and get depressed over what I used to be able to do, right? Time to work on that. Grump.

      1. Start small. See some progress. And learn your limits, because those change. You’ll burn out if you put it in overdrive and your body can’t handle it (I should know, I’ve done that… er, more than once).

      1. I have mentioned Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer before. But the guy writing the account is an academic who makes it brutally clear that Oxford mostly considered Professor Tolkien to be an underperformer for not hitting the department’s expectations.

        But he taught his full schedule, tutored students who became influential and innovative in their fields, and put out important publications. He did his job just fine, by an outsider’s standards.

        Still, it was a nasty shock for some when Tolkien became world famous and a major literary influence himself. Because he was the failure.

  2. I love your charts and spreadsheets. I love spreadsheets and charts and extrapolable data, myself… if I’m making steady progress. If I’m not, it becomes a lash I’m using on myself that doesn’t drive me forward, just makes me beaten and bloody.

    That’s why I’m sticking htis year to calendar with gold stars. Instead of all these graphs showing how terrible I am compared to where I want to be, I have the most simple, basic, “Hey, I wrote at least 10 words today… or edited same, even if I couldn’t get new words down!”

    And there are plenty of gaps on the calendar… but htere are streaks with full weeks where I managed it. That’s heart-warming enough to encourage me to continue.

      1. Some days I wish I’d done your thing. After all, how do I tell what my “I got this, I’m productive” wordcount per day is, if I don’t track it? Or how long it took from starting a story until I finished it?

        Then I hit illness, injury, medication, and just plain exhaustion, days with low oxygen, and all the other interesting times, and I don’t beat myself up over more than what I can see: a blank day.

        This will do for now.

        1. I want to paint a thing, because I don’t know that I can do it in words. In Chinese art, there are black spaces on the silk. Those are not unfinished bits. They are deliberate and structured. Fog, water, sky. Without a single brushstroke, the artist created something, from nothing.

          From experience? This is harder than it looks, to restrain oneself from adding and disrupting those blank spaces. But they are necessary to the Tao of that piece.

  3. Setting good goals is a challenge for me. As you say, if you make them too hard, it’s just discouraging and you tend to give up on doing anything because you know you can’t make the standard. On the other hand, if you make them too easy…well, I can’t speak for everyone here, but in my case at least, I tend to live down to expectations. (“Oh, you just want to write 1000 words this week? Well, that’s done, time to go play video games!”)

    1. So adjust them. I’m doing monthly goals because I don’t have time to be constantly tweaking (and they make the spreadsheet simpler). But you could do it from week to week. It’s like a budget. You know how much time/money is coming in, allot that where it needs to be spent. Then if you hit your goal, do something fun. Like video games.

  4. I got my Day Job schedule this week. My weekday writing time block in the afternoons has gone away (work day now 0700-1500 or later). So, my short-term goal is to put 25K words on the WIP before Day Job really kicks in. My long term goal is to figure out how to make the best use of what time I’ll have left once my schedule gets finalized. My really long-term goal is to get the WIP done in time to have it available for Christmas.

  5. As the end of July approached, I was posting on social media about the stretch goal I added to the month (more about that in a minute) when someone commented that wordcounts didn’t really mean anything.

    *facepalm*

    I know folks mean well, but… why can’t folks let someone be happy?
    A kind way to phrase the same point would be something like: “That’s awesome! I know you can get good writing without a bunch of words, but it’s so satisfying to hit goals, or blow them out of the water! You like your progress?”

  6. One thing I’ve never found easy is revision goals.

    Pages revised and word/antiword count tend to be in inverse correlation.

  7. All of this is why writing with you guys over at Odd Prompts has been so good for me. It means I’m accountable to someone other than myself. I mean, Jim is wonderful, but he’s too forgiving, and I’d live a life of total indolence if I had to rely on him to drive me. This is also why we have a dog, other than for the total doggy goodness of having one. She forces us to be accountable.

    1. I found that posting progress or lack thereof somewhere every day kept me honest. (Though at the moment it’s a bit weak.)

  8. I found this site from Sarah’s PJMedia posts about writing a novel in 13 weeks. That was what? Five years ago? I still have nothing done (although many chapters have been written).
    My day job is sitting at a computer all day; I really don’t want to do more in my off-work time. That is what is killing my writing time: I’m sick of sitting in a chair typing by the time writing o’clock comes around.
    So, Misha, how’s that for a tale of failure?
    On the bright side, I am getting sick of reading every evening, too. I’m starting to want to produce something, so hopefully this fall will see some progress.
    I’m doing a gold-star-on-calendar sort of thing with working out; adding another star for writing might work.

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