How to measure writing progress

There can be few things more deflating than working hard watching what you eat only to find that you gained 2 pounds. Writing and dieting have much in common. As I work with faculty, I often find myself giving advice for writing similar to dieting advice. In today’s post, I will share tips on how to measure your writing progress. As with dieting and many other areas of life, what we measure is what we improve.

Photo credit: eflon

What to measure?

There are two common metrics when thinking about writing:  time or word count.

Simply put, you keep track of either how long you write or how many words you write each day.

Most people tend to measure their output on a daily basis or at least a weekday basis.

I am a big fan of tracking the time you write. I believe this is a better measure than word count because not all writing is equal. The time and effort required to write this blog post, for example, is much different than to write up the theoretical framework section of a manuscript.

My feeling is that if you keep up with how long you’re writing, the words will take care of themselves.

I should point out that I’m talking about actual time writing. Not reading about writing, thinking about writing, or complaining about writing!

This measure is time hitting the keyboard. Other aspects of writing are important, but should be completed outside of your designated writing time.

Write it down!

After deciding what you’re going to measure, the next thing you have to do is to write it down.

When I talk with faculty struggling with writing, I often ask if they are writing down how much they write. I bet the answer is “no” more than 90 percent of the time.

Many writers believe in the power of the streak. The desire to keep the days with writing progress going will overcome procrastination, a lack of motivation, and other competing priorities to get writing done.

I have used a calendar before where I would mark an X through every day that I completed my writing goal. I didn’t find the streak motivated me as much as my desire to hit my goal for the number of writing days in a month. Whatever motivates you, I am absolutely convinced writing down when you complete your writing goal (time or word count) will help you make progress.

Just like your scale, your CV doesn’t tell the whole story

Whether you have a different body type or metabolism, your scale doesn’t always give a complete picture of your progress.  Instead, you have to consider things like body fat percentage or measuring your waist size.

I believe the same is true for writing. If you only measure lines on your CV, you’re missing the main point. I argue that your focus should be about making changes to your habits and feelings about writing. If you do this, the publications are going to follow.