When you’re working a day job, there’s a clear set of guidelines for getting stuff done: show up and get paid. There’s a performance review every year, and sometimes you’ll get feedback from your bosses and coworkers.
And yet these metrics have nothing to do with whether you actually accomplished something, do they? Not really. Which is why we all have that one coworker who does the bare minimum to keep the system off their backs.
When you’re a freelancer, things get more complex. How do you know when you’re getting stuff done? When you get paid. Except that many of the tasks that you have to complete, from doing taxes to hustling for new jobs to continuing education to doing advertising and promotions have no clear relationship between action and payment.
And sometimes it’s not so much a question of getting paid as it is how much you’re getting paid. Are you getting paid enough? Are you working on projects that will build your career, or projects that will disappear so thoroughly that you can’t even list them on your resume? (Grumble.)
I had been measuring my getting-stuff-done factor by measuring word count. For the last two years, I had no problem breaking 500,000 words per year. Easy peasy. But most of that wasn’t on stuff that I was writing for myself, and a lot of it was on redrafting over and over the stuff that I was.
I actually did better for myself as a writer when I a) was working toward a number of rejections (100 per year), and b) having a goal of self-publishing one short story a week. And yet those goals won’t work anymore–I had less freelance work and more time on my hands back then.
I’m going to guesstimate that over the last year or so, for every ten thousand words I wrote for someone else, I wrote a thousand for myself, and then put maybe ten thousand of those out into the world.
I updated my process recently again, after searching around for something good over most of this year.
I’ve always liked Heinlein as a writer and have read most of his published work. (I know there are issues with him as a writer; that’s a discussion for another day.) He has these rules for writers, though, that I’ve always admired but never felt like I was a good enough writer to follow:
- You must write.
- You must finish what you write.
- You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
- You must put your story on the market.
- You must keep it on the market until it has sold.
Well, I’m following them now. With a spreadsheet.
I gain or add points based on how closely I follow the rules. One point gained if I write 1000 words. A hundred points if I finish what I start; a loss of same if I don’t. A rewrite costs me 25 points (spell checks and final cleanups are fine; I may give myself a pass so I can work on a plotting technique that I’m using to help me get past some weaknesses). A point for putting a short story out on the market; ten for a novel (each time–so 5 points for 5 short story rejections, or 50 for sending a novel out to five publishers). A hundred points for selling a story, OR for self-publishing it.
Ray says I get a treat for every hundred points.
It’s weird the ways your brain just automatically tries to game the system. As soon as I had this worked out and Ray pointed out that I should be rewarding myself, I went, “I should stop being a lunatic wuss and send out my Patreon files, which I haven’t sent out, even though I should have done that when I released Alice.”
It wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I went, “And of course that would be 100 extra points.” I’m currently having this little mental argument over whether I should get separate points for this (the book’s already published so I shouldn’t count it twice, but clearly I have to bribe myself to post on Patreon at this point…). I think I’ll probably go with some extra points, but not the full 100, because that’s giving myself double points, and, and, and…
(Not counting the hypothetical posting-to-Patreon points, my total since September 1 is 19 points. Woot!)