Writerly Ramble: Goals vs. Metrics

So a couple of years ago I started tracking my word counts:  how many new words produced daily.  I did pretty well, producing over half a million words two years running.  Over a million words!  Woo!

However…at the same time I started tracking word counts, I experienced a massive reduction in putting out new indie work, and in writing non-ghostwritten novels.

I’m sure there are multiple factors going into this.  At the same time that I started tracking word counts, I started having more luck getting ghostwriting jobs, and in fact picked up a ghostwriting job that has since turned into a kind of patronage.  It still blows my mind.  Not to say that I’m self-supporting as a freelancer yet; sadly, it’s taken me a long time to establish in my own mind that my time is pretty freaking valuable, and I’ve slaved over  a lot of projects that paid peanuts.

Regrets?  Only that I didn’t start charging anything approximating a living wage sooner.  I’ve loved most of the projects that I’ve been on, whether they’ve paid well or not.

However, learning how to charge even remotely appropriately for my time (I’m not there yet, really) and I’m not making enough as a freelancer to be able to invest a lot of time in indie publishing:  short-term bills make it hard to set aside time to invest in myself in a lot of ways, from indie publishing to learning new skills to simply taking time to exercise and remember to eat on a daily basis.

And that metric.  Producing wordcount.  Always more wordcount.

It didn’t hurt my short story writing capability.  I’d sit down, pound out a story in a morning, and go back to editing or what have you in the afternoon.  Write, clean up, and send:  total time, around one hour per thousand words.  Some good ones, some bad ones, mostly incremental gains.  Even if I’d sold every single one of them at professional rates, I wouldn’t have made a living wage at writing them; they were just stress relief.

But novels take more thought.  Not to write, but to edit.  Because I change the rules of a fictional world as I go, getting new ideas and going, “Yeah, I’ll go back and fix that detail later.”

And the more I focused on getting wordcount out, the less I was willing to write or edit novels.  Because it cut into my wordcount.  I basically wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo and abandoned it, promising myself that I’d edit it–but not doing so.  Because wordcount.

Is my goal just to write?

I’m not saying it’s a bad goal.  I have an extra million words under my belt; I wrote a lot of short stories, some of which were published.  Personally, I can’t tell if I’m a better writer or not–but then again, every time I try to establish that I am a better writer, I end up stepping on my feet and writing something completely asinine.  So it’s better that I work toward being a better writer but not really worry about whether I’ve achieved it.

Not a bad goal.  The problem is that those million words didn’t turn into books that I can share with people publicly; most of those words are a) ghostwriting or b) languishing novels.

So I’ve abandoned wordcount.

It started at the beginning of the year, when I was struggling to keep my head above water due to a bunch of freelancing, combined with a period where I had to rewrite a pair of stories so often that I probably wrote over 15K for each  5K short story.  They were above my pay grade, I think–but I like both of them.

Finally this month, I admitted that I was done tracking wordcount.  It’s sad, but it has been holding me back.

The day after I did that, I had a 7K day, and I’ve written, I don’t know, probably something like 40K over the last two weeks between ghosting and personal writing, as well as almost completely rewriting the last episode of Alice so it had the right ending.

It’s been a relief, to be honest.

But now what?

I’ve counted rejections.  I’ve blogged three times a week.  I’ve put up a short story up on Kindle a week.  I’ve counted words.  Those were all helpful metrics…until they got in the way of my goals.

I have maybe ten novels on my hard drive to edit and put out.  A bajillion stories to be edited and posted individually or in collections.

I’ve been working on what kind of metric would help me put more work out into the world, and I haven’t come up with a whole lot of squat, other than setting up a Patreon page, although I have been meaning to do that, and I’ll write about my thoughts on that in a bit.

I do know the metric needs to:

  • Help me get more work past the first-draft stage, through editing, and out into the hands of readers–indie, small press, big traditional.
  • And yet be adaptable enough that I’m not killing the goose of inspiration with weekly (and non-promoted!) releases.

I feel like, in an ideal world, a reasonable goal would be to put out one short story or serial section per month.  But when I think like that – it triggers anxiety.  Not because I can’t get a serial section out per month.  But because I think, “That’s not good enough.  Two a week.  Four.  Four a week.”

And beating myself up over unreasonable goals that I secretly set for myself no matter what my stated goals are is not conducive to actual creativity.  Plus?  When I was doing that, I never did any promotion, just a quick announcement on Facebook and my blog. Also not the secret to a successful writing career.

And I know I am not the kind of person who can just do things, one after the other, on a daily basis, without some kind of measurement going on.  Stuff that isn’t measured slides in my world.

Goal:  Become a successful fiction writer, with success being defined as “able to support myself with my fiction writing.”

Metric: In progress.





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  1. I find myself struggling with these same issues without any real answer. I’ve tracked my word counts for a long time and the year I decided to stop my productivity plummeted. I look at it as the base foundation of everything else. If I can’t get anything else done at least I try to get words written. Meanwhile I do have a backlog of books and stories too.

    I’m trying to make my metrics visible. Unlike Dean I don’t have big white boards but I do have things on the computer. So I have a calendar that shows when I’ve sent submissions off to markets and I try to make sure there’s something going out each week, that’s one metric I can see at a glance. I have a Trello board with lists for each of the top markets I’d like to sell to and I try to make sure I have a story at each, that’s another visual metric. I’m sharing stories on my website each week, so that gives me another easy visual using the editorial calendar plugin to view a calendar of my posts. I also like doing print copies so that I have that visual indication as well of my progress.

    The other key that I remind myself to focus on is that the metric has to be under my control. It’s up to me to send a story or publish a book.

    Good luck with your goal!

  2. I found that, when I was trying to juggle more than one project at once, I had the same anxiety: It’s not enough, I need more. That was pretty much the story of my life last year, when I was banging out projects left and right. (I almost typed “write” there. Freudian slip?) I have to work on one project at a time, or I overwhelm myself. I also have to take weekends off, but that’s a work in progress.

    There may be a middle way for you that you haven’t found just yet. Keep experimenting, and try not to hold yourself to any one thing. I think metrics are a work in progress for all of us. You’ll find yours. 🙂

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