Saturday, January 14, 2017

Tracking Your Productivity So You’ll Know How Long a Story Takes

Scott D. Parker

If someone were to ask you how long it took you to write a story or a novel, would you be able to tell them?

In the business world, we’re often asked to present an estimate for how long it will take to complete a project. That estimate is can sometimes be the one aspect of the estimate that either awards the project or kills it. I’m a technical writer by day, and I’ve been doing it for 17 years. Even now, I sometimes struggle to offer a detailed estimate based on the given parameters that you know will change in the course of the project. Only time and experience and the number of years I’ve been doing that kind of work has enabled me to come close to a proper estimate given a particular set of criteria.

This year, I decided to apply that mentality to my fiction writing. I’ve toyed with the idea of tracking my hours before—only once, actually—but decided it was time to do it again, this time for the long haul. I’ve got a number of challenging goals ahead for my writing life in 2017 and I think it best to know just how long it takes for me—a full-time day job person and, by default, a part-time fiction writer—to write a novel or a short story.

I began the new novel on New Year’s Day. It was developed from a story I set aside while I focused on other stories, but I’ve now returned to it. The only time I have most days is the one hour starting at 4:35am. Every other Friday I have off. Throw in Saturdays and Sundays and I’m looking at four days a week with one hour to write and three days in which I have at least an hour, if not more. Some of the workdays I have slide a few hundred more words in, but, by and large, I’m writing this book at an hour per day.

What am I tracking? Naturally Words Per Day and Words Cumulative. I have to know how much I’m writing. Beyond that, time. I track the time in minutes, in hours, and in cumulative hours. With those pieces of data, I can get my spreadsheet to calculate the Average Word Count Per Hour and a rolling Seven-Day Average.

What has all of this data revealed to me? As of yesterday, thirteen days after starting the new book, I’m up to 33,000 words. Throwing out the first two days of writing (since it was filled with material already written), my best word count day was Thursday. I had jury duty and a few extra hours to write. Yesterday was pretty good, too, since it was an off day. My lowest, ironically, was last Saturday, but I had a bunch of household duties to perform. And the total time used to date is 18.33 hours.

You want to know the real kicker? My average word count per hour for the work days is around 1966. Yesterday and Thursday, I produced more words, but my average was 1801 and 1824 respectively. How’s that for odd? More time to write, certainly more words, but the pace was off. My wife has a theory that I subscribe to: in my 4:30am regularly time, I have a hard stop at 5:30 to get ready for work and get my boy ready for school. Likely my creative brain is firing on all cylinders during that time.

What is the end result of this data? Simply this: as a full-time day jobber and part-time writer (so far), I’ll be able to have the first draft of a novel completed in a month. Yes, it’ll need work after that, but the draft will be done. Projecting forward, it will be likely that I could have a completed first draft of approximately 55,000 words in about 30+ hours. 

Now, with that kind of data, I’ll be able to predict how much time other novels will take. I’ll still need some additional data, but having that in my hand reminds me of the cold hard fact of writers like me who are not as lucky to be writing fiction full time: Yes It Can Be Done. And with relatively little time taken away from other things. And if I can do it, so can you.

How about y’all? Do y’all track your time?

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