Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Metrics and Keeping Your Writing on Track

Have you heard the saying, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure?” I realize this principle is primarily connected with the business world, but I believe there’s an application here for writers as well.

 I remember when I first started seriously writing fiction during my high school years. I’d sit down at my computer, work really hard and save my draft a couple hours later, feeling quite accomplished. But then, life would happen, and the demands of high school (not nearly as complicated as they seemed at the time), would get in the way. My progress was like an irregular heartbeat.   

With my first book – and especially with my second one – I established benchmark goals. Setting goals is certainly the first step, but without a way to track or measure progress, the goals lose their clarity.

That’s where metrics comes into play. Metrics, as simply defined by dictionary.com, is “the science of measuring.”

For example, my goal with my second book is to have my rough draft complete by June (yes, of this year). A goal has to be specific, so I estimated my target page and word counts. Then, looking at those numbers, I set up an Excel spreadsheet with formulas to calculate the difference between my actual and target counts. As I record my progress each week, I’ve been able to see the difference as I chip away at those goals.  

Guess what? My simple spreadsheet has helped keep me accountable, and I’ve stuck to my weekly goals. I’ve watched the difference between actual and target counts shrink and the percentage completion steadily rise, which has in turn helped motivate me to stay on track.

And what I’ve learned is this: Goals, metrics and motivation work hand in hand. You can’t have one without the others.

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