Authors are often asked their current word count. The answer in my case is usually either ‘I don’t have one yet’, or ‘I haven’t checked recently’.
What are we measuring?
Progress tracking is important. But the time I spend working in a way that builds word count is only about 20% of the total time I spend on each book. The other 80% is made up of non-writing tasks including:-
- Story research
- Idea development
- Setting selection
- Character development
- Theme choices
- Point of view decisions
- Chapter titles
- Reviewing feedback
- Cover design research
Many of these activities produce something but they can’t be measured by word count.
It’s a bit like building a house.
Someone has to find and buy the land, design the house, get planning permission, source materials, hire people, lay the foundations, then they build the thing, tile the roof, add plumbing and electrics, and plaster the walls.
If you only counted the number of bricks laid, you would have no idea how well the project was going most of the time.
Of course, writing a book is not exactly like building a house. You don’t take bricks away that aren’t working, or move bricks around once they are part of a wall. In a book manuscript, word count can go down, as well as up!
What else do authors do?
As soon as a book is ready to be published, more tasks are created. Because it has to be marketed. There are blog posts or emails to write, social media posts to create, and ads and promotions to set up. The best measures for these are not anything the author has produced, but responses from the people reading them.
It is helpful to have different progress tracking methods for each stage. But as a daily measure, the thing I find most useful is simply asking: Am I getting closer to my goals? This tells me when I need to change my approach, and is generally more motivating than checking numbers.
Are you getting closer to your goals today?
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You might also like: You Don’t Choose a Story.