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January 5, 2012


Working in the Word Mines: Quotas

by Michael Langlois

As you can probably tell from my release schedule, I work under some fairly tight deadlines.  Luckily, I write pretty fast, so it hasn’t turned into a total disaster.  Yet.

But unless I get better about maintaining a consistent output, I really have very little control over the final completion date.  So, in the spirit of ‘you have to understand something before you can improve it’, I’ve started tracking this year’s daily output:

That's a lot of red for only 4 days. Sigh.

I have two goals here:

  • Maintain as close to a 2000 word per day average as possible
  • Maintain a continuous daily writing streak

There are a couple of things that aren’t reflected in this chart.  First, notice that the word count implies total work that day, so it appears that I was really slacking on the 2nd.  In reality, I did a ton of re-writing on a scene I wasn’t happy with.  It just happened to come out slightly larger than the original.  This entry could just as easily been negative.

Second, it doesn’t account for time spent doing non-prose work, like plotting or research.  I spent a significant amount of time on both the 2nd and the 4th on both of those things.  So, even though I spent roughly the same amount of time working each day, my totals varied wildly.

My answer to that?  Too bad.  In the end, I need the book done by a certain date, and to do that, I need to put out at least so many words per day.  The fact that plotting and research and re-writes take time is irrelevant.  Nobody cares why a book is late, it’s just late.

If you’re not tracking your daily output, I highly suggest you give it a try.  Even if you don’t have a specific goal in mind, it’s a great motivational tool to keep your ass in the chair.  There’s a big difference between the feeling that you’re slacking and actually having to look at the proof.

One note about setting a number for the daily quota.  After several books, I have a pretty good feel for what my pace is when I’m taking of business, so I set my quota accordingly.  If you don’t know what your pace is, just do the tracking and make sure you do some work every day.  Do this for a month, and see what your average speed is.  If you feel like you were hitting a good clip, use this as a starting quota.  If you spent the time doing less than you wanted, raise it a bit and try it out.

In the end, the goal is to get consistent output, not to burn yourself out.  Don’t set the daily quota you wish you had and then kill yourself trying to meet it.  Base it on your actual writing speed and tweak it later if needed.

Now beat it so I can work.  I can’t bear the thought of another one of those shameful red boxes.


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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mar 13 2013

    Have you tried counting diffs (by line)?

    • riking27
      Mar 13 2013

      That will include lines that you’ve revised in the count.

      • Michael Langlois
        Mar 13 2013

        That’s an excellent idea and I may give it a shot. I try out new stuff between projects, so after Fugitive is booted out into the world I’ll give it a look.

        That said, I currently only give myself credit for net new words on the first draft. That keeps the boot planted firmly against backside, and reduces my tendency to obsess over the not-yet-glossy stuff from yesterday. Not sure if I want to give that up. But I might start diff tracking for other drafts, which I don’t currently do.

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