2016 Project: A Year of Data About My Writing Practice

2016 is looming, as new years tend to do. I’ve been sorting through the options of big, writing-adjacent goal-setting projects I’d be interested in doing to replace the mad dash of the 600k year. Doing nothing was pretty high on the list, but that’s not in my nature. I like having big meta-projects to focus on that are writing-adjacent, even if they’re basically insane and designed to fail.

So I went through the list of things I really enjoyed and found useful in 2015 and came up with three words: word count data.

I tracked daily word-count pretty obsessively over the last twelve months. And, when I didn’t track words, I tracked daily pages in a notebook, faithfully switching back-and-forth between different coloured pens so I’d be able to see what was written on which day.

I’m still tracking my word-count now, updating my excel file after every writing session. First, because it’s become a habit. Second, because I like data. Data is fricken’ awesome. Data means that when I hit the first week of December and start wondering what the hell has gone wrong with my process, I can go back to previous years and see that December is always a goddamn awful month on the writing front.

Data lets me know that I only tend to break the 500 words/day barrier about half the days of the month, on average.

It lets me know that December is the month where I’m most likely to get a haircut, ’cause the increasing heat and humidity in Brisbane makes my head overhea–

Wait, that’s not writing related, is it? Forget I mentioned it. As haircuts go, it’s pretty terrible. As summers go, this one promises to be awful.

Data, though? Writing-related data tells me useful stuff. It highlights the reality of my writing process, rather than the pleasant fantasy of this is how I write that lives in my head.

On the other hand, my data collection was also put together by a version of myself that was fuzzy-headed and skating the edge of perpetual exhaustion, which means I’m spending this week thinking through what I’d like to actually track in 2016.

For all that the word count is a useful metric in some respects, I don’t track enough to be sure of the context. Did I only write 200 words on a particular day because the project was hard? Because I had a work gig? Because I was just fried and disappearing into a marathon game of CIV until my brain caught up? Because I was blogging more? Editing? Or writing pro-wrestling fanfic?

I can follow the very general patterns – Write Club days good, work days not so good, weekends basically non-existent in terms of getting stuff done – but there’s not quite enough there to hack the problems and start resolving them.

So, for 2016, I’m looking at the collection of writing data as my long-term project. I’ve just started revising the excel document I use for tracking writing to add in categories that will give me a little more data – one for other-writing, one for listing distractions and non-writing commitments.

I’ve also added RescueTime to both the home computers, so I can start to see exactly where my time is going on the computer from week to week, complete with a goal-setting that it will tell me if my daily word count actually represents a substantial chunk of writing time or something tapped out in fifteen minutes of frantic activity.

Every week or so, those will get dumped into the spreadsheet along with the other data, so I can figure out roughly how many minutes and hours went into a particular day’s word count.

And, ’cause I actually enjoyed the accountability of updating the 600k word-count spreadsheet during this year, I’ll take a look at doing another one for 2016.

Not quite as flashy as chasing a 600k year, I’ll admit, but probably more useful to me in the long wrong.

Also, hopefully, more likely to result in finished projects instead of a small mountain of rough drafts.

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