Productivity Baselines and Writing Deadlines #WriteTip

We’ve all seen the memes. The ones that feature images from practically every fandom, ever, and all focus on the same idea: YOU SHOULD BE WRITING.

The thought behind them is to make us aware when we’re spending time on social media – where these images live – instead of being productive. For creatives in general and writers in particular, this is definitely important. I don’t know a single writer who can resist the distractions of the internet 100% of the time.

In a previous post about Becoming a Better Writer in Just One Step, the gist was simply to write every day.

But writing every day is really just the beginning of the road to being a productive writer. And productivity usually means having goals that can be measured.

Deadlines are measurable goals. BUT–

Every writer has a different pace, and not every writer can write every day, which means it’s up to you to figure out what you can actually set as a goal.

Be wary of setting unrealistic goals.

Goals should empower your writing, not disparage it. They should be challenging, but not impossible.

How to go about setting the right goals for yourself:

  • Establish your Baseline Productivity
    • Take a week (or two) and measure your current success
      • Do you write for 3 hours a week? 15?
      • How many words can you write in a week?
    • Track your hours spent and the total words without doing anything different than usual
      • Make tracking a daily ritual so you can see changes over time
      • This will also give you the chance to track both by words and by hours spent writing
  • Set your First Goal
    • Use your Baseline to figure out an average of how many words you can write in one hour
      • You could do per half hour if needed, but I’ve found that per hour is the most useful
    • Then for example: If you want to write a 10k word story…
      • If your baseline says you can write about 1,000 words in one hour…
      • That’s 10 hours of writing…
      • And if you write about 5 hours a week…
      • A 10k story could be finished in two weeks, just by continuing to write as usual.
  • Set your Second Goal
    • Now you want to tackle a 12k word story…
      • You did 10k in 2 weeks with 5 hours of writing a week.
      • 2k more would be an extra two hours.
    • OR…
      • Hey, it’s only another 2,000 words.
        • Maybe you can write 1,200 words an hour (if word goals are your thing)
        • Or maybe you can fit in 6 hours of writing a week instead of 5 (if time spent writing is your thing)
      • Either way, you could do a 12k story in two weeks.
        • This would be a slight challenge, but not impossible.
        • Meaning it’s a great goal to set for increasing productivity.

Just to note, writing 1,000 words in a hour is a stretch for some writers and perfectly reasonable for others. It was used in the example just so I would have easy round numbers.

Having a story length isn’t necessary for this type of goal setting to work. A goal of 12k words in two weeks would go far on any length project, and doesn’t have to be from start to end.

The idea of using a baseline to set goals works for longer projects, too.

For instance, one author I work with has learned to set their writing dealines to accommodate their children’s school schedule. Knowing that they want to be able to spend time with their kids and not worry about writing during Spring Break, we sat down and did some rough calculations based on previous books we’ve worked on together.

  • Estimated first draft length: 85k
  • Deadline: March 18th
  • As of February 6, they had 17k written – leaving 68k to be written in 6 weeks
    • 11.4k a week (for an exact goal of 85,400 words)
    • Writing 6 days a week…
    • 1,900 words a day
      • previous goals have included 2,000 words a day, so this was okay
      • we set a “per day” goal instead of a “per hour” goal because that works better for them as a writer

(For those who do NaNoWriMo, you may be having flashbacks to having a daily goal of 1,667 words a day.)

I checked in with the author in question earlier in the day of this post going live and am happy to say that their first draft is currently at 41k (and feels like it’s just rounding out to the plot midpoint), putting them right on track. Which means the goal was realistic, and that our baseline from tracking previous book drafts was fairly accurate.

It’s also a great motivator, because although there’s still 44k more to go, the author doesn’t feel overwhelmed.

In a future post, we’ll talk about other ways to track productivity, what productivity means for different kinds of writers, and how to estimate the length of a project. For now, I’ll just leave you with a few closing thoughts…


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *