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Writing: Measuring Writing Progress
It's hard to measure progress in writing. Quality improvements are what we should really be going for, of course, but it's almost impossible to measure quality improvement. We can measure quantity of writing, at least in rought drafts. Words per day is pretty simple to track and I find that setting a minimum goal is a good way to motivate myself. Several years ago, the alumni of a science fiction novel workshop I went to agreed to write a minimum of 250 words/day for a month, then go for another month if the first month worked out. We kept it up for nearly a year and it was one of the most productive years I've had as far as new writing goes. Most days, getting that first 250 words in led to me writing quite a few more, usually a thousand or more.

The emphasis on writing new stuff had its cost, though. I have more than enough stuff written. What I really needed was a way to motivate myself to edit what I had written and get it into usable and hopefully publishable form. So how do I measure progress in editing? Several people have suggested translating editing time into word equivalents. A typical formula:1 hour of editing = 400 word. Some people have also suggested that an hour of plotting should be worth 200 words.

I don't totally  buy the hour = X number of words approach to editing because it looks at time spent rather than results achi
eved. I'm very motivated by setting goals that can be expressed in numbers and have toyed with various ways of dealing with edits. One approach that seems to work: When I do a tightening edit I break the story down into chunks of around 5000 words, then set a goal of reducing my rough draft word count by around 20% for each chunk. It usually takes me two passes to get the word count down that much. I take the number of words I started out with and arbitrarily divide by five to get a word count equivalent. So a tightening edit on 5000 words is the equivalent of writing a thousand words. In reality, it's far harder for me to edit the 5000 words than to write the 1000, but I've never bothered to adjust the ratio. In terms of time and effort, dividing the number of edited words by two might make more sense.

I haven't figured out any way to measure progress in "big picture" editing, where you look at whole scenes and decide whether or not they are necessary, and that's one of my weak spots. I tend to procrastinate when I get to that stage and am sometimes not as brutal as I should be at getting rid of unnecessary scenes. One thing that does sometimes work for me: I sometimes go through scenes and give each one an arbitrary letter grade (A through F), then go back later and remove or replace the stuff that I rated "C" or below and try to bring the "B" stuff up a little.

I've tried to give plotting time numerical goals too--typically a hundred words per scene, but I usually don't spend enough time on plotting. I either run out of time before NaNoWriMo, which is when I do the bulk of my writing,  or in the off-season I get impatient and just start writing long before I've done enough plotting.

It's amazing how much of a motivator being able to set numeric goals for some parts of writing is though, at least for me. Not sure if I'm typical, but if you are motivated by numbers I would be interested in how you set and meet goals.


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