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I track many different things in my life (meditation, exercise, etc.) Sometimes I track time (how many minutes I meditate); sometimes I track quantized achievements (did I do one of my exercise routines or not).
One thing that I don’t track, which is always surprising to me when I think about it, is anything to do with writing. This is surprising because, for me, writing is at the intersection of a many of my goals.
The usual thing to track with writing is probably daily word count. I know this works really well for lots of people. For me, I’ve found it counterproductive because tracking word count does not directly reward lots of the tacit, critical mental moves that I do in my writing.
Some people probably track “total-time-butt-in-chair” or “total-time-feet-in-front-of-standing-or-walking-desk.” Again, for me, I’ve found that this, by itself, doesn’t differentially reward and drive the kinds of inner behaviors that I actually use when I’m writing.
I know other people track finished pieces and roughly track progress towards those finished pieces. I can’t find the post, but I believe Malcolm Ocean publishes a post every ten-ish days, or something like that? And he increments a counter by less than one on each day he makes progress (115.1, 115.2, …). He only increments the integer place when he actually publishes (116). For me, I think this might require too much mental energy to honestly predict percent-progress-made each day, to assign a motivating increment.
Also, the inspired and bursty nature of my writing makes the Malcolm Ocean approach seem less useful for me personally. I would love, of course, to be able to make incremental progress on longer, more complex writing, while still achieving the depth and complexity in the final work that’s important to me. I think a more incremental approach would be more sustainable and would ideally improve my writing more steadily over time. But, when I’ve tried incremental progress in the past, the writing comes out flat.
Oh yeah, another thing I’ve thought about is using a diff tool that can count both insertions and deletions, which would sort of capture some aspects of revising. But again, I think it leaves out too much and possibly rewards too many of the wrong things (for me). I’d be worried of unconsciously starting to game it in unproductive ways or that it would be too cognitively exhausting to make sure it accurately reflected something motivating.
(For whatever reason, I’m more afraid of unconsciously gaming some combinations of a) tasks and b) types of tracking than others. Insertions/deletions happens to be one of them. But, like, for example, I’m personally not concerned about gaming the tracking of time spent meditating. Like, I think that’s harmless, for me, to track–and it’s probably harmless for most people, especially if taking mini-breaks.)
So just today, I got an idea for writing tracking that might work for me, for making steady, incremental progress on long, complex pieces while being less dependent on high energy, long blocks of time, and waves of inspiration.
As a first, I think I’m going to try simultaneously tracking at least two things at once in a single session, to sort of triangulate (ha):
- max words simultaneously considered and wrestled with during that particular session
There are times, when I’m thinking intensely and carefully, that don’t involve words yet, and I want to reward that. There are also times when I’m working with a large word count, revising, which is important but super-taxing for me, but again not producing lots of new words, and I want to reward that.
(One worry here is that I won’t be rewarded for the important skill of breaking apart a piece of writing into smaller chunks that can be managed individually. This can be a huge reduction in cognitive burden, though sometimes complex stuff can’t be effectively decomposed, which is why I sometimes feel pressured to simultaneously engage such high word counts in the first place. I’m sure I could get much better at this; but anyway.)
I’m not too concerned about producing and publishing per se; the hope/test is whether that will take care of itself under this tracking regime. Again, the goal is to track in such a way that incremental progress becomes rewarding and effective, over and above trying to catch waves of inspiration and hoping that I have the time and energy to catch those waves near the exact time that they happen.
Seriously asking: How do you track your writing? What tracking challenges are you currently facing?