Sometimes It Pays to Keep Score
By Evan Braun
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote on a different blog about a tool for keeping track of writing progress. I used it for the first time last year, and I’ve recently started using it again. It’s really simple, no more complicated than coming up with a word count goal, creating an Excel spreadsheet, and honestly keeping track of your progress over time. Day by day, allowing every word to count. Lots of writers do this, and I can speak to the fact that it works to keep productivity high at key times.
My twist is to color-code my results for that extra little bit of motivation. Here’s my personal scale. If I only write up to 400 words, the box gets colored blue. If I write from 401 to 800 words, the box turns green. Then, always in 400-word intervals, it turns yellow—orange—red—then finally, red-hot red.
It’s amazing how well this works for me. A pretty simple psychological trick, sure, but I really love levelling up.
My point today is that sometimes it pays to keep score. A lot of the time, we allow our writing to stay casual. We give time to it only when all of our other priorities have been satisfied. We run our errands, pick up the kids, mow the lawn (or shovel the driveway, depending on the season), cook dinner, load the dishwasher and clean the bathroom and vacuum the carpet. We go to work and come home and crash. We watch TV or a movie or read a few chapters of our current book, and at the end of the day we fall into bed as tired as we were when we rolled out of it first thing in the morning.
And maybe, once a week or so, we manage to do some writing.
That described my life for a long time, and I’ll go out on a limb and guess that it probably describes some of your lives as well. After all, we’ve been conditioned to think of writing as a hobby rather than a serious pursuit. When someone asks what you’re doing on Wednesday evening and you answer “Writing,” what they may hear is “I’m not busy, so yes, I have time to babysit your kids.”
I’ll be the first person to admit that finding time to sit down and write can be really hard. So we have to be intentional about it, because writing time doesn’t often appear out of nowhere by happenstance. It has to be created.
My advice is to try keeping score. Using a word count tracker can keep you accountable to your goals—and right now, with January in the rear-view mirror, is when we’re most tempted to throw our goals out the window.
Those goals don’t have to be lofty. Maybe you want to write two pages a day. Well, that’s about 500 words (if you use Microsoft Word, there’s a handy little word counter at the bottom left of your screen, so you don’t have to count by hand), and it probably takes thirty to forty minutes—or less. Maybe some days you’ll struggle and only write 300 words, and maybe other days you’ll write 700. The point is that you’re doing something, a little bit at a time, every day, and the results will pay off.
When I used the word counter for the first time last year, I set myself a goal to write about 40,000 words in two months. It almost didn’t seem possible, but I started keeping track of my progress—even the days when I fell short. One day I only wrote 88 words. Another day only 271. But you know what? Those words helped a lot. They contributed toward keeping my momentum alive. Without the 88-word days, I wouldn’t have had the 2,500-word days either.
Seven weeks after I started, I hit 46,438 words and finished my novel.
Sometimes keeping score keeps us motivated. So if you’re looking at your week and getting down on yourself, thinking you don’t have any time, maybe you need to stop looking for hour-long blocks of uninterrupted time at your desk. Maybe just carry a notebook with you throughout the day, and write five minutes here and five minutes there.
Trust me. Those five-minute writing breaks will add up faster than you think.
About this Contributor:
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. Braun is an experienced professional editor, and has worked with Word Alive Press authors since 2006. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.