Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What’s Measured, Grows

By Linda Rohrbough

This is an old saying, but it’s new to me: “What’s measured, grows.” If that’s true, then it seems to me that it would make sense for a writer to measure his/her work.

When I heard this saying, I thought of the ways I have measured my work and ways I’d like to measure my work. I believe the most common vernacular for “measuring” is setting goals.

Only goal setting seems like a setup for failure. I just feel guilty if I don’t live up to the goals I’ve set for myself, and I find that rather depressing. I’ve heard it said guilt is a useless emotion, but I think it’s worse than that. I think guilt detracts in a big way from creativity and blocks productivity.

So rather than blocking ourselves with language that is guilt-producing, how about if we try something new?
Seems simple enough.
All of the New York Times best-selling authors I know measure. They measure what they can do and what they have done. They know how many words they can produce in a day, how many days a week they can productively work, and how much time it takes them to produce a book. They rattle off the math like a practiced accountant.

I have a document propped up on my desk titled "Writing Math." I swiped it from Jim Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel, pages 166 and 167. I’ll reproduce it for you here.

Writing Math

Two pages per hour, or 500 words per hour, four hours of writing a day = 2,000 words a day.

One month of novel background – character biography and stepsheet – 172 pages.
(2 pages per hour x 20 hours per week x 4.3 weeks – 172 pages)

First draft - 1.43 weeks
Second pass - ten weeks
Third pass - ten weeks
Polish - eight weeks or two months
Equals a book a year, with 9 weeks left over for vacation
NaNoWriMo is a good example of measuring. Every November, NaNoWriMo participants plow through a novel in 30 days. There are email groups set up so writers can be accountable to each other, and everyone sees how far they can get on their novel in a month. A number of NaNoWriMo produced books have been published, which just shows that measuring does appear to work. Because that’s what NaNoWriMo is all about – not quality or technique or studying the intricacies of crafting a story – but just about putting words on a page.

I know in Microsoft Word 2010 you can click on File --> Info, and under Properties you can see statistics for a document like how many words it has and how long it’s been open. For example, this article is 740 words and took me about 55 minutes to write. Although, I have been thrashing this idea around in my head for the month since I heard, “What’s measured, grows.” And one thing I have figured out about myself is I need brain-time on a piece before I sit down to write it.

One writer I know heisted a stopwatch. Her nephew was using it to measure how much time he was putting in on a school project. One day when he was talking about clocking his time, she said, “Give me that.” She put it on her desk, clicked it on when she wrote and off when she stopped for whatever reason. She didn’t count playing solitaire when she was blocked, surfing the web, or answering email. She only clicked on the stopwatch when she put words on the page, either plotting or actually writing the novel. She said she was shocked at how little time it actually was. Less than an hour a day and she’s a New York Times best seller.

A friend told me about a race walking across the U.S. The guy who won it wasn’t the fastest guy, or the best-funded guy, and he didn’t hold any records for how far he got in any given day. This guy went about the same distance every day. Clearly he was measuring. And he won.

I’m inspired by that story.
Which brings me back to measuring. How do you measure your writing? I’m sure there are a lot more measuring techniques than what I’ve outlined here. I’d love to hear about any you’d care to share.

About the Author: Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with national awards for her fiction and non-fiction. New York Times #1 bestselling author Debbie Macomber said about Linda’s new novel: "This is fast-paced, thrilling, edge-of-the-seat reading. The Prophetess One: At Risk had me flipping the pages and holding my breath." The Prophetess One: At Risk has garnered three national awards: the 2012 International Book Award, the 2011 Global eBook Award, and the 2011 Millennium Star Publishing Award. An iPhone App of her popular “Pitch Your Book” workshop is available in the Apple iTunes store. Visit her website:

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