Since April, I’ve been using an online tool called Acunote to manage my creative activities, i.e. – writing, blogging and public speaking. Because I’ve tracked my activities so carefully, it’s relative easy to correlate my output with my scheduled activities. So, how productive have I been?
Before I start talking numbers, I need to provide some perspective. I have a day job which occupies 40 hours per week, plus 10 hours of commute time. So 50 hours of my week are already spoken for before I even get down to writing.
Let’s take a look at the chart:
Using Accunote, I set up a series of sprints. For each sprint, I defined tasks in advance, then tried to make sure that I accomplished as many of them as possible during the designated time period. I started off with month-long sprints, but that was too long to effectively focus my efforts. Next, I tried a two-week sprint (which is what we do in my day job), but that was still too long for a solo endeavor like my ongoing creative activities. Finally, I decided on week-long sprints, which seemed to work well for me.
In the chart, I track the number of blog entries produced, the total blog word count and where blogged (A = Ashburn Toastmasters Blog, D = DavidKeener.org, and K = KeenerTech). KeenerTech is my technical blog, which is essentially an extension of my resume for technical, Internet-related topics. DavidKeener.org is my creative blog, and a focal point for my creative activities, especially my writing efforts. Ashburn Toastmasters is a venue where I can leverage much of my public speaking content.
In addition to blogging, my creative energy is focused on producing different types of products, including stories, speeches, presentations, videos and blog entries. As a writer, my goal is to produce stories. The other writing activities are ancillary, but still necessary at some level.
My writing production for the last six months includes 54 blog entries, 15 new speeches, 5 videos, 3 presentations and 1 story. That’s 22,332 words of blog content. I estimate each speech at about 1000 words, and the story at 2000 words. The videos are recordings of speeches or stories, so they represent editing and production work, but not new material. Based on the effort required, I’ll estimate presentation content as equivalent to about 1000 words per each 15 slides, so 99 slides equals about another 6000 words.
Summing up all these amounts, I estimate my effective total writing production for the 6-months time period at around 55K words.
Is this good? Is 55K in six months a valiant effort?
Well, frankly, it’s not good. It’s not terrible, either.
It shows that I can write steadily and effectively, despite the obstacles in my daily life like a full-time day job, etc. But it also illustrates the lop-sided nature of my output. If my goal is to produce stories, then I’m failing dismally, because I’ve only produced one in the last six months (although, in fairness, I produced two stories immediately before this six-month interval started).
The chart shows several weeks with almost zero production. Those are weeks when non-writing activities, notably volunteer work for Toastmasters, crushed my available free time.
Now, I’m not totally unhappy with the numbers. I’ve been working pretty hard, and my total output shows this. Let’s summarize my output again:
For most people, this would be a blistering production pace. But for a would-be professional writer, it’s not fast enough. It’s a good start, but some changes are clearly needed, i.e. – some course corrections.
Maybe all this analysis seems strange to most people, but this is what I’m trained to do with modern software development practices. It’s what I know, so it seemed natural to me to apply this to my writing production. I can make some general observations based on the data:
- I need to focus more on stories.
- I need to increase my overall output level.
- I need to reduce activities that are interfering with my writing.
- I need to create synergies between my different types of output.
- I need to get stories in front of users in real venues.
I’m going to expand on each of these observations.
I need to focus more on stories.
The end goal is stories. My output so far has been focused on short-shorts, very short stories of under 2000 words, and I haven’t actually produced too many of them. I need to produce more stories, as well as stories of increasing lengths.
Additionally, the real money in writing comes from novels, so there needs to be a novel in the mix. Soon.
NANOWRIMO, which is the popular nickname for National Novel Writing Month, starts in November. This year, I think I’m perfectly poised to make a solid run at it, especially since I’ve planned a 2-week vacation for the month (but I’m not going anywhere).
If this means fewer blog entries or other ancillary products, then so be it.
I need to increase my overall output level.
Dean Wesley Smith is a prolific blogger, an experienced writer and an expert self-publisher. He’s blogged numerous times about his own productivity numbers. In fact, he’s currently doing a day-by-day expose of his writing activities. He’s producing about twice as much content in a single day than I am in a week.
Now, he’s a full-time writer, and a prolific one at that. There’s absolutely no way that I can match his productivity level. But I can do more. I need to do more.
I need to reduce activities that are interfering with my writing.
The largest amount of my time is, of course, allocated to my day job, and there’s nothing I can do about that. The bills must be paid.
Next up is the volunteer work that I do for Toastmasters. Here is an area where I need to cut back. I’m currently functioning as an officer in two clubs, advising in the formation of a third club, maintaining the District 29 web site and working diligently to achieve my Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) certification.
Toastmasters has been largely responsible for me getting back into the creative mindset. Some of my stories have started out as speeches. And my public speaking capabilities are an important aspect of how I intend to promote my stories, i.e. – through readings, workshops, panels, etc. Accordingly, the DTM is important to me.
However, the other volunteer activities can be cut back. The simplest way to cut them back is to recruit others to help me, so that I’m not the only one performing officer duties or maintaining the district web site. Recruiting volunteers therefore needs to become an immediate focus.
I have other activities that I perform with regard to running the NationJS, DevIgnition and RubyNation conferences. I still need to engage in these activities, but here again I can 1) be more efficient, and 2) recruit others to help me.
I need to create synergies between my different types of output.
This goal, “creating synergies,” may not seem to be as clear as the others. In a nutshell, it means that my production should be more directed, primarily to producing stories, and secondarily, to ancillary content that promotes my stories.
For example, if I create a speech, it should be either a story, or a non-fiction piece about writing or self-publishing that can be used in multiple ways, such as a blog entry on my DavidKeener.org site and/or a writing workshop topic.
I need to get stories in front of users in real venues.
Publishing content on my web site is not enough. I must get my content published in venues where readers can more easily find it. This means publishing free content in some venues, and getting some stories for sale on web sites like Amazon, Smashwords, etc.
I’m pleased that I’ve been able to track my writing production so effectively, and I’m equally pleased with how my organized sprints are working out. I believe the sprints have spurred me to create quite a bit of content over the last six months. More importantly, they have allowed me to get into a rhythm.
Admittedly, my production rate could be higher but, realistically, this is the highest it has ever been. The trick here is to basically keep the same rhythm I’ve got now, but increase the tempo.
Likewise, my analysis shows me that I need to be more strategic in producing my content, with increased focus on stories, as well as content that I can use to help promote both myself and my stories. Additionally, I need to recruit others so that I can share out some of my volunteer work.
These changes seem like fairly logical ways to increase my writing production. I suspect most beginning writers have to go through similar course corrections.