Every Writer Is A Baseball Card
I know. It’s a tenuous metaphor. Bear with me.
You flip over a baseball card — erm, excluding the Honus Wagner card, which obviously features a delightful cigarette advertisment — and what do you find?
Stats. Right? Every player’s got stats. Hits. RBIs. Batting average. ERA. Throws right, bats left. Whatever. (Some players have a sidebar that indicates how many times they’ve banged Madonna. It’s true!) It’s a clinical way of distilling that player; it doesn’t encapsulate who that person is, but it gives a reasonable glimpse into that athlete’s career on the field.
Here’s what I’m advocating: I’m saying, every writer should be aware of his own stats.
I have stats as a writer. You have stats as a writer.
Why know these things? Because these stats help you predict performance. They let you see where you’re weak, and in what areas you best see some improvement.
Let’s talk about what stats you might start tracking.
WPD: Words Per Day
This is an easy one. On average, how many words do you write a day?
Or, if you’re producing a screenplay or a comic book, how many pages do you write a day?
Average it out. Doesn’t need to be an exact science — unless you’re an exact scientist. (What? Shut up.) Just try to get in the ballpark. (That pun was not intentional. Put those rifles down. Rifles are for closers only.) Me, I’ve upped my WPD over the course of my writing career. I’ve gone from a 1,000 – 2,000 word day to maybe a 3,000 to 5,000 word day. On average. Script-wise, I used to produce between three and five pages. I’m now up to eight to ten page days. Not saying this to brag, because hey, who knows? Maybe those pages are of dubious quality. Or maybe I’m just typing the word “penis” like, 5,000 times. Point is, I purposefully attempted to increase the amount of work I could accomplish in one day.
How is this valuable?
If you’re going to make a serious go at this, you need to know how long it’s going to get you to the finish line on a first draft or any subsequent rewrites. If it’s a 90,000 word novel, and you write a thousand words a day on average… well, I’m no mathlete, but it should take you about 14 years to write that novel.
… that’s right? Isn’t it?
Ahem. I mean, it’ll take you 90 days to write that first draft of a novel. If you write 3,000 words a day, that novel draft comes belly up in a month, instead. If you write five pages a day, a 120-page screenplay (1 page = 1 minute of film), you’ve written a screenplay in two months, or 60 days.
Keep in mind, too, that writing every day keeps your average up. Sure, you might have a furious 5,000-word day, but if you only write once a week, you’re below that 1k/day ratio. (You’re at about 700 words per day, actually.) Keeping to that discipline will help you maintain a reasonable average rather than being some pinballing moonbat pirouetting this way and that.
TATT: Time At The Table
Another simple one:
On average, how much time do you spend accomplishing the aforementioned WPD? None of these stats have a right or wrong answer: they’re simply meant to give you a glimpse at your habits in numerical form and get you up to speed on where to potentially improve. So, if you spend one hour writing a thousand words, you’re in good shape. If you spend eight hours writing a thousand words, that’s maybe not so hot.
Figuring out your daily writing time (“at the table”) lets you loosely plan your days. On Tuesday, you need to write, you need to vacuum the cat, you need to purchase methamphetamines for Grandmother, and you need to repel the barbarian horde from the village gates. Knowing that your TATT is one or two hours helps you plot around it. If your TATT is half of your day or more, well, you might want to consider telling Grandmother that she isn’t getting her meth until Wednesday. You might also want to tell that basehead octogenarian that she smells more than a little like cat pee.
For the record, TATT does not stand for “tatties.”
But, Aziz Ansari did get Terry Gross to say “tatties.” So, there’s that.
FA: Finishing Average
If I had checked this stat five, ten years ago, I might not have been happy with the result. What you’re calculating is effectively How Many Projects You’ve Started versus How Many Project You’ve Finished. So, divide your finishes by your total number of projects (starts). Started ten and finished ten? That’s a 1.000 average, or, “batting a thousand.”
That’s probably not you. It’s not me, either.
If you start 15 projects and only finish six…
*starts fucking with an abacus*
That’s a 0.400 average.
You want to get that number up. That’s an important number.
I’d say, get it up over 0.500, at least. If I had to identify what I felt was one of the biggest problems facing writers, it’s the ability to finish their work. Starting the work is the fun part. Finishing it is the “work” part. Hence, more fun! Less work! No success! Low Finishing Average! Sadness! Depression! Pills!
HMD: How Many Drafts?
You’re planning a project. A novel, maybe. Or a script. Or a series of witty doormats.
You have a deadline. Even if no client exists to give you said deadline, you should give yourself one to keep that Finishing Average up (and checking your TATT and WPD scores can help you plot that deadline — see, it’s already working, motherfuckers!), and so you need to start planning out how to make it to your The End, Game Over, finito moment.
So, you need to know — on average — how many drafts it takes you to get the project done. I mean done-done. Finished in a way where it doesn’t stink of tainted goat meat. (Or, meaty goat taint!) You need two drafts, fine. Three, okay. Sixteen? …well, you might want to trim that down, but hey, whatever works for you. Again, no right or wrong answer. And every project will be different; no universal number exists. But it will help you know how you’re going to properly make your deadline.
Because failing to meet a deadline makes Jesus cry. And it makes Buddha angry.
And you wouldn’t like Buddha when he’s angry.
H&M: Hits And Misses (or, TRR: The Rejection Ratio)
This might sound like the same thing as your Finishing Average, but it’s not — that assumes that finishing your project is the same thing as being done with it.
The goal is, of course, to get published. (“Published” being a moving set of goalposts these days, but still an important goal just the same.)
How many projects did you get published? (Hits!)
How many projects remain rejected? (Misses!)
Note the use of the word “remain.” That’s meant to be a flag. A red flag waving in front of your eyes, and if that’s not bold enough, then somebody can come along and shove it up your ass — oh, you’ll notice it then. See, the point of identifying these numbers isn’t to make you feel bad. It’s to remind you how many projects still remain in limbo. How many aren’t yet “out there” in the world? Identifying this number gives you something to work on, something at which you can keep on hammering. Got five projects in the hopper that still don’t have a home? Find a way to send ’em there. Maybe you need another draft. Maybe you just need to find the right market. Maybe your query letter sucked (note: do not write queries in crayon).
This isn’t a bad number.
It’s just a number. A number that means your work isn’t done.
It’s a number that should always be above zero. Why? Because if it’s “zero,” that means you have nothing to do. So, get working.
Build up that number, then knock it down. Lather, rinse, repeat.
DBI: Dollars Brought In
I hear what you’re saying:
This is about writing.
This isn’t about money.
Sure. Fine. You keep on saying that. Me, I’ll be too busy driving my solid gold yacht, the SS Word Money, to hear your anti-captalist screed. Toot, toot! Ahoy!
Ahem. Okay, no. Just kidding about that yacht thing. I’m not kidding about the money thing, though. I write this advice for people who want to make a career out of writing, not people who want to make a hobby out of writing. I have no problem with the hobbyists. I’m a hobbyist at a lot of things. No harm, no foul.
But I’m speaking to people who want to do this for a living.
And, since “a living” often involves things like “mortgage” and “grocery bill” and “Internet porn expenditures,” you best figure out how to make money with your writing.
It’s not the most important thing. But it is an important thing.
So! DBI. Dollars Brought In.
I don’t care how you calculate this. Annually? Monthly? Overall, as a little number that grows to a big number? Whatever. It’s a number that reminds you that you’re bringing home the bacon. Even if it’s not a lot of bacon, it’s something. You make your first sale, it’s a shock-rod to your confidence donkey — that burro will be bucking and kicking with paroxysms of joy. Bzzt!
It’s a good reminder that this number, while not the only one on the back of your baseball card, still remains a significant number just the same. It’s a number that demands your attention. It’s not a hollow statistic.
“Funclusion” Rhymes With Conclusion!
You can check other stats, too — how many times do you masturbate a day? Because that’s eating into your writing time. How much coffee do you need to be viable? What about your TTWT score (Time Taken With Twitter)? ABR? Alcoholic Binge Ratio? What other scores and stats are worth keeping track of in a writer’s daily life? Whatchoo got, Intertubes? Whatchoo got?
(One last note: that abacus? Made from the knucklebones of my enemies.)