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?

*checks calculator*

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.

Less impressive.

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.

It ain’t.

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.)

42 comments

  • Dammit. I gave up writing some time ago, but every time I read one of your bloggy bits (!), I keep thinking I should take another stab.

    Curse you, O Horrible Wendigus!

  • I’m in love with this concept. If I wasn’t already squeezing my TTWW (Time Taken with Wendig) into my TATTie and bringing down my WPD, I’d set up an excel spreadsheet to calculate and compare all that stuff. No, I really would. I have one for dividing word count into days to finish, one for calculating price-per-word and one that compares written work, published work, attempted publication and work in progress–but I never thought to have a H&M column or DBI. Marvelous.

    What I find useful about statistics, spreadsheets and charts is that, though they are not actual writing, they are a form of progress. You are creating your personalized writing tools, which is something few can do for you. Or you’re using a chart or spreadsheet to get that stuff out of your head and make more room for the writing (something I have trouble with). The trick is to not be lured away by the Will o’ The Wisp of making tools, to avoid doing the actual writing. Then it stops being progress and becomes masturbation.

    My ideal TATT is portioned 15% Housekeeping (tools, managing irons in fire) 80% Working 5% F’ing off. I said my ideal. I am the first to admit that F’ing off can run up like a madman if I don’t focus. Which I am going to do presently.

    K

    • @Keith —

      Ye gods. Me as inspiration?

      That’s terrifying.

      Sensei, I guess I’ll take that one. The sensei’s the guy who karate chops his students into bringing him sandwiches, right?

      I’m totally that guy.

      — c.

      • What I mean to say is — Maggie, check your eyes, because it looks like it says FA to me. Haha! Hah! Look at her. Thinking it says “FS.” Thinking that Wendig can’t put together two simple letters! Ha ha! Ha… ha!

        *cleans up the evidence*

        — c.

  • I would be sailing the “USS Cash Phrase” because I love puns, and money
    Good article, and I like what you’ve done with the place.
    Also, masturbation doesn’t have to eat into your writing time, if you do it right.

  • I am neither an engineer nor a nautical mechanic, but I am fairly sure a solid gold yacht would sink. I know it’s a soft metal, but you need rubber for hoses at least; I am also fairly sure that your golden engine won’t run off chunks of gold in your argent gas tank. Also, you wouldn’t be able to see where you are going because your windows are gold… which may not be much of a problem, unless you really like seeing the sea floor rushing at you. Toot, Toot, Ahoy, Glug, Glug.

    I know there was more to this post than that, but right now I have an image of Chuck waving like an idiot trying to get off his golden yacht, wearing a little captains jacket and hat, while sharks close in on him. I chose to run with what I have firmly in mind.

    That, and my stats suck. But they are getting better. I am making them get better.

    And so we are clear, a golden bilge pump won’t help get rid of the water.

    • @Rick —

      DO NOT POO POO MY MAGIC YACHT.

      Who said it was on the ocean, anyway? I drive that bitch all over the parking lot at Wal-Mart. It’s on wheels. Or maybe it’s a hovercraft!

      @Stephen:

      I am now thinking of your masturbatory habits like a car crash — I do not want to look, and yet, I kind of want to know.

      — c.

  • As a point of reference, golden wheels would have you sliding all over the parking lot at walmart, leaving golden shards of boat in everything since your gold brake fluid isn’t stopping anything.

    • And now you’re going to tell me that my PLATINUM UNICORN cannot exist?

      Hey, we don’t need no naysayers up in this bitch. It’s yachts and unicorns, or it ain’t nothing at all.

      — c.

  • Every time I add another thousand words to the meter for the Project, I feel a little bit closer to increasing all of my stats. I feel like I’ve been stuck in the minors for a while. Sooner or later, though, if I keep plugging away at it, I’ll break through to the majors. I hope.

    • @Will:

      Dangit, I was writing a comment, and suddenly my browser projectile vomited and fell down some steps.

      As I was saying before that happened —

      The stats aren’t meant to be a “feel bad” thing. I’m not sure many writers have really worthwhile stats. We all have goblins. I’ve left more projects unfinished than I care to recollect. The stats are just a way of flagging it — “Hey, fix this.” Reality check and what-not.

      — c.

  • Outside of DBI, I don’t see why the rest of the post couldn’t apply to hobbyist writers… Also, totally down with Rick on the gold yacht. We’ll send out a rescue crew.

    To rescue the yacht. Marine salvage, ya know.

    • @Kyle —

      Oh, they could definitely apply to a hobbyist writer. It’s doesn’t matter as much, of course, to the hobbyist. I take photos, but it doesn’t matter how many I take, or how well I’m improving. I’m in it for me. Who cares? I enjoy it. It’s Zen. If I sell a photo or it ends up on someone’s blog, cool. Not my intent, but I’m happy to have that. Statting that out and giving it that kind of professional impetus would be contrary to why I am a hobbyist in regards to photography.

      Writing, though — you want to keep your game up if you aim to be in any way a pro.

      Not knocking those who don’t want that. If this is valuable to them, then I’m happy.

      And I appreciate any rescuing you people send. This gold yacht needs rethinkin’.

      — c.

  • But if a hobbyist [writer | photographer | programmer | homebrewer] wants to improve, they need to do whatever it is they want to do. Sure, maybe it doesn’t matter to keep shoes on our kids and beer in the fridge (unless you’re a really snobbish homebrewer), but it matters for intrinsic drive. And so that feedback loop matters.

    Also, I mean, who doesn’t at least dream of turning their hobby into their profession?

    • @Kyle —

      Maybe I should rephrase — I’m speaking to pro-writers and those who have aspirations to go pro.

      Hobbyists can absolutely want to improve. I want to improve my photography, and if hobbyist writer types come here and learn stuff, I’m excited. I’m not excluding them. I’m just not targeting my words and information for them. A hobbyist’s improvement is driven only by their desire to improve. A pro’s improvement is driven by that individual’s *need* to improve.

      — c.

  • This is a test of the emergency line break system.

    If this was a real emergency, you would know by the screaming, running, and consumption of human entrails.

    That is all.

    That work?

  • WOO! Got it! Fixed that shiznit.

    Everybody, please welcome line breaks to the comment party.

    Now, I need to fix:

    * Subscribe to comments still not working.

    * Commenters don’t seem to be getting cookies — as your information fails to populate when you return to the page to enter another comment

    * Wonky images in post edit — though, this is easily worked around for now.

    I continue smashing goblins with my clumsy code hammer.

    — c.

  • I misread that as Horus Wagner and thought “Chuck is Warmaster Horus! Hail the Warmaster!”

    …Aaron would get the reference.

    You are now the Writemaster. You shall be in charge of preserving the traditions of writing as well as leading the Crusade against….NOTwriting!

    • I’ll take it.

      So, I’m Magic Talking Beardheard.

      I’m the Wendigo.

      I am the Writemaster.

      I have a lot of titles. I’m okay with this.

      Someone make me a plaque!

      — c.

  • Wait a minute… did the Casual vs. Hardcore argument just evolve to writing blogs? That’s impressive – there should be a study on this.

    Hey, line breaks! How I missed you! It even applied them retroactively. I refuse to call you Warmaster Horus. The most you are getting out of me is Argumentdude Hank. You should take that much and be happy.

    I just want to say, that figuring out my baseball card made me very, very sad. My HA is horrible.

  • Beardheard? I prefer beardherd.

    “Today, a beardherd of Wendigs broke free from their enclosure in Pennsyltucket, and wreaked havoc on the countryside, in search of cheap booze and yachts made of gold. Zookeepers managed to find the Wendigs hundreds of miles from home near Fort Knox, where they were shot full of tranqs, rounded up and airlifted back home.
    “In a related story, the fence enclosing the beardherd has now been electrified, and will hopefully stymy the Wendigs’ efforts towards any possible future bids for freedom.”

    • Heh.

      Beardheard.

      COME LISTEN TO THE BEARDHEARD.

      And your “beardherd” tale had me gigglesnorting. Seems a gift you and your husband share. Your dream-killing ways has left you scarred with the funny.

      And —

      @Rick —

      I wouldn’t say it comes down to Hardcore or Casual, nor am I aiming to be dismissive of the non-pro writer. The only reason I really brought it up is, sometimes I talk the business, and talking about the business means talking about the money. The hobbyist writer isn’t really affected by that, and can feel free to gloss over it.

      — c.

  • Something to keep in mind as far as lists go for later is the dreaded…expenses list…and worse TSM – Time Spent Marketing! TSM will unfortunately much impinge on writing time and can be a horrid juggling act. But YOU CAN’T ESCAPE IT! So might as well get used to doing some too. Wheeee! (Just a thought!)

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