The Data-Driven Writer

Friday, May 7, 2010

An article in the New York Times Magazine by Gary Wolf, about people who obsessively track the minutiae of their lives, has been getting a lot of attention this week. Using computers and wearable sensors, these people record the data and use it to make constant adjustments to their behavior, diet, and exercise routines to improve their health, mood, and work performance. Of course, in the era of social networking, much of this data is shared publicly on the internet too.

I'm a little obsessed with optimizing my writing routine, how I can squeeze in enough time to write between the kids, the day job, the chores, and—oh yeah—sleep, and this article naturally made me think about how writers could adapt the same kind of data-collecting techniques to fine tune their schedules. Make a record every time you sit down to write, noting the time, the place, how long you wrote, your word count, your satisfaction with the output.  With enough patience you could pinpoint your best time to work.

Of course, writers are introspective by nature, and probably have a gut feeling of their optimal writing time anyway. Plus, the most important metric—actual words on a page—is the inherent product of this work. So while tracking every second of productivity appeals to my geeky side, I decided doing it to this level of detail would just give me another way to procrastinate, the last thing I need.

What about you? Do you keep track of when you write, and how much? Do you set goals for word count, number of pages, or finished chapters? Or are you afraid your Bejeweled Blitz scores on Facebook tell the true story about your work ethic?