You Get What You Measure: Fiction Edition

In grade school, I was the youngest and smallest in the class and always chosen last for any team sports. The boys groaned when the even-odd count resulted in me on their team.
You Get What You Measure, Fiction Writers!On the other hand, for the 7,583 times we were forced to play prison ball in the guise of physical education, I was the last person standing on my team more than fifty percent of the time. I was nimble, so the bell rang before anyone managed to cream me with the ball.

How did I achieve this? The boys’ goal was to win the game by smashing the ball into people as hard as they could. Most often they picked off the girls first, but forgot about me till the end. My goal? Never touch the ball and never let it touch me. I had no other concept of “winning.”

When I worked as a technical writer on product software, we had specific measures for productivity and quality, plus an external schedule, milestones, and job-related incentives for innovation and creativity. It’s a world in which it’s relatively easy to track success as a writer.

Now that I work full-time as a fiction writer and publisher of non-fiction, I need different markers for success in my writing. For me, daily word count is not an adequate measure of productivity.  However, I was also formerly a manager known for creative definition of realistic measures for productivity and success. So I’ve been thinking about how to understand my own productivity as a fiction writer without focusing only on word count and number of publications per quarter. I’m sharing some of those ideas here for other fiction writers, especially those who don’t write fiction full time as their principal income.

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Up on Blocks

Here’s a quote from Philip Pullman (of His Dark Materials) that PVG posted on the Passive Voice blog today:

All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?

Up on Blocks  - CanyonChasersIn the community discussion, many writers disagreed with Pullman’s, but I buy it. I’ve been “blocked” in other, non-writing professional work—when I don’t know the answers and have to wait for the creative solution to come. And I’ve done enough complex remodels that I know plumbers and carpenters have to be creative…and it some times takes a while to find the answer.

Over 30 years of professional writing, I’ve asserted that what people call “writer’s block” is God’s way of keeping down the level of crap that gets out into the world. Writing might slow down, and require a few walks around the neighborhood, but if I’m facing anything that’s called a block, I ask myself these questions: Continue reading