Word Counts on the Blog

Astute observers will notice some bars in the side menu. The curious among you will go so far as to look at them and read the text nestled in and around these bars. From there you’ll encounter numbers divided by other numbers, and might reasonably conclude that these are somehow indicative of some sort of progress I’m making towards various goals of the wordly variety. Why do such a thing? Public shame and a little bit of mind-trickery. You see, I’m a lazy sort of person, and without engaging in a touch of mental¬†guerrilla warfare with myself, I’m prone to not doing things. I’m especially good at not doing things I really enjoy doing. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and that’s the main reason it’s incredibly frustrating to be me on most days, but I’ve come to terms with it and learned that a bit of public accountability is one of the things that helps me get things done.

It’s also worth mentioning that I’m a spreadsheet and stats nerd, so collecting data on my keyboard tippy tapping is second nature to me. The problem with private spreadsheets is that they don’t always work for motivating me to push through my slacker mentality. My theory is that holding myself publicly accountable for the filling of bars will make it easier for me to write a few thousand words for one of my ghostwriting clients and then find the motivation to switch over to working on one of my personal projects for an hour or two before the sleep monster comes to drag me away. As much as I love working on my personal projects, it’s a bit like working at Wendy’s all day and then coming home to make burgers and fries for a bunch of people hanging around your house for no apparent reason beyond getting free burgers and fries. Think of it as the gamification of writing productivity. It’s not a complete solution to doing more work in any given day, but it’s one tiny piece of a larger engine that drives me to produce.

My spreadsheets divide the output into individual categories by month and year so I can see how much I’m working on each area, but for now I’m just mashing them all together in my monthly and yearly goal tracking. One of the categories I recently started monitoring is my planning and outlining. This felt like a bit of a cheat at first, but I write long rambling explorations of stories during the brainstorming phase, and a typical chapter by chapter outline can easily run to a few thousand words. I wanted a way to feel like I’d accomplished something after spending two or three days not actually contributing to the final text of my story, and tracking the planning allows me to do just that. My spreadsheet is a bit like Seinfeld’s Don’t Break The Chain system, and I didn’t like looking back and seeing outlining days as big fat blanks telling me I was a lazy bum who should go pour myself a measuring cup of Irish whiskey to drink while lying under the table in the foetal position. My spreadsheet’s a real asshole when I don’t feed it regularly. Seriously, you should hear the things it says about me.

This isn’t all about shame and motivation though. As someone who makes at least a tenuous living from hustling collections of words strung together into quasi-entertaining blocks of text, I thought it might be worthwhile for some people to get a look behind the curtain. One of the biggest barriers standing before people wanting to become professional writers is the inability to churn out the work when they’re not feeling particularly inspired. A big chunk of my ghostwriting work currently comes from that place, and I hope that progress bar shows people that words need to keep coming every month. If you think things like NaNoWriMo are difficult to complete, just think about doubling that output every month of the year.

Here’s a breakdown of the current bars being filled:


AMP is the working title of my current novel-length manuscript. It’s a bit of a sprawling project and I’m trying to decide how to break it into pieces for digital distribution. My current goal is to work out some sort of Part 1 resolution by the 80k word mark so I can cut it and publish it there. New personal works to possibly be published under my real name will be added here.

Monthly Totals

I track my daily output for four major areas of my writing. These are Ghostwriting, Personal, Blogging, and Planning. I may share this spreadsheet once I’ve finished out the year and stopped adding and removing features, but it allows me to see when I’ve been productive and gives me something to work towards. The Monthly Total goal is currently just a rounded bump from my previous month’s output, and it may be low in some months with heavy editing requirements. In September I wrote 67,741, so my October goal is 70k. At some point I’ll probably just level this off at 100k each month. The disparity between the monthly totals and my personal projects is largely due to my day job of ghostwriting and the works I put out under a pseudonym. Monthly totals take only new writing for fiction projects into account.

Yearly Totals

This year I only started tracking my writing at the end of July, and I initially set out writing towards a goal of a quarter million words. I’m going to bump up against that soon, so I’ll probably nudge that up a bit at the end of the month, but I like having at least one nearly filled progress bar, so I’m leaving it for now. Where my monthly goals are designed to push me into writing a healthy amount every day, my yearly goal is there to make me feel good about myself. It’s like a mirror placed at just the right angle to make my cheeks a little less chubby and to add a few muscles my delts when I go through my morning flex routine. I’m not sure if you can do that muscle bit with a mirror, but it’s not like I actually know where my delts are anyways.


What do you think about putting your progress on display for everyone to laugh at or feel jealous of? Do you have some other trick for shaming yourself into productivity?


For the technically curious, I’m using the¬†Progress Bar plugin for WordPress. I’ve given it some custom styling, so it looks a bit different from the plugin out of the box, but that’s what’s making the bar magic happen.

19. October 2013 by Mark Feenstra
1267 words | Categories: Blog, Writing | Tags: , | 1 comment

One comment on “Word Counts on the Blog

    Giulia Zeni says:

    My boyfriend Vincenzo ( http://www.one125.com ) suggested me to have a look at your website and so I did. He is not the kind who recommends random things, he needs to really like them. I must say: he was right, your style is brilliant! That’s a pity you probably won’t understand what I write – my website is in Italian – but his photos are soo special that they even overcome linguistic issues :D

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