Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Rectangle America Megaphone Monday Butthole Kind of Writing

I am kind of a numbers freak.

And by numbers, I mean the number of words I write on a given project and the number of pages I read in a given year.

Beyond that, numbers are boring to me. Tell me a number – a phone number, an address, anything you want – and it’s highly likely I won’t remember it. Unless the number has real meaning, I’m not going to remember it.

Besides, most numbers are arbitrary anyway – even the few I track.

 Did I read at least 12,000 pages a year, 1,000 pages a month? I hope so. That’s my target. Why? I don’t know. 1,000 pages a year is a nice round number.

Same for the 75,000 words I aimed for in the current draft to DOLEFUL CREATURES. I hit that number. Does it mean the book is done yet? No. Will it be done at 100,000 words? I don’t know. That depends on how many words I add and how many words I end up cutting out of Revision No. 5.
And how many times do I need to revise the novel before I can say it’s done? I don’t know. Ask me when it’s done.

So to read Jamie Todd Rubin’s Daily Beast piece about the painful amount of data he’s collecting on himself just leaves me wondering: Why?

He points to a Stephen Wolfram blog post in which Wolfram babbles at length on the number of emails he’s sent or received and the number of meetings he’s attended and the number of phone calls he’s fielded or made as justification for tracking all the little numbers in his life.

And Wolfram’s post leaves me wondering: Why?

It’s fine if you want to collect and analyze that kind of data.

But is doing so going to make you a better writer, or is it just busywork?

Rubin does say this:

For me, the results have been remarkable. I’ve sold stories more quickly and with fewer rejections along the way—a sign that the practice has helped to improve my writing. The volume of writing has allowed me to branch out into nonfiction articles as well.

So, okay, that’s great.

But there are no numbers to back it up. How much more quickly? And by how much have you reduced your rejections? And how many articles and short stories and books have you sold? And given that you wrote over 400,000 words in the year you tracked your data – more than in the 20 years prior to 2013 – could it be the quantity of writing is what put you over the edge, not the tracking of the data?

Additionally, if he’s tracking the type of writing that’s giving him the most return on investment, I’m not seeing the numbers here. You’d think a guy who wants to become a full-time writer would be analyzing the hell out of the type of writing that gets him the most cash. Maybe he is – and again, if he is, that’s great. But wouldn’t you think touting those numbers would be central to an article in which he advocates tracking numbers and says it helps him improve as a writer?

And his writing tips (and his writing) are pretty pedestrian, given the number of numbers he’s collected:

  • Content, not word count (I’d like to see him write a script that tells him how good his writing is versus how much he’s pounded the keyboard).
  •  Flexibility in when and where you write.
  • Making work accessible from anywhere.
  • Tuning out surroundings.
  • Plan writing even on busy days.
  • Have multiple projects.

None of that is earth-shattering. You just have to do it. And I guess if tracking an insane amount of numbers is what motivates you, that’s fine. But until I see the numbers for the Amigo Money, all the numbers you toss out just aren’t convincing enough.

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