If you can track – and not make tracking your master…

Can tracking your progress really help you write?

By: Wyl,   4 minutes

Photo by Nathanmac87

Tracking mouse movements – pretty and distracting, yes, but useful?

I have a love/hate relationship with tracking. Measuring the thing you’re trying to achieve is almost always easier than actually doing it and the addictive nature of tracking something means so often it usurps its parent and ends up becoming the goal rather than the tool you use to achieve that goal.

Consider tracking web hits, or the number of Twitter followers you amass. Both popular measures of online success, and both capable of driving behaviours that distract you from your primary goal, which is likely, in both cases, to revolve more around meaningful communication than simply increasing the number of people who come into contact with your site or tweets. It’s so much more difficult to track how your site visitors are changed as a result of coming into contact with you online, who they talk to about your ideas, and the changes in behaviour driven by that visit. We so often measure the easy thing rather than the one that matters, and then assume the thing we’re tracking is the most vital element, by virtue of it being tracked.

We love to see the progress bar move in the right direction, so we fix the system in order to see that bar move further, move faster, and convince ourselves movement means we’re closing in on our goal. In short, we become a slave to the progress bar, rather than keeping in mind the more difficult thing, the goal that really matters. It’s one of the mechanisms by which we trick ourselves into believing we have control and are doing the right thing.

“For me, the issue with writing is applying myself, day in, day out, to sitting at my desk and writing my 500 words whether or not I feel like it”

Tracking my writing could easily have become just another tool for procrastination, something to do when I could actually be writing. For me, the issue with writing is applying myself, day in, day out, to sitting at my desk and writing my 500 words whether or not I feel like it, regardless of how sweetly wine, the TV, sleep or the waves are calling. It was with this in mind I agreed to be part of a pilot of the website Write Track, which aims to help writers track their progress towards goals they set for themselves. I wanted to see whether tracking my writing would drive behaviours that would lead to me achieving my goal of completing my novel rather than help me procrastinate further (truth told, I don’t really need any help in that particular area).

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I set myself the goal of writing five days each week, with the aim of 500 words a session. Write Track’s simplicity makes it a rather wonderful experience: I click to track each session I write and add a few words about each session. I might look at what some other members are dealing with, and write a few words of encouragement, or read the comments I’ve been sent, and then it’s back to the manuscript – I’ve been reminded what matters here is the action I take as a result of tracking, I’ve been gently steered back on track.

“It spurs me on and helps me realise the hurdles I face are ones faced by writers with a novel already under their belt.”

I get a buzz when I can see I’ve done five days writing straight. It discourages me from breaking the chain of unbroken days. It’s a buzz to get a comment from a writer I recognise and respect – it spurs me on and helps me realise the hurdles I face are ones faced by writers with a novel already under their belt. It’s a buzz to see other writers struggle with the same things I struggle with, and that while writing is solitary, I’m not alone in choosing this solitary activity.

In the past, it’s been too easy to convince myself I’ve done loads of writing, when what I’ve actually done is thought a lot about writing, carried my notebook around with me, and perhaps scribbled a few notes in it and not achieved an awful lot. None of these activities actually helps me with that most difficult of tasks, making headway on the novel I’m writing, unless I can muster the requisite willpower and overcome the anxiety that everything I write will fall so far short of how it appears in my head, and put pen to paper for sustained periods of time. Tracking my writing and being part of a community of writers has genuinely helped me sit down and write more often, plain and simple.

I’m not tracking the quality of what I write – that’s between me and my editing self, to be discussed at a later date, and hopefully at some point mulled over by someone other than me, when my novel becomes something not written, but something read.

Tracking my writing is clearly (and infinitely) easier than actually writing. But it’s also one of the things that has kept me writing regularly. And I’ve set the expectation now, and not only for myself. I’ve outed myself as an aspiring novelist, and if nothing more than guilt and a sense of responsibility force me to finish it, it will be better than starting, faltering, and letting it molder in my notebook.

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