Monday, July 31, 2017

Measuring Writing Quality

Last week, I read the book  Marketing for Writers Who Hate Marketing: The No-Stress Way to Sell Books Without Losing Your Mind by James Scott Bell. It's the next book club read for the Insecure Writer's Support Group on Goodreads. Although it offers the usual advice about websites, mailing lists, ads, and other traditional marketing tools, Bell puts writing quality first. In fact, he not only suggests you focus on improving parts of your writing craft such as plot, character, dialogue, voice, and theme (there were a couple of others mentioned; I think setting was one, but description oddly wasn't), but he recommending setting goals of improving them by a set percentage every year. That was the part that really got my attention.

At my day job, we set Key Performance Indicators that are measurable--say, getting a certain score level on an audit, or updating/reviewing all documents in our quality system every year. I'm not sure how you would measure improving your plotting by 10% every year. Adding more plot twists? Spending more or less time on plotting? Getting feedback from beta readers, editors, and readers? Bell is supposed to answer question from the Goodreads group, so I should submit this question and to see what his answer is.

One of Bell's other suggestions is for something much easier to track--writing quantity. While many other people have recommended tracking your daily word count, this book finally pushed me into setting up a simple spreadsheet to track mine. My minimum is 500 new words every day, while targeting 1000. Tracking my word count does motivate me to maintain better focus during my writing sessions. It worked well until the weekend, as I was busy all day Saturday bringing Alex to and from a party, grocery shopping, baking three loaves of bread, making two pizzas, and cooking another dish for the week. By the time I had a chance to write, I was physically and mentally drained. Sunday we were at the Renaissance Faire until late, so the only writing I'll do is whatever I can manage after I finish this post.

Before I head off for another writing session, I'd like to ask what you think about measuring writing quality. Can it be done, or, as in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, must we leave quality undefined? Do you track your daily word count? If so, do you find it helpful? Feel free to answer in the comments.


DRC said...

Hmmm...Marketing for writers who hate marketing. I so fall into this category. I believe writing can always be improved, and there is always so much more to learn. I love seeing people evolve and grow, and comparing the work they used to produce to what they are producing now. Seeing this improving amazes me and I feel really happy for them. I don't keep a daily word count spread sheet - although this could help urge me on everyday - but I do keep a general word count spread sheet where I keep track of the overal count.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Definitely propose that question to him. (And so cool we nailed him for the Q&A session!) I can measure word output, but quality it more difficult. I'll be curious what he answers.

Pat Dilloway said...

Quality is largely in the eye of the beholder.

Sandra Almazan said...

DRC, I also see people track percentages done on a WIP, but since I generally don't have a word count set for my novels, that would be difficult for me to gauge.

Thanks for arranging the Q&A, Alex!

Pat, very true, which makes it even more difficult to measure.

Maria Zannini said...

I don't really see how you can quantify improvement, but maybe I'm not thinking outside the box.

I measure improvement by the kind of response I get from readers, though I'm not sure that's quantifiable or scientific.

Sandra Almazan said...

Maria, I guess you could track number or type of responses, but it would still be hard to attribute any changes to an improvement of a particular writing element.

Chrys Fey said...

Yes, please, Sandra, submit that question. It's a very good one. James Scott Bell was so gracious and is willing to answer any question about his book or marketing.

I am thrilled to see you're already discussing his book. Be sure to join the discussion in September. :)

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