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Word counts and task setting

Some lessons I can't learn too often.

When I was writing my dissertation, it took me a long time to make peace with setting a daily word count of 500 words for myself. If I finished it, it was absolutely fine if I didn't do any other writing that day. I was making the progress I needed to. Those 500 words would sometimes take me all day, and sometimes take me barely more than an hour. It didn't matter. What mattered was that I was making slow but inexorable progress on the overall task.

With translation, word count doesn't make as much sense. I have other tasks I need to get done, so I've been setting myself a goal of two hours of translation a day. Fine. Good.

But today I was also really writing from scratch for the first time in a while. It's not a serious writing project - it's not even academic. But I made the mistake of listing the entire suite of related pieces of writing as one to-do list item. And thus, although I wrote a 1000 words, I feel like I've hardly made any progress at all on it. I'm finding it very hard to believe that this counts as progress on the project since I can't check anything off of my to-do list. And yet, intellectually, I know it is.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 31st, 2006 10:29 pm (UTC)
What I can't understand with this write-every-day stuff is how you factor in reading. When did you read for your dissertation? Did you read and write every day? Or did you read first and then start the daily writing afterwards? And what about days when you have to prepare to teach class, or do other such stuff?
Oct. 31st, 2006 10:37 pm (UTC)
In retrospect, I didn't start writing nearly soon enough. I should have started writing my dissertation from nearly the beginning of my research. I only learned as I went along that I think far more clearly on paper/computer screen than I do in my head. By writing about what I was reading, I developed a far better sense for what I actually needed to read. I think I wasted a few months at the beginning of my dissertation by reading books and articles I thought I really needed to read - but in retrospect, weren't important to what I ended up needing to write. Writing also showed me where my gaps were, where I needed to discuss something but hadn't done the research after all.

Setting a goal of 500 words a day meant I was free to do more research or editing or bibliography editing or other parts of the project at the same time - or, if I was brain-dead or busy - take the rest of the day off from my dissertation.

Teaching prep was a complication. I have to say, I didn't usually get much writing - or dissertation work done in general - when I was teaching. This was even more true when I was primary lecturer on a course, as opposed to TA'ing. I would usually try to at least do a little something, but there were plenty of class days when I didn't accomplish anything useful at all on my dissertation.
Nov. 1st, 2006 03:27 pm (UTC)
Setting the goals is a good thing. When did you set yourself the goal of 500 words a day? I mean, at what stage in the dissertation?

I am trying to work out when I should be thinking about doing something like that for myself. Two hours of translation also sounds like a very sensible lump, even if at the moment I've got plenty of other things on my plate to be getting on with.
Nov. 1st, 2006 03:35 pm (UTC)
I was theoretically about a year into it - but a distractable year - before I set myself the goal of 500 words a day. I was distracted by uncertainty over how to write a book-length project, reading which ultimately wasn't all helping me, and part-time teaching.

What led to this constructive move on my part was reading lots of books about how to write - how to write dissertations, how to write books - and this was the general consensus number. 500 words a day is plenty to aim for on a daily basis. It's what many full-time authors do. And steady progress is more important than rapid bouts of huge progress. Obviously, 500 shouldn't be a limit for the day - if I was feeling verbose and enthusiastic, I still had plenty of days with more. But as long as I accomplished at least 500 every day, it was okay, because I was making progress.
Nov. 1st, 2006 07:08 pm (UTC)
I think one is allowed a month or two to start getting one's head around the reading and work out what one wants to start writing, but yes. I shall remember that for when I have to sit down and begin, and if I don't, you have my full permission to prod me :)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )