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Will you choose the right metrics? (as fiction writers)

It feels weird to even use the word ‘metrics’ in a piece about fiction, but here goes…

Three years ago the seed of an idea to write a novel bloomed. Three years later I’d written around 1 million words, many of which were allocated toward revisions of my novel (and to character and world-building notes).

Early on (year 1), I recognized word count wasn’t the most useful metric (it is useful if you are not writing consistently), and that quality of writing mattered above all.

But how to apply a metric to quality?

Around year 2, I decided to focus on process. If I was brooding (thinking) and doing the hard work of self-editing and constructing a narrative and striving for readable prose, then the results would come.

I blocked time every week (some weeks I corralled daily blocks — Go me!) for writing, which included new scene drafts, outlining, developmental edits, line edits, new characters sketches, setting experiments, pretty much anything that felt right.

Still, though, how could I explain to people (investors? hehe) that I was improving?

Yes, I’m improving. Believe me, I know I am.

I’ve thought and said this a few times. Haven’t you?

While it may be true that I am improving, is it possible that I’m avoiding even faster improvement by looking away from solid facts about my writing?

Another approach

What alternatives exist?

When I thought about measuring progress, I came to the following options:

  1. submit short stories and measure rejection rate
  2. find consistent work (like I have through storytelling companies like Bound)
  3. write essays (I’m writing a 3-book review on October: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Miéville, Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitry Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson, and The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen)
  4. write blogs (I write weekly blogs for yukaichou.com and the Octalysis Group)
  5. seek learning opportunities (I’m drafting a sports + blockchain piece)
  6. get my novel critiqued (I went to 4th Street Fantasy and had my early chapters reviewed by Max Gladstone and Beth Meacham, which was a huge level up)

These are a few changes I’ve made to my writing life. At the risk of diverting my attention from what matters most, I’m saying yes to most writing opportunities that feel interesting.

How do you know if it feels interesting? That’s another post, where I may explain my slightly more detailed decision-making process which includes: 1) intrinsic interest, 2) relationship value, 3) learning possibility, 4) flexibility/freedom/autonomy, and 5) risk

How do you measure improvements in your writing quality? (Let’s chat in the comments.)