With anything I do, I absolutely love to track how well (or how poorly) I’m accomplishing a task.
As an I/M project manager, my days are often spent checking cost and schedule performance indexes and earned value budgets at completion. Often times I’m looking at Pareto charts attempting to pinpoint areas on which I need to concentrate.
It’s during these moments I often get my nerd on statistically speaking.
I suppose it’s the project manager in me, tracking habits cultured over the last twenty-five years, which have spilled over into my writing world.
It stands to reason it would.
So, it’s not really surprising as a writer, primarily when the metrics are thoughtfully provided on a near real-time basis, I’m going to use these metrics to evaluate underperforming or overperforming (no such thing really) stories I’ve written.
But as the bard William once wrote in Hamlet “ay, there’s the rub!”
Lately, I’ve noticed a trend as I read other writers. It almost seems to be a concerted movement to sweep a particular problem under the rug, so to speak. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen an article about this common affliction.
You all know what I’m talking about.
Oh, you’re going make me say it aren’t you?
Fine, I’m talking about the lousy addiction most of us developed when we started here, a habit some of us have finally kicked, and of course, an affliction to which many of us are still hooked.
Yes, I’m talking about OSC (Obsessive Stat Checking)
See, here’s the thing about OSC.
In the beginning, and I’m willing to bet this statement applies to most of us, we used the stats as a way of performing a kind of instantly gratifying (or quite the opposite, you’ll see what I mean) method of validation.
And as self-gratification goes, we did it over and over again, ten times, twenty, even thirty times.
I believe in the beginning, a lot of us checked stats more times than Mr. and Mrs. Bunny made out.
The problem was/is this constant checking, which is/was supposed to make us feel great about our decision to take the plunge with our writing, soon became/becomes a soul-sucking evidentiary of what we believe to be our pitiable failure at writing.
Even worse, during these troubled times of morbidity and despair, we already know what we need to do to fix the problem, but many of us aren’t willing to do so.
Oh, we know alright. Don’t kid yourselves, we knew how to correct the problem when we started off and we know what we need to do now.
In hindsight (weak pun intended) I, for one, have callouses on my rump from all the self inflicted butt-kicking I did for not performing the one thing I needed to do to fix the problem.
We all know the way to improve these statistics, not that we need to let statistics drive our adventure anyway.
Statistics should never be the focal point of our efforts as a writer. An I/M project manager, certainly yes.
A writer, never.
Yet, somehow, we find a way to let statistics dictate our actions and perceptions of ourselves more than we care to admit.
Look at these stats for goodness sake, they’re terrible. Why continue to write when they’re just going to stay in the cellar?
So here’s a question for you. I know, I know, no one told you there was going to be a test after this, huh?
Suck it up buttercups. You can do this.
Instead of staring at your stats for hours a hundred times a day (write more) and incessantly bemoaning the fact they’re in the tank (write more) and believing you suck as a writer (write more), what should you be doing?
If a single one of you folks fail this test, I’m going to ask Evan Williams to visit you in person and spell out why you’re failing as a writer.
The only thing which will help you succeed at being a writer, is your writing.
How ironically strange is that?
But a lot of us let the stats dictate what we do. For a while, I did too.
I would check ’em, then begin sulking around trying to figure out my next steps, recheck the stats, sulk more, complain to my wife, check the stats again, wrack my brain for a way to fix my mess and then just give up and start drinking.
Unfortunately for me (I blame the Barnett Curse — some of you know about that), my epiphany on how to solve the issue wasn’t actually an epiphany.
It was more of a Homer Simpson moment, which involved a slap on the forehead with the heel of my hand.
I needed to keep writing. I needed to do something I was telling myself wasn’t going to work, but something I knew I needed to do if I was was ever going to pull my lackluster career out of the toilet.
Or bidet depending on your sensibilities.
And so I did, and so I do.
Now let me be perfectly candid (in some circles they call it being truthful) with you. I did a quick stat check at least four or five times as I wrote this article.
He who speaks with forked tongue!
Now, everybody just simmer down for a minute. You folks standing in the back of the room holding rotten tomatoes?
Sit down and let me explain.
When I write, I usually know what I want to say, so most times, I sit back, let my brain connect with my fingers, and away I go.
Sometimes, my mind gets ahead of my fingers (not often), or my fingers get ahead of my brain. When that happens, my thought process glitches and the flow grinds to a halt.
So what do I do?
I do a three or four-second stat check, barely enough time to even look at the page and certainly not enough time to study anything. The sole purpose is to put my thoughts in neutral until my fingers and brain can reconnect, and off I go again.
The key here is that I’m writing, yes, writing because I know it’s what I need to do to boost my career.
Think about this the very next time you’re about to click on the stats section with the intent of spending time pondering the up and down statistics until you’re eyes glaze over.
You know what you need to do. You’ve always known.
Now, go do it.
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