What’s tracking and can it help writers?

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The increase in smart phone usage has led to an explosion in self-monitoring. But what exactly is tracking and can it help writers?

Tracking is all about gathering data to monitor aspects of our lives. It’s massive in healthcare, diet and exercise where it’s made huge differences to people’s lives. You can monitor how your medical condition has changed from one day to the next, how many miles you’ve run one week compared to the week before, how many pounds you might have lost (or put on) over the course of a month.

Technology, especially the development of smart phones, has transformed tracking and there’s a vast array of tools from wearable sensors to mobile apps that collect and process data. Indeed, on the App Store there’s over 1,500 apps for monitoring all aspects of pregnancy, nearly 1,000 for diabetes and over 500 to monitor blood pressure or depression. There really is an app for every condition.

Research shows that tracking works

Studies show it helps people lose weight and keep it off. Over 50 million people have downloaded MyFitnessPal the leading food logging app!

In 2013 a US research project found that “69% of U.S. adults keep track of at least one health indicator such as weight, diet, exercise routine, or symptom”. Of these trackers 46% said it made a difference and “changed their overall approach to maintaining their health.”

From pen and paper to digital

I’m a habitual tracker – it started in my childhood when my mum timed how long it took me to fetch something – injecting an element of competition with my siblings. I was forever counting how many steps I’d taken and logging my exam revision so my teenage diary was full of scribbled numbers and targets achieved.

Getting a smart phone transformed my tracking with apps for walking, running, calories, mood and symptoms. But there wasn’t an app for my writing progress – it was the one area where I still relied on pen and paper.

Tracking your writing

For me, there’s nothing like looking at a calendar and seeing the number of days you’ve written in the past month. And if it’s fewer than I’d like, it helps me set realistic goals, and keep positive about what I can achieve.

The benefits of tracking are:

  • Monitors what’s important to you
  • Helps set realistic goals
  • Provides feedback to adjust goals and writing practice
  • Develop a regular writing habit
  • Competition with yourself or others spurs you on

Do writers track?

I wondered whether tracking could work for other writers. It would seem that lots already track their progress. After some research amongst writers, I found that 34% use trackers in other areas of their life so many are familiar with it. There are 19,500 participants taking part in the ‘write for 30 minutes’ online coaching plan from Lift. Nanowrimo relies on writers keeping a track of their daily word count to achieve 50,000 words in 30 days – last year over half a million people took part.

I started Write-Track to see if tracking could help writers and the beta test showed that it does help some. 49% of those taking part used it regularly, and of the top users 92% made progress on their goals, 77% said it helped them write more. I found having a dedicated place to set and monitor my writing goals had a big impact on my own writing practice and output.

Make tracking work for you

Here’s some ideas that might help you get started with tracking.

  • Get used to the idea of tracking: If you’re not used to tracking then self-monitoring your writing might feel a bit strange. The first step is to accept that you are going to track and stick to it for a short period of time initially – like over the course of a couple of weeks.
  • Set realistic, achievable goals: Start off setting yourself small steps rather than huge ones. If you start off small then you’re more likely to reach the goals and you’re more likely to continue.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself: Try not to beat yourself up if you don’t reach your goal – instead try to understand what got in the way. If you fail, reset the target then have another go.
  • Celebrate your achievements: Always try and give yourself a pat on the back if you have reached one of your goals. You don’t need throw a wild party – just reward yourself with a walk in the park, slice of cake – whatever works for you.
  • Review your writing progress: Every now and again, look back at your writing progress and assess how you’re doing, you might be surprised at some of the patterns that emerge.

Bec Evans About the author: Co-creator of Prolifiko, Bec has spent a lifetime reading, writing and working with writers. From her first job in a bookshop, to a career in publishing, and several years managing a writers’ centre, she’s obsessed with working out what helps writers write.