Tracking: How to use reflection to optimize your writing routine

Writing is hard but with the right systems, you can make your writing life easier – and that means you’re more likely to write. Saying that, sometimes the best systems in the world won’t help – you need a nudge and some support to get going – and keep going. And this is where tracking and reflecting on your writing progress can really help.

The benefits of tracking your writingObviously, before you can reflect on what works, you need to have some evidence to look back on.

That’s where tracking comes in.

Tracking took off with smartphones. Suddenly everyone from your grandma to your dog could track their health, diet, or exercise.

It’s now really established in those sectors, and studies prove it works, for example 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’.

The benefits of tracking

But it’s not just your health you can track. Making a note of how your writing is going is a brilliant way to understand what your patterns are and use that evidence to make the most of your time and energy – because frankly, none of us has enough of either.

The benefits of tracking include:

  • helps you monitor what’s important to you
  • helps you set realistic goals based on evidence
  • provides feedback to adjust goals and writing practice
  • helps you to develop a regular writing practice
  • competition with yourself or others spurs you on

Reflecting on reflecting

To learn from your past practice, you need to take some time to reflect. It shouldn’t take long, and ideally, you’d take a few minutes each week to review your progress and make plans to improve.

Start by looking at what went well.

Research by the founder of positive psychology Martin E P Seligman has shown that noticing good things each day and expressing gratitude can have long-term impacts on wellbeing and happiness.

Feeling good about your writing will keep you motivated to continue, so be grateful for the progress you made. You then need to look at what didn’t go so well, and what you can do better.

You then need to look at what didn’t go so well, and what you can do better.

> Take action

The next time you have completed a writing project, ask yourself three simple questions:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What can I do better next time?

What went well and not so well with yoru writing? You decide.

Make a few notes, celebrating what went well, noting what didn’t work, and reflecting on how to adapt and change in the future. Don’t dwell on your mistakes but accept them, learn and move on.

Adjust your plans, perhaps the time or day you write, how much or for how long, what you do at different times of the day, for example, are you most productive writing in the morning, but struggle in the evening?

Use evenings to research, edit or just tidy your papers. Learn from what works for you.

There’s no one size fits all advice for writing, you are unique, as is your writing, so your practice needs to work for your own special quirks and habits.

Read: Why tracking makes you a better writer >>

Tracking: 5 ways to get started

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

ManBooker longlister Wyl Menmuir used our digital coach to track writing his first novel The Many.

Here’s a piece by The Guardian and our own take on the story.

You can also see a short film Wyl recorded for us about the methods he used to track his writing tracking here.


Benefits of tracking your writing

Read more secrets of writing productivity

Keeping focus: How to kill your procrastination gremlins for good >>

Accountability: How to keep writing using rewards and people pressure >>

Writing goals: How to achieve your big writing dream in small steps >>

Scheduling: How to find the time to write in 5 easy steps >>

Routines: Why writing systems beat willpower – every time >>

About the author: Co-founder and writer in residence at Prolifiko | Ex-philosophy lecturer | maker of unpopular short comedy films.