Search icon
Regional Writing Centre Logo

Productive Writer No. 6


Chart Your Progress

I'm always surprised how effectively this one strategy works for most people: Chart your progress. Every day, for comparison purposes, record the number of new words you write as a measure of your writing productivity. (This works especially well for people who are highly competitive!)


By charting your progress you can assess which strategies, environments, or even time of the day or days of the week seem to promote greater productivity for you.


Silvia (2007) suggests recording your daily word count in a spreadsheet; he posts a graph of his weekly word count on his office door to hold himself accountable to all who might pass by and see a slack day or week of writing.


At our Dissertation Writing Boot Camp last summer at Cornell, one student missed the first two days because of illness. When I contacted her to ask if she would join us mid-week, her response was, "No, I started that word count assignment you gave us last week, and that seems to be enough. I've never been so productive as when I started trying to write more each day than I had the previous day. It's working!"


I think that's a good testimonial. So try keeping a word count to chart your progress and help you assess what best promotes your writing progress. Here's the one we use at boot camp:



New words on primary project

New words on other projects

Writing goal(s) today

How did it go? What worked?

Sunday, April 30





Monday, May 1





Tuesday, May 2





Wednesday, May 3





Thursday, May 4





Friday, May 5





Saturday, May 6





Sunday, May 7





Monday, May 8






Here's one other strategy for the highly competitive among us: I try to start my writing sessions earlier each day than the day before. If on Saturday I wrestled my procrastination tendencies into submission to start writing by 9:00am, then on Sunday I try to start writing by 8:00am, on Monday by 7:00am, etc. Sometimes I "win" by just 15-minute earlier increments. And I always stop this competition when I reach writing at 5:00am. That's the earliest I can force myself to start, although my friend and former Columbia University colleague Steve Mintz writes every morning at 5:00am and has authored and edited 14 books with that strategy. Feeling like a slacker yet?!


Have you written today yet? How much? More than yesterday? You can do this!


Jan Allen, Associate Dean

Academic and Student Affairs

Cornell Graduate School