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Writing Metrics and Capitalism

Replied to Writing Is about the Right Words, not the MOST Words by Lincoln Michel (Counter Craft)

Why are we more comfortable talking about output than art?

Neil Gaiman QTs Scalzi, saying "I wrote Coraline in 50 words a night," in response to Scalzi commenting on a couple people who said he couldn't call himself a full-time writer if he's only working four hours a day, to which he points out that's awesome and also writing is more than typing

Writers are often less comfortable talking about aesthetics than productivity.

I’ve had this feeling about NaNoWriMo for a while, which is why this year I switched to a daily time goal rather than word count. And I didn’t write 50,000 words… but I didn’t need to. What I needed to do was reach the end of my book, which I did. I’ve gotten a lot out of NaNo, including dear friendships, and have nothing to prove anymore.

But I think this is interesting analysis of why it’s proven so successful: it’s easy to measure how much or how long you’ve written. It’s not possible to measure quality. And capitalism drives us towards quantification, towards the tangible.

If people won’t respect your qualitative creativity, maybe they’ll at least respect your quantitative output?

It ties to imposter syndrome, and the fact that honestly IMO it takes about ten years to learn how to tell a story and write a complete work that works, but that’s a long time to feel like you’ve got nothing to show. At least if you have word count that feels real, versus recognizing the shift in your storytelling abilities, learning what writing method works for you, and learning to recognize what is good and what needs work, to be able to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses.

We invest a lot of our identities in the things we make, so it’s not enough to be a writer: we must be a good writer, otherwise we’re wasting our time, under capitalism. And we can’t weigh what makes a good writer, so metrics let us feel more comfortable in the identity.

it’s important to remember that time spent in front of your computer, the number of drafts written, the number of words written… none of those actually mean anything by themselves.

This makes me think too of my feelings about website analytics, and how the ubiquity and normativity of tracking leads us to fall into the trap of tracking stats we don’t have any need or purpose for. What we can measure becomes our focus, because it’s concrete, and leads to the presumption that more is better. It’s easy to be distracted from our ultimate goals by more quantifiable factors.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at tracy.durnell@gmail.com. She/her.

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