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Measure Minutes Writing, Not Minutes Written

Posted By: ryan On:


Photo by Mark Morgan

There are many examples of famous writers throughout history who set themselves daily writing goals. Usually, this was words or pages; for example, Sir Arthur Canon Doyle aimed to write 3000 words a day.

As a composer, I consider “minutes of music written” to be a less than useful metric of how productive I am. A full blown action orchestral cue requires far more work than a simple ambient soundscape. Obviously, the orchestral cue will take far more time, so simply counting the minutes of music that get bounced out of Logic is an unfair comparison.

Actual minutes spent writing is a more useful measure of how well I did for the day. This gives me a much better sense of how focused on my work I have been, and if I have achieved a sufficient amount of writing to feel good about my workday.

For myself, I’ve found that four hours of writing is the ideal amount. It’s enough time to get a substantial amount of music written without burning out. Once I hit that four-hour mark, it seems like the quality of work suffers as my energy level and focus plummet. I felt very validated when I read in Stephen King’s fantastic book On Writing that four hours is the sweet spot for him as well.

I’m a big proponent of the Pomodoro Technique, which suggests 25 minutes of work and then 5 minutes of rest. After a few sessions, take a longer break. During the break, I usually go get a glass of water and stretch. Then I set the timer again and get back to it. I’m a fan of Timebar, which is an app for Mac that uses a visual bar across the top of your screen so you can see the time ticking down.

To accomplish those four hours of solid work, that usually means 8 Pomodoros is the goal for a perfect day.

Of course, sometimes I need a true break, and writing nothing at all can be valuable as well. But on those days that I know I should be writing and not diving down a Wikipedia wormhole, keeping track of how much time I actually spend writing always helps to keep me on task.


  • Paulo Rego

    Really cool, I used to use pomodoro in my computer programming job and I felt it gave me more focus, but I had to make sure that in the 5 minute breaks I would walk away from the screen to keep my mind fresh.

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