Economic Question for Writers: Tracking time spent on projects and calculating your ROI per hour

The topic of word count came up, and it got me thinking about how we value ourselves as creators, basically whether or not we keep track of time spent on projects.

I mean, most professional people keep track of time. When I represented insurance companies, I billed an hourly rate. Professionals who bid for projects will always analyze the amount of time projected to be spent on the project. If you don’t know how much time you spent on a project, how do you know if the ultimate revenue is a sufficient ROI?

There have been a lot of discussions here over the years about the price of CoG/HGs, railroaded versus sandbox, series versus standalones, what helps stories/games sell, longer versus shorter, etc., and while they are all interesting topics in their own right, I wish we had more data to quantify what makes sense economically for authors writing IF.

Since I just started working on CCH3, my goal is to start logging my time, rounding off to 15-minute increments. I’m not sure if I’ll remember to keep doing this, but I’m going to try to make this a habit. I plan to do the same for another project I’m working on. And “working on the project” includes ALL work on the project, including:

  1. outlining and structural analysis
  2. ideation (brainstorming story elements, world-building, plot, characterization, etc)
  3. writing a first draft
  4. feedback from publisher, beta readers, etc.
  5. editing/creating second draft
  6. discussing art assets
  7. doing everything that needs to be done to get it published
  8. marketing/social media

The idea is that if we had some quantifiable data, we could simply divide a project’s net royalties to the author by the total hours spent, and we get the hourly rate.

Side Note: I’ll admit I was flabbergasted by folks in a recent thread who said they were writing 1000 words per hour, and that they’d estimate it would only take 300 hours to complete a 300k-word IF story. That pace just seems incomprehensible to me, but maybe I’m just a plodder. I wonder if someone can really create a 300,000-word IF story, of professional quality, from start to finish, from initial concept all the way to a work that’s ready for publication, in just 300 hours. Has anyone done this?

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No. I value my sanity at least that much.

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Although I can easily write 1000 words an hour, I spend a lot of time on the train or walking around thinking about what I’m going to write as I go about my day. So it’s very hard for me to quantify in 15-minute blocks.

When I’m engaged in a project it gets so enmeshed with my life that it becomes totally inextricable from everything else. If I counted walking-around time, I probably take a ridiculous amount of time to write 1,000 words.

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times are numbers…I hate numbers . I don’t time anything…I just go with the flow…

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Basically this. Using CSIDE as an example, including testing, thinking etc. Probably not far off more time than the entirety of my undergraduate studies put together. It’s scary!

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@RETowers, that’s an easy response from a salaried person! I’m salaried at my day job too. But I think it’s important for writers (of all ilks) to know what they are trading their time for, per hour.

@Gower, I guess I’d look at it from an opportunity cost perspective. When you give up opportunities to do other things or earn money, I’d definitely count the brainstorming time as time spent on the project. And we’re pretty much always giving up one opportunity for another. If I think about CCH while driving to work, by definition I’m not thinking about my legal cases or my kids’ school schedules, etc.

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I think @Havenstone will have a lot to say about this haha, but for me, I wonder if we’re discounting people who aren’t writing their IF to put food on the table, but who simply write out of passion for their stories and the feeling that their stories must be told! In those cases—whether it takes 300 or 300,000 hours to crank their game out—does it matter that much how much they were hypothetically earning per hour? :thinking: I was writing 1-2 hours per day very late at night, which I suppose was costing me sleep, but only after all of my other (money-earning) work for the day was done! And if I’m unconcerned by how much money the game makes, but rather how many people enjoy it, does tracking my time spent on the game matter very much?

Sorry, I might have misunderstood your premise! :slight_smile:

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I reworded the title. :slight_smile:

But yes, this is an economic question, and if you don’t care about the economics, you won’t find any of this relevant.

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Ah, okay! In that case, it probably is economically viable to track time spent if the time spent could have been used to make money doing something else!

If it wasn’t, and say the writing was done at free time or during the night, I guess it would be more like having a hobby that makes money (like crafting or art commissions for some people) or a second job? :thinking:

And what are you using to track time, @Eric_Moser? I know there are novel-writing programs that have very handy tools for this kind of thing, and I’m sure they would apply!

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Well I’m looking at getting the WordKeeper app, which looks pretty awesome based on reviews, screenshots, etc.

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I mean, I completed The Magician’s Burden, a 230k word story, in probably 300 hours total. :man_shrugging: Maybe I’m just a fast writer.

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I don’t track my time but I do track my words. Though I’d stress that in our business wordcount can be misleading. I could write 2,000 words in an hour if it happens to be in a heavily copy-pasta’d section. If you’ve got six branch paragraphs of three sentences each, and only the middle sentence is unique in each paragraph, then that’s 18 sentences for the price of 8.

Of course, the reader only sees 3 of those sentences, so the wordcount wouldn’t be indicative of the end product. Usually after writing a bit I can get a pretty good idea if I’ve been creatively spent for the day or not. I think in that regard writing is a lot like working out: you’ll know if you’ve pushed yourself to your limit.

As far as economical sense in writing IF–I don’t think there is any! I think if you’re a writer wanting to pursue writing as a career instead of a hobby, it’s healthier for your mental wellbeing to consider those countless hours spent towards honing your skills vs calculating a well-under-minimum-wage ROI.

Writing IF forces you to outline and think in ways traditional fiction writers don’t have to. You also have to give up a lot of control over to your readers–which is incredibly hard to do and something that’s easy to take for granted. Every good writer has a vision the same as every good movie director and painter, but IF writers have to share this vision with a reader who could be anyone.

Not sure where I was going with that rant! But I do think IF as a medium and as a market shouldn’t be the end goal of a career writer, from both a practical and a idealistic perspective.

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I use spreadsheets. For Blood Money, I started out tracking weekly wordcount, then went to daily, then per-25-minute session. I don’t have details for the work I did after finishing the final draft (ie a lot of editing, responding to beta test feedback etc), but as far as that stage of the writing went, it was 275K in 52 weeks. I rather regret not tracking the time spent on the draft revisions!

For Crème de la Crème, I track in detail, recording wordcount for each session, or if not drafting, recording what progress has been made (eg “implemented 4 editor notes”). I also make a note if something unusual is going on, eg life issues or a holiday.

I had a quick look at my spreadsheet just now and have figured out that on average I’m doing 714 words per hour on Crème de la Crème, including edits and cuts. Making the code skeleton adds to the wordcount more quickly than the prose writing.

I like knowing the details, feeling more accountable to myself, and having a better idea of what works to help my progress. (It’s also helpful to go “yes it’s OK to have a longer break, here is a concrete list of what you’ve achieved this week”.) If I’m not working mindfully, I can end up running myself into the ground, or working for a long period of time without a break, without actually making much progress. As it’s a long term project, I want to work in a way that’s sustainable for me, and recording helps me do that.

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I know This is a thread for writers but I could give you a common sense data. You aren’t pay enough. And Cog is one of most generous revenues for authors out there. But as game market goes in prices and competition. When people asking for more word account and same time cry about the price. The development process is not way well paid. At least in my no knowledge perspective.

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I used to track word count after writing, but I found it stressed me out and it was making me feel as if I had to hit arbitrary and wholly self-imposed word count “deadlines.” It was sucking a bit of the joy out. Now I just sit down and write and try to stop whenever I lose the desire to write. Usually if I’ve managed to make myself laugh a few times during the session I feel happy with my output.

I think maybe I don’t want to know how much I write, god forbid how much I erase, during a session.

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I’m very inconsistent in writing speed (250 words? 500? 1200? who knows!), so I think tracking it would probably just be depressing. Also have to echo @Gower in that a lot of the planning stuff is hard to track as it tends to be done whilst idly waiting for a bus, or whatever, not in planned out timeslots.

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I’m very numbers and list oriented, so I have to write in 500 word metrics or I’ll go crazy. If I ended a day having written 900 words, it would keep me up all night.

So if I’m feeling exhausted and unmotivated and like I won’t be able to complete my 1k quota for the day, I push myself to write 600 words. Then the fact that there is an unsightly 600 there instead of a 500 or a 1000 will motivate me enough to write the remaining 400 words.

I like setting daily quotas for myself because it helps me write at a consistent pace all year.

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My writing speed is far too erratic to track. I tend to write fast once I sit down and manages to write, but I rewrite each section at least three times, and while words gets added, there’s not that much.

I know that I am being paid too little. Most creative endeavours have that issue. But, I will say this, COG pays far better than any other place I’ve been published, and better than most of my musician friends gets.

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I did not track my contest entry in any way shape or form; I just completed it by the deadline.

One thing the experience taught me was to be more pro-active on keeping track of productivity because the more pro-active in my production the more profitable it will be from an investment of time, energy and willpower.

With all that in mind, I acquired the Scrivener program to organize and keep track of my project’s stats.

It will keep track of start to stop statistics, and I can set all sorts of goals to see if I reach them if I desire. I can also use labels and a whole lot more to track the various stages of production. It does a lot of what @HannahPS does with her spreadsheets.


At the same time I am setting myself up for success for a future project, I am working on improving myself as a writer and an IF game maker. This is where I feel the “billable hours” model breaks down. Do you charge clients for going to seminars and auditing law classes at your local university? How do you bill the times you’re subconsciously working on an issue, and you come up with a solution as you are falling asleep?

I don’t feel like an hourly rate is appropriate way of looking at at ROI - I feel a more appropriate measure is the total return I get from a project vs the total I put in and if it is a net profit, I am happy.

What I would include in the equation is more than any quantifiable measure - even the eight line items listed, I can’t quantify in an hourly manner.

Let me give you an example:

Since I completed my ZE:SH contributions, I have been exploring four different possible projects - each of them I have discussed with different people at least some aspects of the project. Under your billable hours model, I should be tracking every minute I talk to these individuals, yet I haven’t even decided on which, if any of these I am going to pursue seriously.

At the same time I have my own personal growth agenda I am following. I am reading a couple of books on writing, searching and researching writing technique and knowledge, practicing writing various snippets that are inspired by what I am learning and multiple "outlines and sketches of scenes and characters to help me understand what I am trying to learn.

All told I have about 50,000 words written for my self-improvement project - that is 131 pages of normal fiction. Do I add all this into each of the four projects I am considering? Only the one I am going to be going with in the near future? Or none of them because I am investing in myself so I can have both a better quality and better received end-product the next game I produce?

This is my bottom line as well. I put off being a writer my whole life and now I am pursuing this dream. CoG will hopefully help me achieve a transition from the gaming world into the writing world.

Sorry I could not help more @Eric_Moser.

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I spent far too much time on writing is a legit answer, isn’t it?

Jokes aside, right now writing ismy main occupation, as I am otherwise unemployed due to several reasons, with publishing my game being pretty much the last chance left…

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