Monday, December 7, 2009

Using the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 Rule) to Manage Your Writing

Using the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) to Manage Your Writing.
It seems counterintuitive to suggest that applying a business management principle to your writing would be helpful, akin to prying a cake out of a pan with a crowbar, but the Pareto Principle (a.k.a. the 80/20 rule), has such wide application, it can be a benefit to almost any situation. The 80/20 rule is a natural phenomenon, like the golden ratio in a nautilus spiral. It will show itself in what you do, without you trying to encourage or avoid it. Which is why, if you observe it in the practice of writing, you can make it work for you.
First, what it is. The principle states that roughly 80% of effects stem from 20% of the causes. An example of this would be: 80% of the meals that are eaten are made up of only 20% of the foods liked best, in the diet. (There’s more about the 80/20 rule in Wikipedia. For the purposes of this article, I’m moving forward.)
There’s never enough writing time for writers. To optimize your available time, look at how it’s spent. Is there one piece that is taking up about 80% of time? You may want to re-think that time suck as it may eventually yield only 20% of results. This is a converse example, but also true to the rule. Analyze your work from the start going forward and from the end going backwards. Analyzing from the start would look like this, “how much time is spent on what pieces? What takes up the majority of time? Is it one character, one chapter, one series? Why?” After analysis, you may find that you write for, say, 4 hours per day and 3 of those 4 hours are spent on poetry and 1 hour is spent on essay writing. Next, analyze your work from the end going backwards. You look at your paid and/ or published work and find that 75% of the paid work consists of essays and 65% of the published work is essay work. Now you have the power to make some decisions. Do you want to keep on with the poetry? If so, do you want to spend more time on the essay work and less on the poetry? Is there a way to increase the effectiveness of the allocated poetry time? Is there a way to increase the payment and publication of your poetry?
Apply the 80/20 rule to look at both the macro and the microcosm. On the large scale, use it to evaluate publication efforts. How good is your cover letter? Try different versions. Which version receives the desired response? Do you see a pattern? What is responsible for 80% of your hits? For 80% of your misses? On the small scale, use it to evaluate your writing. See what % of the words you use are adverbs. Take them out. Does it make your writing stronger? What % is made up of “but, and, then”? Rinse and repeat.
It can also be used for promotion efforts. Which social media platform gives the biggest bang for the buck? Figure out how many responses come from Twitter, Facebook, blog or webpage. Which one gets the most traffic/responses per month? How much time is required for maintenance during the same period of time? You should see a clear majority/minority split in your time requirement and in the number of traffic/visitors/responses. At this point, you can make powerful decisions that will give you back control of your time and direction.
Once you experience the effectiveness of this tool, you may want to apply it every which way to your life, which is fine, but if you’re writing practice feels scattered, use it there first and see the results. Happy writing!

1 comment:

  1. Wow - it's really putting right brain thinking to left brain activity (or did I get that backwards?) But an interesting exercise/challenge. Thanks for getting me thinking this morning!


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