How to Measure Outcomes in Writing
Lately I have been pondering the question of outcomes. How can I know my writing is making a difference? What kind of difference am I trying to make?
My “day job” is with a youth mentoring program where we talk about outcomes with great frequency. We design logic models to show how we intend our activities to make a long term impact on young people and, even more broadly, the community and society as a whole. For example, the average logic model looks something like this:
Resources –> Activities –> Outputs –> Short-term Outcomes –> Long-term Outcomes
Program evaluation usually consists of measuring the metrics along the logic model continuum. For writing, logic model metrics might include things like this:
Pen/Paper/Laptop/Time –> Write/Rewrite/Edit –> Posts/Poems/Novels/Essays –> Published (!) –> Invitations to speak / People quoting our work / Vocab changed (a la Shakespeare)
As may be obvious by the example above, I’m a little fuzzy on long-term outcomes for writing. I stumble into this “what’s the point” mentality, going down a slippery slope of blog traffic counting and revenue generating indicators that leave me numb.
I have always written because I love it. When I start trying to develop success measures, I feel myself getting all stiff and jittery. I do think it is important to know the point, but trying to fit it into a logic model might not work. Or maybe I need to think less about societal outcomes and think more about personal outcomes. Like “maintain sanity.” And “buy some more pens and paper to keep writing.”
This year I set simple goals for myself around writing that played out in neat and unexpected ways. If I had tried to anticipate long-term outcomes around those goals, though, I may have micromanaged it all into a premature fail. My big deal with myself this year was to follow through on simple decisions, wherever those things led – to “decide and delight.” And I did.
When I stop now to “measure the impact” of these decisions, I can’t say I’m a better writer. I do have a broader reach, which I can easily measure through followers on various social media, but that doesn’t mean people are reading what I write. And it sure doesn’t mean my writing is making a difference in any meaningful way to those who do read. How can I possibly measure that kind of impact?
The biggest indicator for me of success with my writing is that I have kept my commitments to myself to write. I posted on my blog at least weekly. I brought other writers into my writing community and engaged with them. I submitted a manuscript to a publisher (and it got accepted!).
It’s not the acceptance that matters, though. It’s that I made a decision to do it, and then I did it. Nothing earth-shattering, but earth-shattering is not how change happens, contrary to popular belief. Change happens when you follow through.
If I have to measure anything to evaluate success, I guess that would be the thing: I’ll count the number of commitments I kept.