“Fun” With Spreadsheets: Tracking Your Writing Progress!

This is obviously a generalization, but I’ve noticed that quite a few of us writer-minded folk are not big fans of math and numbers.

Building vast imaginary empires? Doable.

Engineering a heist involving spaceships and intergalactic monsters? We got this.

Figuring out that perfect alchemy of a hate-to-love relationship between characters? No problem.

Looking at our royalty statements, i.e. twelve pages scattered with numbers, decimals, and percentages? *screeching horror violins from Psycho*

(In all seriousness, though, understanding your royalty statements is really important, so please get your agent to explain the numbers to you if you need it!)

Math is not within the comfort zone for a lot of writers. And as someone who got the highest possible verbal score on her SAT and pretty darn near the lowest possible math score, I completely understand the struggle. For this reason, I love spreadsheets. Spreadsheets crunch the numbers for you. They add, subtract, multiply, divide, calculate percentages, and much, much more, and all you need to do is figure out the right formulas and input your new numbers, et voila!

I use spreadsheets for a number of tasks, including budgeting, but my absolute favorite is tracking my progress when drafting a new novel.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a few Instagram stories about how I use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to record how many words I write each week.

Before sitting down to work on my rough draft each day, I type in the total number of words in my manuscript, and then when I’m finished writing for the day, I type in the new total. My spreadsheet will then tell me: 1) how many words I wrote that day, 2) how many words I’ve written so far that week, and 3) how many words are left in my weekly word count goal. If I meet or surpass my weekly word count goal, I reward myself. If I don’t meet the goal, I tell myself I’ll try again the following week.

It has been extremely helpful in a number of ways by keeping me accountable, tracking how my motivation waxes and wanes, and encouraging me by allowing me to see my weekly word count goal go down and down as I add to the manuscript.

I thought about making my own spreadsheet downloadable for anyone who’s interested, but decided against it because I don’t believe in forcing my methods or techniques on anyone. It is really important, whenever you’re reading writing advice online, to take it with a grain of salt and recognize that what works for someone else might not work for you. My spreadsheet is helpful for me, but you might want to customize one that’s more suitable for you and the way you work.

However, in case it is helpful to anyone, here is a screenshot of the one I use:

Box A10: The first day of the week.

Box A12: My word count goal for the week, no formulas attached. It changes from week to week: sometimes I push myself, and sometimes (if I’m expecting edits on another manuscript to come back, or I’m traveling, or I have interviews and blog posts) I will give myself leeway.

Box A17: The total number of words I have written this week. The formula is =SUM(C12:C18), so this adds up all of my daily word counts from Column C.

Column B: The days of the week. You’ll notice that I have Friday grayed out, and that is because I give myself one day off every week. I don’t write or edit; I do administrative stuff and I read the stack of books I’ve been asked to blurb. I try not to feel guilty about not writing, because I’ve found that a break helps me be more productive on the other days.

Box C11: This box matches Box A12 in that it shows the total number of words I have written this week, but there is a formula attached: =18000-SUM(C12:C18). The “18000” is my word count goal for the week, and it decreases with every word I write. It’s motivating to see this go down!

Column C: The number of words I write on each specific day. The formula for Box C12 is: =D12-E12, so it is the starting word count in Box E12 subtracted from the ending word count in Box D12. The formula for Box C13 is: =D13-E13, and so on and so forth down the column.

Column D: The total number of words in my manuscript when I finish writing each day. No formula; I input these as I go.

Column E: The total number of words in my manuscript before I start writing each day. No formula; I input these as I go.

This is a very basic, simplified way to use Excel, which suits me. If you happen to be a spreadsheet wizard, feel free to use this as a mere jumping-off point and develop your own fancy trackers! And if I can clarify anything for anyone, feel free to add a comment to this post and I’ll try my best to help.

I hope this helps you find a method that will help keep track, organize, and motivate you when drafting a new book!

Good luck!

9 Responses to “Fun” With Spreadsheets: Tracking Your Writing Progress!

  1. Kelsey Noble Jan 23 2019 at 2:38 pm #

    Julie, out of curiosity, can you give an example or two of the rewards that you give yourself if you meet your goal?

    • Jules Jan 23 2019 at 4:41 pm #

      Happy to, Kelsey! I have to admit it is usually food! If I hit my weekly word count goal, it could be something as simple as treating myself to an afternoon out at a coffee shop and buying myself a dessert, or splurging on a dinner date. It could be a small, simple present, like a bottle of nail polish, new stickers for my planner, a new set of pens or markers. Basically the reward itself isn’t as important to me as the act of rewarding — that positive reinforcement that if I accomplish my goal, I give myself a pat on the back. I find that writers are often hard on ourselves and it’s nice to celebrate everything, particularly the less glamorous but totally worthy-of-praise addition of words to a manuscript. Hope this helps!

      • Kelsey Noble Jan 24 2019 at 4:16 pm #

        Yes, it does! I love the reward system, but always struggle with something being too big/too small. I have started using the sticker system. (I’m pretty sure you use that one too?) It has helped me immensely but right now I am only tracking hours of work since I’m in the pre-drafting phase. I’m definitely planning on implementing your tracker sheet when I get to drafting next week. Eeek! I’m nervous. Thank you for the article and the reply, Julie.

        • Jules Jan 25 2019 at 10:19 am #

          I do use the sticker system as well! I first saw it on a YouTube video or blog post from V.E. Schwab and I figured if such a great author found it helpful, I might too! I find that it helps keep me accountable and I’m glad it is helping you 🙂

  2. JeffO Jan 24 2019 at 6:39 am #

    Mine is a lot simpler while drafting, pretty much a count of how many words and pages added each day. The fun one is when I’m editing/revising, because it’s interesting to see how much the word count *shrinks*!

    • Jules Jan 25 2019 at 10:20 am #

      Simple sounds good to me! I also love seeing the word count shrink. It’s extremely encouraging to see proof of yourself making progress!

  3. Michelle Jan 24 2019 at 8:32 pm #

    I *LOVE* spreadsheets. Yours is a better word count tracker than I’ve so far come up with, but I use spreadsheets for everything. My favorites are my TBR list (separated into tabs to help keep things manageable) and the one to track what I actually read (each year is its own tab in the doc).

    Also: a tip. For column E, starting word count, you could also input =(d12), for example, and that would enter your starting word count for you without retyping it every day.

    • Jules Jan 25 2019 at 10:20 am #

      AMAZING! Thanks for that tip! I’m going to switch up my Column E and that will save me time. Thanks, Michelle!

  4. Heather Jan 25 2019 at 5:49 pm #

    Yes! I do something very similar. I don’t have weekly word goals, but I do have a column for a running average words per day, and a static box for total target word count for the MS. Based on that, there’s a calculation for what day I’ll be done with the draft – so if I start to slip on my average word count, that “done” date creeps out, and it’s a good incentive to get back on track.

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