A few years back I was listening to an episode of I should be writing, and heard Mur Lafferty talk about something called “The Magic Spread Sheet” desgiend by Tony Pisculli, which was supposed to help people stay on track and meet their writing goals. While I never used it myself, there seem to be a lot of people that have found it very useful. You can find a link to her page explaining The Magic Spreadsheet here.
Why Tracking Matters
You might be thinking to yourself, why would I spend time logging my word count in a detailed method? All I need to do is see how many I wrote each day and make sure it is above my minimum daily word count limit I have set for myself, right? Yes, and no. Yes in the sense that even the most basic word count tracking and goal setting is something all writers should be doing. It gives you something to strive for, something to let you know that you are reaching a goal you have set for yourself. However, that is only the beginning, the foundation on which you will build your writing skills. If you really want to improve the speed and efficiency as a writer, it is important to get metrics on how you write.
Know Your Metrics
How many words per hour did you write today? What is your average word count per hour? When are your peak writing times? When are your least productive time and/or environment? These are all questions that you should know the answer to, but questions you may not have thought to ask yourself. Let’s be honest, most, if not all of us would love to write full time. If that is the case, why would you not treat your writing time as you would any other job? I’ve developed my own spreadsheet for logging my writing times just as I would if I punched in and out of a time clock at my day job. The sheet has space for times and breaks, so I know exactly how long I have been writing. You would not go to work all day and just hope that someone remembers exactly how many hours and minutes you spent doing that job, and the same should be said about your writing.
My Spread Sheet
I have seen a lot of spreadsheets out there which try and give you a comprehensive idea of how you are doing when it comes to tracking your writing. Unfortunately, none of these sheets have all of the things I want. (Not to brag but,) My day job has me working heavily in excel, which has allowed me to create a sheet, which feel, is a bit more robust than some of the other sheets I have seen. Google Drive is awesome, I love it, my first two manuscripts were written completely in Google Docs (I’m not paid to say that I just cannot say how much I love Google’s products. My friends say I’m their unofficial mascot.) However, Google Sheets is a subpar and extremely underpowered spreadsheet program which simply cannot compete with excel in even some of the most basic tests. The only thing sheets blows any competitor, including excel, out of the water would be in the ability to live edit side-by-side within the sheet. For those reasons I have chosen to step out of Google Drive and use excel (Still, I do save it in Drive so I can access it across all of my devices!) That being said, if you’re set on using a sheet on the web, via Google, you can get some extensions in the Chrome Store. Personally I use Office Editing for Docs, or if you own Microsoft Office you can also use Excel Online which also has a Chrome extension.
The sheet calculates out your word count per hour base off of the time spent writing and your finished daily word count. I have added conditional formatting, to show if my daily word count and words per minute are in an acceptable range (my minimum daily word count is 750 even on days I don’t feel like writing.) I added a star point system to collect point which are given out on days when I meet my goals. It also has a drop down menu which lets me choose from my predetermined list of activities such as writing, editing, plotting, etc so that I know exactly what I spent the day doing a week, month or years from now. I then collect all of this data and put it into a pivot table so I can digest and understand these statistics to better improve my writing. After a few weeks, I should be able to tell when my most effective writing times are when my words per hour peak and when they fall off, so I know how long is too long.
If anyone has questions, or would like a copy of the sheet for their personal use, drop me a comment and we can talk about how you too can use excel to help improve your writing.
So I’ve been using the sheet for 21 days and I can start to get some useful data out of the sheet. I wanted to share the update so everyone could see just how useful this has been for me, and can be for you. I’ve gone from writing around 500 to 600 words per hours, up to about 1,500 to 1,700 words per hours in the last few days. In the past 11 days of consistent writing I’ve churned out 21,893 words compared to the previous 10 days (fourof which were spent on editing and world building) I only wrote 3,991. So while it is not apples to apples, my daily word count hardly broke 1,000 and three of the days it was between 400 and 808. My average words per hour were only at 706 compared to my now 1,293.
The spread sheet (and my amazing girlfriend,) have helped keep me motivated and my butt in the chair.
If you want to try out my spread sheet, feel free to do so by downloading a copy of the file here. If you do, please leave some feed back and I’ll make improves based off of the communities requests. I will also be working toward making social features akin to the “Magic Spread Sheet.”