Way back in 2015, I wrote an article called “Fun Ways to Use Excel to Track Your Writing Process.” It’s been getting a lot of visits lately, so I thought it was time to do a new, improved, and updated version of it.
Let’s talk numbers! Writing numbers.
Tracking your daily word count is awesome.
I love knowing how much and how often I write.
Writing is so very, very slow. Sometimes the amount of work you’re doing is obvious–it’s pretty hard to not feel proud when you’re staring at 10 new chapters or 30,000 new words. But what about when you’re brainstorming, outlining, or editing? Or when you’re rewriting chapters? They can take tons of time, and most of it’s invisible. You could spend a whole season editing and come out feeling like you did absolutely nothing at all.
So I track my work. I keep track of every time I sit down at the computer, how many words I write, what kind of work I did, and how many hours I spent on it.
It sounds complicated, but it’s not. It takes me less than a minute. (Literally.) In exchange, I know:
- How many words I wrote in a day, week, month, or year
- How much time I spent doing writing-related tasks (and how much time was specifically spent writing, editing, or whatever.)
- My average words per hour
- The average amount of time it takes me to finish a novel or short story.
It’s fun. No, really! I promise!
So here’s what my current Excel tracker looks like.
If you checked out my 2015 post, you’ll notice that my current tracker’s a little different. let’s go through it!
It’s simple, but it works. Here’s what it tracks:
- Date: When I wrote.
- Title: The name of the piece.
- Chapter: I only use this field for novels. (It makes it easier to keep track of new and old word counts for the “Words Written” section.)
- Story Type: Short or Novel.
- Work Type: Can be anything. Usually this is writing, editing, or outlining. But I’ll talk more about that in a second.
- The “Words Written” Section: I enter the word count this piece or chapter had when I started (and “0” if it’s a new chapter or short story) and the number of words it had when I finished. Excel automatically calculates the number of new words.
- The “Time Spent” Section: This includes the time I started, the time I finished, and the number of minutes I spent writing. Excel automatically calculates my words per hour.
And I track everything. Absolutely everything.
I track everything I do that’s related to writing. Everything. I track:
- Worldbuilding (i.e., writing character profiles or theme files)
- Anything else I feel like tracking. For example, in January of this year, I logged a bunch of stuff under the super-unclear term “Analysis.” I was reading the first draft of my novel and taking notes about what to change. I wrote several thousand words of notes, so I recorded them.
If I’m working on my story, I track it. If I stop to outline a story for a couple of weeks, I’m not “doing nothing,” so I don’t record it as such. Everything counts. It’s all work, and it’s all helping me prepare to write a novel.
That’s great, but why do I do all this?
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not doing this so I can stick to some arbitrary words-a-day habit. (Heck, I don’t even think “write 1,000 words a day” literally means “you must write 1,000 new story-related words a day.”) My goal is to know how often I work on my projects and to measure how much work I’m doing.
I know exactly how I’m using my writing time, when I’m being productive, and when I’m slacking off.
This is especially fun after you’ve done it for a year. I’ve been tracking my writing for nearly two years now, and I now know all sorts of stuff–how long I usually take to write a novel, for example, or when my biggest lulls in activity are.
I don’t know if I’ve ever made major decisions or changes based on this data, but it’s been invaluable in learning and refining my writing process.
Now that you’re (hopefully) convinced, I’d like to tell you about pivot tables!
COME BACK. I PROMISE IT’S INTERESTING.
Once you have all this cool data in Excel, its easy-peasy to make some cool tables that help you see your data. Here are some of the pivot tables I’ve used:
Number of Words by Month
This fun one takes the number of new words I wrote, the type of content, and the type of story, and organizes them by month. This lets me see how much work I did each month and what kind of work it was.
Number of Words by Month and Title
This is similar to the above graph, but it organizes them by title. This way, I can see what projects I worked on each month and how much work I did for each.
Number of Words by Week
And, of course, you don’t have to track anything by month. This is the same as the “number of words by month” graph, above, except it breaks it down by week.
There’s no limit to the type of data you can track and the ways you can display it. If you’re interested in learning more about how you write, give it a shot! You might learn something interesting about yourself.