Caveat: If you have a production system that works for you, stick with it. Learning new processes is great but not if it interferes with a process that ain’t broke. Also, if you don’t want/need to produce more, well...What are you doing here?! Go enjoy your freedom!
When I received my first contractually obligated deadline, I realized I needed a system to keep me on track and to help keep me motivated. I like charts and I like to see my progress (even if/especially if it’s at a snail’s pace) so an Excel spreadsheet became my new friend.
I’m a slow writer. Watching my indicators in the various columns inch along gives me a sense of progress (especially on 100,000-word manuscripts) since it can be hard to see forward momentum in the never-ending scroll of my word processor. Yes, I am manipulating my own mind, but whatever works.
Caveat 2: If spreadsheets make you heave, DO NOT LOOK at this one. It basically shows the same damn info -- how many words you’ve written -- from several different perspectives. For me, plugging my word count into the green-means-go column gives me a little thrill. I actually update my info several times during a writing session just to get that thrill. I’m like one of those cocaine pigeons; pathetic and sad, but motivated.
Mouse over image to see full size.
Here is a complete goal sheet from my new series with Harlequin Nocturne Cravings. Cravings max out at 25,000 words. Thanks to my previous experience with tracking my writing goals, I know I tend to write long, so I always compensate by setting my goal a little short. As you can see from the C “Goal” column, I intended to write 20,000 words. For some reason, my first day goal was 500, but after that, my daily goal was 1500 words. I’m usually good for 2000 a night, but I’m happier when I exceed my goal.
This story went fairly smoothly, with only one night of red numbers in my daily goal, but by then I was well ahead of my baseline C column goal so my “Over/Under Total” stayed nicely in the black. Due to poor planning and the aforementioned overlong writing, I hit my manuscript length goal well before the story actually ended -- oops. As you can see in the notes, I didn’t even really know the end (bad plotter!) so I have four days of zero word count as I tried to figure out what happened next. After a quick push to the end, I finished up at slightly over 25,000 words. Ha! Obviously I planned for that Then I rewarded myself with a beach retreat, highlighted in soothing tones of blue.
Look like fun? Now it’s your turn.
How to setup the worksheet:
--Add your story’s title and high concept/logline/one-line pitch, whatever you want to call it. Seeing the logline every day is a good reminder what story you are telling.
--Enter your projected manuscript length in Cell B2. Then enter your daily word count goal in Cell B3. As soon as you enter the info and hit tab, you’ll see the initial information entered into the spreadsheet updates to reflect your goals.
--Enter your start day and date in the relevant cells in columns A and B. (Excel tip: After you enter the first day and date, you can autopopulate the rest of the column by clicking the cell so a thicker black line appears around the cell with a black dot in the lower right hand corner. Hover the cursor over the black dot so the thin black crosshairs appear. Click on the dot and drag the cursor down. Sequential days and dates will appear.)
--To autopopulate your manuscript length, click on the last autopopulated cell (C11 in this spreadsheet). The cell will be bordered in a thicker black line with a black dot in the lower right hand corner. Hover the cursor over the black dot so the thin black crosshairs appear. Click on the dot and drag the cursor down, down, down until you reach your manuscript length.
At the end of your writing day:
Enter your total word count on the manuscript to date in column E "Actual Words Written." (In case you don’t already obsessively track your word count, in Microsoft Word, you get your word count info under Tools in the task bar. Most word processing programs have a similar feature.)
To update the fields for the day:
--In column F, click on the "Words Written" cell of the last completed row. While holding down the left mouse button, drag the cursor to the end of the "Days To Go" cell. Release cursor. The row from "Words Written" to "Days To Go" will be highlighted and bordered in a thicker black line with a black dot in the lower right hand corner. Hover the cursor over the black dot so the thin black crosshairs appear. Click on the dot and drag the cursor down one row. Then click on the last cell in the "New Goal" column. Hover the cursor over the black dot so the crosshairs appear and drag down one row.
This autopopulates the next row with your next day's goals. Good luck!
Basic Excel tricks:
--To tweak the formatting of the columns, click the letter at the top of the column. Then choose “Format” “Cells” from the task bar. You can choose the Number category and change decimal places. Or you can pick more inspirational colors. Whatever helps gets those words done! For example, I have the spreadsheet set to show negative numbers in red as a warning.
he of the columns, c appears around the cell with a black dot in the lower right hand corner. Hly in romanc
--Be careful when you are clicking around. If you double click in one of the formula cells, you'll see the math for autopopulating, but if you accidentally change the formula, the autopopulating won't work. Keep a read-only copy of the spreadsheet so you’ll have a working version.
A few thoughts on using a writing goal spreadsheet:
--I’m a hot-draft writer. I like to get a first draft DONE and then monkey with it. If you are a noodler then your indicators probably won’t move along as consistently and you may not get the same sense of satisfaction. In fact, if you prefer to revise as you write, seeing your indicators go backward could be counterproductive to your motivation.
-- I set a daily goal I KNOW I can reach and probably exceed by at least a little. Some productivity gurus say you should have a push or stretch goal, but I find that hitting my goal consistently plus a little gives me more incentive. Every time I exceed my goal, I get to see the I column (“Over/Under Total”) slowly pulling farther and farther away from the C “Goal” column. That makes me happy.
--If you aren’t yet published, keeping records like this along with your receipts can help justify writing-related tax write-offs. Posting updated printed versions of your spreadsheet as you advance can also help educate friends and family members who might not otherwise be able to visualize what you are trying to accomplish, hunched over your computer.
--If you get so far behind that all your columns are screaming red negative numbers at you, you might want to start a new spreadsheet with your new goal. Personally, I find that a bit of red--like a bit of hot pepper--can be the spice to get me hopping, but too much is just painful.
--I have a column for “Notes” where I can remind myself what worked (or what didn’t) in a given day’s session.
Some writers like to cultivate the mystery around their process, but I seem to work better when I know where I am going (story endings aside) and what I can expect from myself. Keeping a spreadsheet has helped me learn more about myself as a writer. Now when I get contractually obligated deadlines, I know exactly what I have to do/can do to meet it. If somebody has a similar trick that works on Christmas shopping, lemme know.
Jessa Slade writes romance in various flavors of “out there,” including paranormal, urban fantasy and science fiction. The first book in her new wicked fairy series, DARK HUNTER’S TOUCH, will be out August 1. You can read about her books and find more obsessive plotting cheatsheets at http://jessaslade.com. Too frequently, you can find her on various social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest) as Jessa Slade. If you see her there, tell her to finish her words for the day.
Book 4 of the Marked Souls
The war between good and evil has raged for millennia,
and as a powerful new enemy ascends, the Marked Souls
are pushed to the ragged edge…
Sidney Westerbrook has always studied darkness and damnation from a sensible distance. Now, to earn his place as a league Bookkeeper, he must discover why Chicago is such a battleground of soul-linked warriors. But the research becomes personal when he finds himself over his head and under attack — and at the mercy of a waif with demon-lit eyes and a deep yearning in her heart.Alyce Carver has been alone longer than she can remember, battered by the living nightmares that haunt her city. Cornered by yet another gang of demons, she unwittingly joins forces with a handsome scholar who can salvage her past, and she in turn may be the key to his investigations. But she won’t let him go until he shows her everything she’s been missing.
What begins as an experiment in possession becomes a trial by desire so powerful it threatens both their lives, even as it binds their souls.
Note - The word goal spreadsheet has been attached.