Friday, September 04, 2015

Writing inspiration: by popular request, the Excel writing spreadsheet.

Thanks to Sisyphus's and anonymous's requests in the comments to the previous post, I thought I would talk about the Excel spreadsheet I use to keep track of writing.

First of all, here's what it looks like:

1. The first three columns are pretty obvious: Month, Date, Day.

2. The next two columns (4 & 5) are the beginning and ending word count.

3. The next column (6)  is a total word count for the day, based on a pretty simple Excel formula (B5-B4, and so on). If I'm editing and have a negative word count, I put in a zero. That's not accurate, but it's more happy-making than seeing the total go down.

4. The number of pages column  (7) is just the word count total divided by 350.  I know that counts a page as 250 words, but if you're using a proportional font like Times Roman or Cambria, 300-350 is more accurate. I usually keep this scrunched up so that it doesn't go to 8 decimal places.

5. The Task column (8) says what I did, rather than what I intend to do.  An intention/aspirational list of things to do always makes me less productive, so now I just record what actually got done.

This is from January, when I was going over the footnotes and manuscript for the millionth time before sending it to the press.  You don't see a panicky note about "Write MLA paper" there because I presented part of the book instead of writing something new.

6. The right-most column with nothing in it is actually the most satisfying one; it's the "Sent" column. When something gets sent, whether it's a letter, a manuscript review, a recommendation letter, or whatever, it gets noted in that column.

Other notes:

  • I don't use a lot of color, but days when I'm on campus are tinted in one color, and days when I'm away on trips are tinted another.  
  • There's a running tally of words for the year down at the bottom of the Total column. 
  • Every year, I rename the spreadsheet, make the appropriate adjustments for dates and days, and clear the rest of the contents. 
  • I keep notices other items on another page of the spreadsheet: to-do items like manuscript reviews, letters of recommendation, upcoming papers to write, etc.
Paul Silvia, of How to Write a Lot fame, keeps a spreadsheet in SPSS that is simpler than this. From p. 41, here are his categories:

Month / date / day / words [total] / goal / project / year
  • I didn't bother with "year," because it's pretty obvious that it'll be the same year for 365 days.  Maybe SPSS doesn't allow the same flexibility as Excel and he has many years on the same page.
  • Silvia's "Goal" column has two settings: "Met" and "Unmet." The idea is that you assign yourself a project or a number of words for the day and assess whether you've met it or not. I tried this, but it was too discouraging on bad writing days. The simple number totals work better for me. 
Anyway, this is a combination external record and conscience that nags just the right amount, so I've kept it going since 2011.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Wow. I've never heard of this before you. It's certainly a good way to see progress!

Do you write every day? Daily dedication seems to be the best advice for writers. The times when I've actually completed long projects are times when I've worked on them every day.

I keep wishing I had more time for writing. But there's never going to be a magical amount of extra time -- it just needs to be carved out of the existing 24 hours. Sigh.

undine said...

Fie, thanks! I do try to write every day, but today I spent 12 hours (yes, on Saturday) on my admin job tasks, which I know you've done as well. Now I'm sitting down to at least read over a ms. that I have to send soon. At least maybe I'll dream about it.