March 20

Track writing progress in a snazzy spreadsheet

    track writing progress
    If you’re a writer, you need a way to continuously track writing progress. You need explicit goals and a consistent measure of your progress toward those goals. When you hit the slump of a project – that terrible black hole of motivation – you’ll be so glad you have a tool to track your progress.

    Let me just tell you now – I am in that black hole of motivation. I’m about 15,500 words into my book. I began by getting up early every morning to write for 15-30 minutes, which worked really well for a while, but I missed a few days in a row, and there was an immediate slow in my momentum, which I haven’t quite recovered from.

    It’s hard to regain motivation if you’re not tracking progress

    I’ve been so inside of the black hole of motivation that I’ve been telling myself lies about how far I haven’t come. I’ve been repeating in my head, “You’ve hardly made any progress. At this rate, it’ll take you months to finish. That is, if you even can regain your motivation. You haven’t written in weeks. You might as well quit now. Maybe you can try again later, when life has calmed down, when you have more time, when you’re ready.”

    Here’s where the progress tracking is important. This morning, I revisited my daily log and my overall timeline. I pulled up my Google Sheet (I’ll show you exactly how I have mine laid out in just a bit), and I realized that, actually, I have been making steady progress. True, it was only during the first week of writing that I reached my goal of 5,000 words, but I have been hitting 2,700 – 3,800 words each week since then.

    Suddenly, my thoughts reversed, “I am making progress! I have 15,000 words. That’s 60 pages of a traditional print book. Not too shabby, for a busy entrepreneur with a family!”

    Seeing the reality of your progress helps you adjust your self-talk and get re-motivated

    As you can imagine, I am much more motivated to write, now that I’ve seen the reality of my progress. It was so easy (too easy) to convince myself that I’d hardly written anything. I would have continued to believe the self-sabotaging lie unless confronted with the truth, recorded by my progress tracking system.

    It can work the other way, too. If you are delusional, trying desperately to convince yourself that your progress is coming along just fine, checking in with your progress tracking system with help you confront the fact that you’re only churning out 500-1,000 words a week, and you need to pick up the pace if you ever want to finish that book.

    Whether you tend toward negative self-talk (like I do) or delusional self-talk, a true progress tracking system will help you check in with reality and make a reasonable game plan for your writing timeline.

    How to track your writing progress

    There are a dozen different ways you could track your writing progress – spreadsheet, Word doc, spiral journal – heck, there’s probably even an app for that! (If there is, I’m sure you’ll let me know in the comments, right?)

    At a minimum, you should track the date of your writing sessions, how long you wrote, and how many words you wrote. When you look back, you want to be able to see that you’re making time (measured in minutes) to write (measured in words). You can then quickly calculate how many hours you spend writing in a week or a month and how many words you write in a week or a month.

    Let me walk you through how I’m tracking my progress. I’m using a Google Sheet, titled it with my goal, “Writing my book in 6 weeks.” I decided to use Google Sheets so that I can share with my accountability partner, and he can see a live report of my progress. (And call me out on it when I’m not writing – which he has done, with much consideration and empathy. Thanks, David.)

    I have two sheets/tabs. One tracks my “Short view,” and one tracks my “Long view.” (Here are a couple of screenshots. Click to enlarge.)

    Short ViewLong View
    ProgressShortView 15-03-19ProgressLongView 15-03-19

    On the Short View sheet, I have a column for the date, the day of the week, time of writing session, number of minutes written, and notes on the day’s progress. I keep tallies of how many words I’ve written each week.

    I know the often-repeated advice is to set a daily word count goal. Honestly, I find it easier to aim for a word count per week. 3,000 words per week will keep your writing project afloat. 8,000 per week would be absolutely crushing it. 5,000 per week seems to be a doable goal that keeps your momentum going. So, I have weekly goals of writing 5,000 words per week.

    I keep qualitative notes, too. I jot down what I’m working on, whether I met my word count goal, what my goal is for next week, what my struggles were this past week. Tracking your emotional progress through a manuscript is just as important. It helps you notice how closely intertwined our feelings and productivity really are.

    Then, the Long View sheet is a simple running tally of my cumulative word count, compared to my goal word count. It can be tricky (and somewhat arbitrary) to set a goal word count for a project, but it’s helpful to at least ballpark a goal. For instance, a quality short ebook can be in the 15,000-20,000 word range. A journal article for a scholarly press will be in the 15,000-30,000 range. A full-length manuscript will be in the 60,000-80,000 range. Pick a goal and start moving toward it. You can always adjust later.

    My original goal was to write a 15,000-20,000 ebook in 6 weeks. Now that I’m a third of the way through the content, I’m realizing that my book needs more growing room. I’m readjusting to aim for 30,000 words in 10 weeks. I guess I’ll need to rename my Google Sheet.

    Do you already track your writing progress? What does your system look like? If you don’t track your progress, what system do you think would work best for you?

    Leave a comment below, and we can generate some ideas for useful, innovative progress tracking tools.


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