Monday, July 18, 2011

Writer's Toolbox: Novel Stats, Part 1

Every writer needs tools to get the job done. (Yes, pen and paper or laptop, I heard you. Please sit back down, peanut gallery.) I'm not talking about a word processor, or even a thesaurus. Plotting, organizing, scheduling, pacing... our tasks are many and guidelines few. My wife and I have developed and discovered some tools that I use, and I thought I would share what I am using and how I use it. To that end, this is the Writer's Toolbox series.

This post, I'd like to share the first tab of what we call the Novel Stats sheet. This is a dynamic spreadsheet that my wife and I worked up to help me with scheduling my writing time and tracking my progress. If you would like your own copy of this document to play with as you read this post, it is available here. Check my first post in this series, on Google Docs, for information about how to Save a Copy.

The embedded document above is the template. All the numbers are blank. The images I'm going to show you come from a sample document that I made up, using the same Template shown here. This document is great for keeping me on track with my writing. It lets me know when I am behind schedule and how far I have to go to get on schedule. It's also packed with neat little facts that help me figure out other things, like how long my chapters are, and what kind of deadline I can afford to set for myself. It also has some minimal plotting features worked into it, though I'll show you some more involved and complicated methods later.

I start by hiding that big, yellow banner with the page instructions.
Who needs instructions, right? I do, but I also don't want them in the way when I am trying to work. You hide a row by right clicking the row and choosing Hide row. I just don't want to confuse you when you get the yellow bar on the Template, and it isn't in my Samples.

To begin with, the Novel Stats page is pretty blank. It needs information from you. The only typing you do on this tab is in the green section. (Remember those big, yellow instructions at the top? You didn't read them, did you? This is what they were talking about. Shame, shame.)

We'll talk about the neat gadget on the side in a minute. Focus on the numbers in green, please. The three items in green are "Target Words in Novel," "Target Weeks to Completion," and "Start Date." Under Column B of Target Words is where you put your word count goal. NaNoWriMo's is 50k, so I filled that in for my Sample Novel sheet. It's summer, so I decided to claim 3 months (12 weeks) to write my novel. Then I put in a start date of June 15th.

Once I've filled in those numbers, notice that some of the other areas on the page have magically generated some values. Down at the bottom, the first red arrow I've drawn in the picture, you see that the sheet now knows what week it is. It has calculated based on the deadlines I gave it, what week of writing I should be on and what percentage of the novel I should have written at this point. As you can see by the rest of the document, I haven't written anything in this novel yet, so I'm horribly behind schedule. So far in fact, that it can't yet tell me how far behind I am! The next arrow points out a piece of information for me to use in my time management: I should be averaging 4,167 words/week to hit my goal.

However, with more information, the sheet becomes even more useful! I'll just take a break and go write a little. It said I needed 4k words, right?
OK, *phew!* that was some fast writing. I've plugged my updated word counts into the 'Chapters' tab of the spreadsheet (more on that in the next post). I got 4,062 written; let's see how that compares. You can now see that I finished the first chapter at 3,500 words, and wrote another 562 in the second chapter. The average words per chapter, obviously, is 3,500 because I've only done one chapter. However, using that average, it now tells me how many chapters it expects me to have in the novel. Also, I now know what my percentage complete is, not only for the novel, but also how deep I am in Chapter 2, using the numbers I've given it! These are the numbers reflected in those nifty gadgets on the right hand side of the page. The top one is Novel Completion, which shows how close you are to your total goal, and the lower one is chapter completion, based on your words per chapter average, how close you are to finishing the current chapter. Also, at the bottom of the sheet, you can now see how many chapters (Average word count) you need to write to stay on schedule.

Let's get one more week's worth of writing in before leaving this tab. Let's see, how many times do I turn this stupid time necklace again? ...
... Whoa, sorry I took so long, had a little writer's block. OK, so now I've got over 8,000 words logged into the Novel Stats (again, that's done over on the 'Chapters' tab.) The biggest difference at this point is that I have passed one week's worth of writing being tracked. Thus, it can now tell me how far ahead or behind I am! According to line 24, I am perfectly On Schedule, which shows up in blue.
If you work really hard, you can get Ahead, which reads in green, because you are GO-ing somewhere. (OK, bad pun.)
However, if you don't work hard, and goof off instead, you can get Behind, which glares at you in an angry, neglected, red letters. You shouldn't neglect your word count. You wouldn't like your word count when it gets angry. (No, wait, he turned green when angry. Ok, scratch that whole reference.) Anyways, when I am actively working on a project, this is how I keep myself on schedule. Stay tuned for more from the Writer's Toolbox!


  1. Wow; you are organized. Tonight I scheduled time to write a novel review; and spent most of that time dealing with my son.

    Then, I logged on blogger and visited people.

    I'm so not dedicated to a schedule. But I admire you and your wife for the efforts, and sharing your tools.

    Thanks Jace and wife :)


  2. Actually, I'm not organized at all. I'm quite distractable. That's why I have and use tools like this. Without them, I'd be pretty hopeless.