New Year, New Word Log

WWord Log screenshot
ith the coming of each new year, I start things off by creating a new Excel spreadsheet to serve as my daily and monthly word log (as seen by my screenshot taken a couple weeks ago.) It is a place for me to keep track of my progress on a daily and monthly basis. I am no expert on the program Excel by any means, but I found that using the SUM function to be very helpful. I have seen several word logs made by others, some which you can download to use. And while some are very impressive, I wanted a spreadsheet that was very basic in design yet allowed me to keep track of all of my month’s activities.

Keeping track of words is a somewhat grey topic. As David Hewson pointed out in his blog entry The dangers of the daily word count, progress on your novel is not necessarily just adding words every day. What of editing, omitting chunks of text that is ruining your story, or just rewriting a scene or entire chapter? Those are all very important, and sometimes I personally feel some writers get so deep into the task of writing that they don’t realize working on one’s novel can entail all the other things I just mentioned, and so much more.

Nonetheless, I do find word logs to be one of the easier means for me to keep track of my progress. Going back to the screenshot, this is roughly how I have things set up:

  • The days are split by month. Everything written in January will be summed up as the total amount written during that month, everything for February, and so on and so forth. Then at the bottom of the entry is the grand sum of everything I wrote for that year. In the cells I input the total amount I wrote for that day, so I have to keep track of my activities and have a calculator nearby. The monthly and yearly total is automatically recalculated every time I edit a cell.
  • I have a daily goal that I try to meet. If I don’t write that amount I don’t cry over it. Instead I look through the notes to see what I did each day. If I spent one day working out a nasty little plot hole and succeeded, then that is as much a victory as it is writing 10,000 words a day (have not achieved that yet. The most I ever wrote was roughly 8,000 words.)
  • The section in red next to each day is where I jot down notes on what I have done. This section is usually that part that takes up the bulk in other Excel word logs I’ve seen. Here I jot down notes of what I was writing and how much I wrote for each area. I may write in what I did that day if it was not taken up by just writing prose. This was especially helpful while attending professional school, where I could easily go for weeks without touching my works-in-progress. If I looked at the very low word count for that month and felt terrible, I can look at my notes and realize that I accomplished a lot by, say, honing the outline and character motivations. That’s something big to have accomplished.
  • The entire window is compressed so that it occupies just a small portion of my screen, allowing me to write and do other work while also having the word log in my eyesight. I do this as a means of motivating myself.

And so this is a small part of how I work. It is not perfect by any means, but I have found it helpful. Over the years the word log has changed as I figure out better ways to set the thing up.

I now turn this discussion to all who are reading this: how do you keep track of your writing progress? Do you even keep track or do you prefer just diving into the insane and blissful task of creating? Do you think a word count is the only possible way of keeping track of your progress or have you found other ways (and if so, please share!)