Keeping Track of Your Writing

Quick question: Do you know how much you wrote last week? Last month? Last year?

I’m sure you could figure it out – search through some documents, add up some word counts, but I’m guessing it would take you a moment and a half? Also, what would even be the point?

Here’s the thing: I love data. I like numbers and stats, and since I write a lot of different things (novels, novellas, short stories and micro fiction), I needed a way to keep track of what’s what.

So I created a spreadsheet.

It’s pretty basic. A few columns for name, genre, word count and status (whether the story is finished and not), and as it grew I expanded it. Now it has a column for whether a story is currently submitted anywhere (and the name of that place) as well as a comment section where I can keep track of rejections or multiple versions.

It’s a handy tool to have to keep track of what I’m spending a lot of time working on.

An excel-spreadsheet with columns for title, genre, word count, among other things. Every story gets a row, and the rows are color-coded.
Here’s an overview of what parts of it looks like – obviously my stories have titles, I’ve just redacted them. The color-coding can mean several things – either it’s a second type of sorting by genre or it’s something important I have to remember.

So now that I know what am I spending my time on, it eventually struck me that I didn’t realize when I spent that time. I didn’t write down start or finish dates for different stories – and seeing as my memory is terrible, I find it difficult to look back at last summer and remember what I wrote then.

So I made myself a little calendar spreadsheet.

It’s not set in stone – and it’s not necessarily exhaustive – but it’s a handy tool to keep track of my efforts. Also, it works both backward and forward in time. I can use it to look back at last year, to know what I’ve done and written, and I can use it to plan the the next 3, 6 or 12 months. Next month for example, I have planned some hefty edits on my next book, and the month after that I think I need to start doing some revisions on another draft. Which means my short stories will have to take the sideline for a while.

An excel-spreadsheet with columns by year and rows by month. Each cell corresponds to a month of a year and can be used to track information that happened during that time.
Here’s what parts of the calendar sheet looks like. The cells obviously have text, but I’ve redacted that for my own privacy. I might write that I started a story, finished a story, sent it off to my editor, or submitted it somewhere. The color-coding is a means of visualizing all of the above.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because I realized it’s a great way to keep myself motivated and accountable.

It started off as a fun little thing-to-do-because-I-like-to-look-at-data, but now I realize it has a bigger purpose. Whenever I feel down and uninspired about my writing, I can look back at all the things I wrote in the last 6 months and visualize it, feel proud about it. And whenever I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, I sit down with my calendar and plan the next two or three months.

Also, my list of stories keep growing, along with stats on rejections, acceptances, and total running word counts. If you like data and stats, like me, you know what I’m talking about. Just watching that tally go up a little every week is super motivating. Also – I don’t know how other people do it – but when you get to a certain amount of written works you need a system for knowing what’s what. Especially with my shorter things, after a handful of stories they start blending together. This overview becomes very handy then.

I’ve been wondering if I should add anything to my data collection system. Maybe track start/end dates for all my stories, but that would mean a lot of backtracking, and I don’t know how I would deal with when I re-write stories entirely. Also, my calendar already has records of which months I’ve spent writing short stories (though I don’t keep track of exactly which I write every month) so I’m not entirely sure if it would be worth it.

Do you keep track of your work somehow? How much you write and when? Do you like to collect data and stats? Do you have an recommendations for things I could be doing? Let me know! I’d be super interested in hearing about it.

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