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Unorthodox Writing Tips 22: Keeping Track.

I’m a geek. I can’t lie. I love sitting at a computer and typing away. I love creating excel spread sheets and going crazy with formatting and layouts and charts and graphs. I mean… seriously. I can sit down for hours and just toy with my spread sheet. Even though that might sound counter productive, I’m proof that it’s not. Let me explain why. (NOTE: If you’re not as geeky as I am, don’t worry, I have alternatives below)

I have a goal. I intend to write 450,000 words during the year of 2012. Now up front that sounds like a lot of words. I started with 500,000 and scared myself so I dialed it back. I didn’t want to be too ambitious with the new year starting. I had been an on again, off again writer. I’d write three or four days in a row and then BAM! Nothing for two weeks. I’d write for a couple of weeks then BAM! Nothing for a month. I’d do NaNoWriMo and I would get deep in and then just throw up my hands and stop.

Okay, that obviously doesn’t work. I needed to come up with a better way of doing things. After all I wanted to write more than I was currently writing and what I was doing just wasn’t working. In December I decided to start keeping track of what I was doing. It all started out so simple. I had Excel. I would have one column for my current word count (I called it start) and my ending word count (end) and a third column that would take the difference. So if I started on 15,250 on a story that went in the start column and after my writing session I’d put in the final word count. Let’s say it was 16,750. That’d be 1500 words and I’d feel great. Then I added a column for date so I could see how many days in a row I would keep at the writing. Needless to say there were gaps. Lots of gaps. It looked like my teeth when I was a kid. BIG OLD GAPS!

Keeping track made me see a pattern very quickly. Start, stop, start, stop. It wasn’t working for me. I also hadn’t made up my mind that writing was the right thing for me to be doing with my spare time. I had other things to do. I had TV shows recorded that I hadn’t watched. My favorite daughter had volleyball practice. There were a lot of other things to do.

No, I want to be a writer. I want to write. I want to be published. I want to see my name in print. If I was going to be a writer, I needed to keep track. I couldn’t just fly by the seat of my pants and hope for the best. Sure I’d written a large number of short stories and a few novels, but I wasn’t consistent. I needed to be consistent. Heck, I still need to be consistent.

Once I looked at my spread sheet, I said to myself I was going to hold myself accountable for writing words daily. Not just when I felt like it. I was going to write when I didn’t feel like it. I would take on deadlines. I would push myself. I didn’t want to see any more gaps in my spread sheet. I was going to leave that gap toothed kid in the past where he belonged.

That brings me to today. I’ve got a streak going of writing daily. Not always fiction (which I intend to change) but I’ve written every day. Something. Anything. I’ve tracked all the words I’ve written from blog posts, book reviews, short stories, novels, everything. I made a LOT of adjustments to my spread sheet. I figured out how many words I would need to write per day to reach my goal. It’s roughly 1230 words. Heck, I figured that’d be easy. I can knock out words like it’s nobody’s business. This was going to be a cake walk to get to 450,000 on the year.

So I started tracking. I’d see the number go up daily with each daily blog post (another goal for 2012). There were gaps in my fiction writing and there still are, but there are no gaps in my daily writing. My spread sheet expanded because I kept adding more columns. I added one for where I should be at (day of year + 1233). I added a column for where I was at (words written added across). I had a column for blog posts (these count as blog posts), one for short stories, one for novels. I added a column for what I was working on. I added a LENT section, a JuNoWriMo section, a NaNoWriMo section. I expanded and kept going by adding coloring to the spreadsheet to show when I’d hit my daily goal (green) when I got close (yellow) and when I just plain missed (red for under 500 words). I also added coloring to the Lent section. I had fun with it. But you know what, I have a string of writing each day because I know I need to update that spread sheet. Every day.

Here’s my spreadsheet:

You’ll notice a gap in there (fiction gap, not blog post gap) when I didn’t write very much. I had taken a trip to San Francisco for work training and I spent the evenings with friends so there wasn’t much to do other than eat, sleep, train, and talk.

Now I said I’d have alternate methods, right? Simple. You want visual low tech. Buy yourself a calendar. They’re cheap, right. Now buy some stickers. It doesn’t matter if they’re stars, spongebob, ponies, whatever you want for a theme. When you write a blog post, put a red sticker (red pony, smiling Buzz Lightyear). When you write fiction put a smiley face, a pirate ship, whatever. Now if you’re keeping track write in the number of words you typed that day. Don’t feel like you need to stress the word count, but stress that you wrote on that day. Start a chain and you’ll not want to see that string unbroken. Why? You’ll have to start over. But do NOT let missing a day be an excuse to not write more. It’s just that. An excuse. It’s not a reason like you broke you hand and spent the day medicated in the hospital while the put you in a cast from your wrist to your shoulder. Excuses will stop you faster than a reason, but you should be able to dispell them just as easily.

It doesn’t matter if you go low tech or high tech or if you find another great way to keep track with pictures of cows or cuts on your arm (I don’t recommend this method) or by putting hair clippings in a jar and watching the contents grow. When you see a running chain of numbers start to stack up and you realize that every day counts toward hitting your overall goal you’ll quickly realize that you can do this writing thing. You can sit at the keyboard and type and see progress. All those words each day will add up and soon you’ll have a short story, a series of blog posts, a novel, a couple of novels! I’m serious when I say that you can do this. You just need to take some time to set a clear goal and track you way to that goal. I’m not on target to his 450,000 words for the year. I’m on target to hit and possibly pass my original 500,000 word goal. No, really. You could be doing this too.

Got a different tracking method? Want to share your spreadsheet and word counts? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you. Me? I need to go make that word count grow by leaps and bounds.

Until Next Time!