You gotta have a system. Every writer does. That thing you do to get from point A to point B, hit your deadlines, and hopefully decrease your stress along the way. I have a system, too, and a major part of it involves word counts, Excel spreadsheets, and a video game perception of “winning.” This is by no means a perfect system for everyone, and I know writers who think it’s way too fiddly, but I’ll share what I do, and maybe some of you will dig it.
Okay, first a little super-boring background on me. Before I started working in the tabletop game industry and really started to turn writing into a career, I worked in accounting. I did it all: accounts payable, accounts receivable, cost accounting, payroll, even collections. Exciting, huh? As much as I hated it, all that accounting experience taught me some valuable skills. It taught me to be very organized with data and how to make that data work for me. It started my love affair with Excel. I can’t lie; I fucking love me some spreadsheets. Seriously. So I found a way to take my bizarre fascination with spreadsheets and a little of my accounting knowhow and put it to use in my writing career.
Here’s what I do. When I have a big project, like a novel, I look at the deadline for completion (usually the deadline for the first draft), I break that down into weeks, then I assign a word count goal to each week, and then I divide that word count goal among five individual days. I put all this info into a simple spread sheet, then track how much I actually write on a given day compared to my target.
It looks something like this:
As you can see, I set my weekly target at 10,000 words and my daily target at 2,000 words. I got the 2,000-words a day thing from Stephen King. Hey, if it works for one of the most successful authors in the whole goddamn world, it might be worth a try, right? You can see what I actually wrote on a given day, and at the bottom of each week a running total tells me where I stand with the week’s goals.
You’ll notice I don’t have a target for the weekends. That’s because I try to take the weekends off. (Well, not really off; I just work on other things.) That’s not to say, of course, I won’t work on the weekends if I fall behind. I also know that my estimated date of completion is a just that, an estimate. I might end up needing another 10,000 words to complete this novel. With the schedule above, I should finish the book about two weeks before deadline and at right around 90,ooo words.
Here’s what I like about my system and why it works for me.
So, that’s my system. What does your system look like? If it’s better than mine, can I use it?