NaNoWriMo Progress Sheet

Social Media Information Overload, ©2012 Mark Smiciklas CC BY-NC 2.0

NaNoWriMo begins the day after tomorrow. To control my progress, I’ve created a spreadsheet that dynamically recomputes, each day, how many words I need to write in order to stay on track.

This is a method I’ve used before, based on principles used to manage software projects. Because software projects have a lot in common with writing projects. Most notably, they’re both creative endeavors, and you never know at the beginning how the project is going to look at the end. A write could use any of the widely available Agile software-development project tools out there. But this is a lighter weight tool, a simple spreadsheet, which doesn’t have as many features, but I’ve found it sufficient for a one-person writing project (like a NaNoWriMo novel).

Here’s a link to my NaNoWriMo Progress Sheet (OpenOffice Calc), or in MS Excel format. (Right-click on the link, and save the file to your hard drive.)

Here’s how it looks:

… and here’s how it works

The areas highlighted in yellow are spaces that require filling in. The upper-left area comes filled in with values from my NaNoWriMo project.

Now let me fill in a few days of fake (example) data, just to show you how the dynamic recalculation and statistics work.

Here, you can see that I only completed 3,500 of the 4,549 planned words for November 1, which amounted to 2 really long scenes. The next day, Saturday, I did not write. But the day after, Sunday, I did write another 500 words, in another scene, even though I had not originally planned to. That still leaves me behind schedule but not as bad as it would have been otherwise. But the following day, I am very productive, completing 4 more scenes and 4,500 more words, and I’m basically back on track.

Note how the Adjusted Goal and Adjusted Daily Words columns change based on the data in Actual Words. The spreadsheet is recomputing that geometric series based on your actual progress. If I get behind, it spreads out the missing words over the rest of the month; and it I get ahead, it allows me even slack over the rest of the month. Similarly, Adjusted Mscenes is the number of metascenes I can expect to write each day (3 to 4 for the first day, one less by November 7), and it’s adjusted based on Actual Words and Actual Metascenes, averaging the length of the metascenes, and assuming each will end up generating approximately the same average number of words.

Stats, etc.

Scrolling to the right, there are several columns of statistics.

These columns can help me keep tabs on what is a true sustainable pace, and whether I need to go back to my outline and expand it (add new metascenes) in order to have enough material to write about.

There are also some interim values stored in columns, that you can see, though they may not be of as much use.

These values are used in calculations elsewhere in the spreadsheet. Idealized Daily Words and Idealized Goal Words are the unadjusted daily goals. Expected W/MS is the spreadsheet’s best guess of how many words each metascene will be, based on both planned and actual data.

Lastly, there’s a yellow-highlighted row at the very far right of the spreadsheet that lists Non-writing Days. If you wish to add or remove weekends or holidays, this is where to do it. Any blank row is a writing day. Any row with a description in it is a non-writing day, and through the power of computing, these descriptions then automagically appear in the “Daily Words” columns (to explain why there is no Daily Words estimate for that day).

What’s Missing

The big feature that I never implemented is a burn-down chart. Or actually, I’d prefer something more like a burn-up chart. These charts show progress graphically, by plotting how much work (words or metascenes) is required to finish, and how much progress you make as time goes on. This shows visually whether you’re on track or not, and what you can do to get back on track (or not).

I also don’t have a column that allows you to adjust the number of metascenes in the middle of the month, and to track those adjustments. However, you can just update the global Total Metascenes, and all the estimates will recompute to match.

Other useful features I missed? Let me know, and maybe I’ll add them in for next year.

In the meantime…

Keep writing!


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