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Managing Your Novel’s Progress

This week, I thought I’d share my progress on my novel, which I announced that I’d start work on in the beginning of this month.  There are two reasons for doing so:

  • To share a method which has helped me be more disciplined about writing
  • To show that even experienced writers can still have trouble keeping to a schedule

The basic idea was to apply some concepts from project management to writing a novel.  Ideally, to complete a first draft of a 100,000-word novel from May 1 to December 31, a writer needs to write approximately 409 words per day.  Rounding this up to 425 per day, this is still an attainable target for most writers.

In the graph below, you can see the red line represents an ideal increase of 425 words per day.  The blue line represents my actual numbers.

Word Count - May

Word Count - May

As you can see, I’m currently behind (by about 6000 words).  However, there’s something interesting that happened on May 22nd–my actual word count started going up.  That was the day I started officially tracking my word count.  By paying attention to where I’m at, and where I’m supposed to be, I know whether I need to speed up or adjust my schedule.  Having more information helps me to make better decisions, or adjust my goals.

You can also see that there were several weeks where my word count was flat–this means I was not making progress at all.  Like many other writers, I kept telling myself, “I’ll make some progress tomorrow.”  Putting my progress in a spreadsheet and graphing the results is already making a huge difference in how much work I get done each day.

And as you can see, it doesn’t take long before you get several thousand words behind.

While I could fake out the results to show that I’m on track, I’d rather keep my actual progress so I can use it as a learning tool (and as motivation to finish more than the minimum each day).  Working on this minimum each day has also had some side benefits–beyond my primary story, I’ve also recorded ideas for three other stories, as well as come up with several nuggets for plot twists within my primary story.

Since my goal of completing a novel by the end of the year is self-imposed, there’s no real penalty for missing the date.  However, setting a date and tracking my progress helps me to make sure I continue to get closer each day.

Also, since I need to update my spreadsheet every day to keep the graphs current, there’s also a bit of self-motivation to add something to the story just so I can show some progress for that day.  Even if I don’t hit my 425 words each day, I expect I’ll always add at least 100.

When I get closer to the end of my draft, I do expect I’ll find my word count stabilizing (or even going down) as I start to shift into the editing phase.  However, for pounding out the first draft, I think this method is going to be an effective way to keep myself working every day.

What tips do you have for other writers to help them make progress on their writing projects?  What works for you?

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