Writing a book can be a daunting venture. How long should it be? What should it be about? When will I find time to work on it? Is it going to be any good?
These are all valid questions, and the answers (or lack of) can be intimidating. I realized early on in my process that I needed to employ the same goal-based metrics-driven strategies that I know to be successful from my project management background. I’ve developed an outrageous spreadsheet and dashboard to keep me on track, and I’m going to show you how to do the same for your own project.
Set your goals
First, set some goals.
I’ll clear one thing up first. What I’m finding out now that is that you probably can’t totally predict how long your book is going to be (especially if it’s fiction.) Maybe if you’ve written a few, you can predict that the estimated length in which you want to tell your story is a certain amount of pages. If you are just starting out, you can set a goal, but you may find that you are vastly under, or over that estimate. (And that’s probably okay. If you are thinking about pitching your book to a traditional publisher, you may want to write within the normal range of your genre.)
Here are the goals I’ve set. They are very simple.
Goal 1: Write a novel consisting of at least 45,000 words (just shy of National Novel Writing Month’s 50,000 word limit.)
Goal 2: Write every day, at least 500 words, with the stretch goal of 1000.
Goal 3: Produce a draft by September, to give myself ample time to edit, and iterate on two more drafts before researching publishing options.
Goal 4: Have a complete book in your hands after 365 days of starting this project (This puts project completion date at April 18th, 2016.)
(Am I missing anything?)
Track your progress
One thing I’ve learned through project management is that any project lacking clear, tangible, and easily measurable metrics for success is bound to fail before it begins.
Each of my goals can be tracked, and I’ve set up a fairly robust spreadsheet to do so.
Let me show you:
Tracking daily progress: Below you’ll see how I’m tracking daily progress. (I’m slacking – don’t judge.) The date column uses a function to calculate the date, so I didn’t have to manually input all those numbers. I am using conditional formatting to color code the cells based on my targets. If I hit my daily goal, it’s yellow. If I don’t, it’s red. If I exceed my goal (over a 1000 words,) it’s green. This is a nice motivator for me.
The total column just gives me a running total of words written. This is really just a nice to have.
Tracking average words per day, and words per week: This is to give me an overall sense of performance, and how I’m improving over time. The words per day average actually plays an important role in another function, which I’ll explain in a few.
Tracking length of chapters: This is just a nice to have for me. Will help me visualize the composition of the story.
Tracking the overall progress and completion date: Okay, here is where the real magic happens. I calculate the total words written (this is from adding up all the chapter totals.) I then list my goal (45000 words.) I calculate the amount of words I have left, and the overall percentage complete. I am using a rough calculation of 300 words per paperback page to give me an estimate of how many pages the book will be.
Finally, I take my current average words per day, which fluctuates, and divide that by the amount of words left to calculate the amount of days I have left of writing until I hit my goal. I then add that amount to a formula that is basically (Today + amount of days) to give me a rough forecast date of when I’ll be poppin’ a bottle of champagne and celebrating my 45000 word count.
This is all very subject to the daily word count average, which really holds me accountable to write every day. When I don’t, I can physically see the impact of slowing down my pace. I’m a data geek, so this type of visualization is helpful, as opposed to simply thinking, “I’ll probably be done by the end of the summer.” Knowing the math that needs to occur to get there helps me stay on track.
I plan to publish a template of this tracker in Google Docs that anyone can download and use.
Create a dashboard
Once you have some data flowing, it can be a fun exercise to create a dashboard. There are many tools out there, and you can probably use Google Sheets graphs to do some cool stuff. I’ll focus on the tool that I used: Dasheroo. Their “Tall” pricing tier is free for those getting started.
In Dasheroo, I’ve built a couple insights to help keep my progress and statistics top-of-mind.
Check ’em out:
First, I’m pulling my Google Sheets data to display my word count goals, and daily word count (ignore the flat-line, I’ve vowed to take a break from writing during my vacation.)
I’ve integrated Dasheroo with Google Analytics to display how traffic is looking to this blog.
I also track Facebook engagement on my Facebook page (—> https://www.facebook.com/tomwritesabook) Go ahead…Like it! Love it!
Dasheroo integrates with AWeber (my email service provider) and I can easily monitor new subscriber counts, engagement, and more.
Setting these insights up took 20 minutes, tops. I can’t recommend Dasheroo enough.
Build on what works
For me, data is all about understanding what’s working, and what’s not. As you generate your own data, use it to improve your process. If you are not satisfied with your progress, or the predicted completion date, don’t rinse and repeat, but iterate on your habits to succeed. If you are developing a strong rhythm and the data reflects that, consider what is working and build on that.
Life happens. Remember this. Sometimes your progress might decline against your own will – kids get sick, your job gets in the way, maybe you are moving. Do not get discouraged, but use data to forecast a new date and keep pushing.
If you are slipping because of other reasons (laziness, writer’s block, lack of motivation, etc.) a handy dashboard will call you out on it! Take a breather and consider why you started your project in the first place. Look back at the spikes of creativity on your tracker. Wasn’t that fun? Didn’t it feel great to accomplish what you did? If your heart is still in it, go for it!
What are you using to stay on track? How do you use data to accomplish your goals? Let me know in the comments.
Want more tips, tools, and useful links for completing your next writing project? Join my mailing list!