On writing: Word count spreadsheets

NaNoWriMo is coming and with that the word count crunch! For those of you unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, here’s the blurb from their About page:

NaNoWriMo crestNational Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.

50,000 words in one month is pretty daunting: most writers aren’t nearly that prolific. But this challenge is for anyone, as NaNoWriMo emphasizes. So how’s the average writer supposed to tackle such a gargantuan task?

Well, one common answer is word count spreadsheets. A spreadsheet won’t do the writing for you, but it will help you keep track of your progress, and as you chip away at that 50,000 word mountain, you’ll see that 50,000 words in a month can be done.

Note: to modify these word count spreadsheets, you’re going to need a program like OpenOffice or Microsoft Excel, or use a service like Google Docs.

The Basic:

Justin McLachlan has made a very good basic word count spreadsheet for writers who only care about word count.

NaNoWriMo Tracker by Justin McLachlanThis spreadsheet tracks the very basics: word count, the day’s target, if you are meeting your goal, and how far along you are. But what I really love about this spreadsheet is the colors used to visually cue the user as to their progress towards their goal. Utilizing the stoplight colors of red / yellow / green helps the user know when they are on track and when they are falling behind. Green is excellent, yellow is good, but red means danger, Will Robinson!

Download it here, plus here is a link for donating if you want to support Justin’s work!

Another basic word count spreadsheet is Mark Feenstra’s design.

Word Count Tracker Mark FeenstraThe thing I like about this one is it a word count tracker for the whole year, not just NaNoWriMo. Also, Mark has columns for tracking four different projects simultaneously, so you will get a word count breakdown by project, but also a word count total for every day. Really a nice set-up for writers like me who are always switching back and forth between projects.

Download it here.

The Complex:

Here’s one from Svenja Gosen. This is the spreadsheet for the writer who needs to keep track of plot, characters, and other story-driven information.

NaNoWriMo2014 word tracker (total wordcount)In addition to the basics and a progress chart, this has sheets for writing a synopsis of your novel, character information, plot development, etc. Are you an outliner? I rarely use an outline, but I rarely tackle something novel-length. For a 50,000+ word novel, outlines usually become necessary, and the other sheets offered by Svenja are handy to have as a story gets more complicated and characters become more layered.

Download it here. And if you are interested in more spreadsheets, check out Svenja’s website. There are many different kinds, some themed, for word counts during NaNoWriMo and the rest of the year. There is also a Paypal link for donating if you want to support Svenja’s work!

Here’s one from Cameron Mathew. This is the spreadsheet for the truly data driven as it gives you an abundance of quantifiable information at your fingertips as you populate your fields.

Cameron Mathew's NaNoWriMo Word Count SpreadsheetIn addition to basic word count for the day, total word count, words left to reach your goal, etc., this spreadsheet comes with entry columns for hours written, number of writing sessions, writing location, morale, and number of scenes completed. From those values, it calculates your words per hour, your change in pace as a percentage, what day you will finish the NaNoWriMo challenge based on your pace, plus there’s a pie chart for those who love graphs.

Download it here.

Do-It-Yourself Word Count Spreadsheets

Not impressed with what you see here, or want to start from scratch? Never fear. Here’s a handy tutorial for building your own word count spreadsheet. It would be helpful to have some basic understanding of spreadsheet formulas, but the tutorial is fairly straightforward, so I have no doubt that most users will be able to muddle through.

The nice thing about building your own is you can add whatever extra columns you need, modify the days if you want to squeeze in extra days or subtract some, etc. Once you have a grasp of how the formulas work, you should be able to add your own columns tracking whatever you’d like.

Do you use word count spreadsheets? If you use a different one, let me know what it is.

  • Dina Schlie Preuss

    Thank you so much for these spreadsheets! I seriously need to get organized. I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo fo the first time this year. Pretty excited, and this will certainly help.

    • You’re welcome! I hope they come in handy for you, and good luck with NaNoWriMo!

      • Jared Barger

        hello, i was wondering how to add more to it. I’m going be using these for every month. so i want to be able to adjust it. thanks

  • MKaye

    I downloaded the spreadsheet by Justin McLachlan which I used last year, but when I open it there’s no color coding, and before it finishes opening, I get a warning saying: ‘Sample Sheet Data’!H65536 : Ignoring unhandled conditional format of type ‘duplicateValues’ / What’s that all about? I am using LibreOffice 5 on a LaBuntu system (about to purchase an HP though). ?