How to Write a Book: Tracking Word Count

When I finish something, I like to be able to cross it off a list of write a giant over-sized check mark next to it.  There’s a certain level of accomplishment that I like to acknowledge in healthy recognition of productivity.


So, of course, this applies to writing books, too.  One of the easiest ways to keep track of word count is using Microsoft Excel.  It’s as simple as having two columns: “Word Count” and “Date.”   It can look something like this:

step 1

Then you can set it up in a pretty, pretty graph so you can have a visual representation of all the hard work you’re doing.  Also, it’s a really good way to try to keep yourself writing.  The biggest problems I hear from aspiring novelists are: “Yes, I’m writing a book, but…  I keep rewriting the beginning; I haven’t written in a while; I’m stuck at this one part; it’s really slow going for me; I started it a long time ago, but I’ll get it done eventually.”

Dun dun dunnnnn.  If any of that sounds familiar, then welcome to the world of time, where life marches on around you and through you as you keep telling yourself you’ll write some more when you have time or when inspiration hits.  The issue with waiting for inspiration, is that while it can be incredibly motivating and powerful (especially at 2 AM for me), you sort of have to wait for it all to happen.  Unfortunately, writing a book is also hard work.  A lot of it!  Lotsa hard work, folks!!  But it’s all worth it when you have that finished manuscript in front of you.

Real Book

There’s some popular sage advise to write everyday, to make it a habit, even when it’s not beautiful, awe-inspiring perfection on the first go.  So maybe keeping track of your bright and shiny novel’s word count will help you prove to yourself that you can do it!

I also find it helpful to add a column with Word Goal.  It’s pretty easy to set up if you want it.  Add a third column that looks like this:

step 2

Then, if you enact some Excel Voodoo and Magic, you can make a fancy graph with two sets of data so that you have a visual of your Word Goal vs your Word Count.  It’ll let you know if you’re on track!  This is a simple three bar version of what the above data would look like in Fancy Graph Format:

step 3


If you’ve ever done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), then you know this is a similar format.  Except people who are Writers with a capital W know that you don’t just contain writing to a single month.  NaNoWriMo is a good first step, because it teaches you how to write everyday, meet goals, and push past the parts of writing that you get stuck in!  So this is a method you can use anytime you want, and you can keep track of your progress.

But wait, there’s more!  This isn’t just a process to try to goad yourself into being productive.  It is also a format which serves like a journal.  What I love to do is look back on my progress, and it gives me an idea of my style of writing, when I’m most productive.  I can look back at the section where I got 5000 words written in one day and say, That’s when I wrote the MC’s BF’s death scene!  I also like to add a fourth column which doesn’t go in the graph.  I call this column Notes, because it lets me keep tabs on anything I want, such as what I was doing when I wrote it, a big event that day, if I wrote a cool scene that day, or if I faced any difficulties.

Good luck to all of you Writers out there!

For now, I shall leave you with this Alternate Ending:

Is It Real Guy

3 thoughts on “How to Write a Book: Tracking Word Count

  1. Pingback: AFTER NaNoWriMo 2014 (December 19): Ice is Scary | words — and other things
  2. Pingback: How To Archive Your Work (backup different versions!) | The Desultories
  3. Pingback: Finding the Time to Write: schedules, boredom, and binge-writing | The Desultories

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