I love spreadsheets. They’re the best and easiest way for me to keep my writing projects organized, keep track of my process and progress, and even edit the manuscript!
I’ve talked plenty about my novel outlining process on this blog, and how it’s changing over time:
- How to Brainstorm Your Story Idea Into a Working Concept
- Concept, Structure, and Transformation – How to plan a novel
- Confessions of a Converted Structuralist
- The 3 Types of Character Arc – Change, Growth, and Fall
- Plot Your Novel in 7 Steps
- The YES-BUT Method of Deepening the Plot
- and many more.
Now it’s time to share the basic map of how I work. And I’m using spreadsheets to organize all of it.
1. Year Overview
I like to have a calendar for the whole year where I can see my overall productivity at a glance.
It’s very visual and helps me plan ahead, see where I have gaps, see if I’m getting slower or faster — all on a very big scale. I usually customize it even more than this (color coding days depending on wordcount, or whether I’m mainly drafting or mainly editing, for example), but you can fine-tune it as you please.
2. Project Planning – Plot structure and basic outline
I don’t use a “formula” for plotting, but I do use what I’ve learned about story structure (see the posts linked to above) in order to build a plot skeleton. It’s like a checklist with the most basic points I have to hit in order for the story to feel complete and have a satisfying plot arc. I’m refining this as I go, of course, and with each novel I write, I get better at actually translating it into story form.
I’ve included this basic skeleton into the spreadsheet. Not all of these points must be there for a story to work, and they’re also not everything a story needs in order to be satisfying to the readers. This sheet is just a map I use to keep my brainstorming in check in the planning phase.
Once I’m done brainstorming (which usually happens all over the place, on paper, in my email, in Evernote, on my phone, etc.), I create a basic plot outline. I usually write it on a chapter by chapter level, writing one or two lines for each chapter. I note down the coolest thing that happens in that chapter, the basic action, or the central decision that needs to me made. All the rest is “pantsing” when I reach that point.
Even though this basic outline changes as I draft, I keep it updated and keep the overall plot in mind by using this sheet.
It also helps me to mark down the wordcount of each chapter, so I can easily spot where one is too long or too short, and disrupts the reading experience. This also hints at places where I’ve gotten overly wordy, or where I need to add an extra scene.
3. Writing Schedule
During the drafting phase in particular, I prefer writing to a schedule, and that means knowing beforehand how many months I want to devote to a project. I calculate the average daily wordcount needed to finish the project in time, taking into account that I don’t write on weekends, and considering holidays.
There are several ways I can track my output. I can use this sheet:
Or this one:
Or go as detailed as this one:
(This is the sheet I used for The Prime Rift, because I needed to find out how fast I am on a normal day, and which time of day is the most productive for me.) (The values here are examples.)
I edit while I go, so I can’t really separate the editing stage from the drafting one. But I only edit for plot while I draft; I don’t go in with a fine-toothed comb to fix style or grammar issues. And I also don’t fix any character arc issues, as those are much easier to spot once the story is complete. So I use a list of things to do during the post-drafting editing phase.
If you edit only after you finish a complete first draft, this will be even more useful to you. Just write in anything that comes to mind while you’re drafting, things you need to look out for in the editing stages. Things you feel uncertain about. Or just things you must add after you get a full picture of your finished story.
Depending on your needs, you might only use one or two of these sheets, or even add a couple more. Each writer has their own unique process that forms over time, and as long as it works for you, it’s a great process.
So, if you like the way I organized things,
You can download my template here:
Delete, add, or change things as you see fit. 🙂