Monday, February 5, 2018

Accountability - An Indispensable Tool

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

There are those who say writers must write X number of words every single day, including Christmas and their birthday. There are others who say that to rigidly schedule your writing is to kill creativity, and writers should write only when their Muse whispers in their ear. We all know several of each kind.

I kind of agree that doing exactly X number of words every day can easily start producing lifeless and mechanical prose, but waiting until your Muse cooperates can be a lengthy and unpredictable experience. Neither one is a real asset to a professional writer.

My solution is far from perfect - is there really a perfect one? - but it works for me. When I start a new book I have a rough idea (within 5K) of how long it is going to be - though that can and sometimes does change. I always have a deadline, even when I'm self-publishing. Then it's a matter of simple math to figure out how many words I want to write each day... or each week. Even though I record my totals daily I find weekly goals are more flexible, because life does happen. An emergency trip to the vet because the dog ate something unwise. Plumbing disasters. A 24 hour bug slaps you down. Family obligations. Sometimes it does seem the world conspires to keep us from writing, doesn't it?

Years ago I made an Excel spreadsheet with all the data on the book on top (title, start and end dates, genre, target length, etc.) , then below columns for Day (of the project), Date, Word Count Finish, Total Words Done, Daily Projected, Daily +/-, Projected Goal, Projected Goal +/-. In a different spot I also have a chart for chapter number and start and end pages. I made a blank master file and whenever I start a new book I copy it into the new file for the new book (you do keep a new file for each new book, don't you?) and fill out the pertinent information - dates, targets, etc. It takes me less than an hour and it's pretty much set for the duration of the book.

It sounds cumbersome, and I'm sure to many it might be, but it keeps me on track. Every day line is filled out, even if I have to do several together after an extended hiatus. This isn't an exercise to shame myself or make me feel bad about myself - there are some things that can't be helped, after all - but it is to keep me accountable. Am I writing? Am I staying near my goal? If not, why? Sometimes I put notes in the blank area to the right - Meemaw hospital, for example, or Grandpa here. Once in a great while I have to put something like Goofed off, or Family picnic. Remember, this is not a feel-good thing so I can see I'm 6K ahead of my projected goal, either. This is an exercise in accountability.

So whether I'm ahead of my goal or behind it, this is a record. Not a brag, not a punishment. Am I writing? Am I meeting my daily/weekly goal? No one ever sees this sheet but me (and the cat who loves to sit on my shoulder while I work, but she won't tell anyone) and it is I for whom I do it. It makes me accountable about my writing.

And we all know that if we're going to be a writer we must write, don't we?


  1. Good thoughts here. I also have a word count in mind when I start writing, and I tend to work by the week, and not by the day.

  2. Good plan - a combination of discipline and adaptability. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Sounds like great advice! I'm hoping to set aside writing time this year....regular writing time. We'll see...
    Thanks for sharing
    Good luck and God's blessings

  4. I'm probably the most disorganized writer, writing by the seat of my pants. Somehow I complete books, but I like your suggestions and I'm going to set-up an spreadsheet for my next story. Thanks for the suggestions.

  5. I'm so impressed. Your chart sounds like it would be a pain to set up--especially for those somewhat challenged when it comes to such things, but such a great way to be productive. I've been mostly loosie-goosie and getting worse by the minute until this past November when I did the writing challenge and pledged to do 20,000 words. I almost succeeded and since then I've been so much more on track. I think my next step is to try and do my version of your spreadsheet and stick to it. Inspiring!

    1. Really, Deborah, it's not that difficult to set up. Just label the columns - and one thing I learned - in Excel sometimes for no reason I can discern if you put in a number the program will put in some weird code or perform some calculation. (I am a total techno-naif!) BUT - if that happens, just delete it, then with the box you want highlighted hit the apostrophe, then put in the numbers you want. Apparently the apostrophe tells the program to put in exactly what you type. This has saved me a world of hurt.