Organize your writing with spreadsheets + FREE TEMPLATE!

Now updated for 2017 & 2018! Scroll to the bottom of the post to download.

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:

Now it’s time to share the basic map of how I work. And I’m using spreadsheets to organize all of it.

How?

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.

Year overview

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.

Plot structure

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.

Plot Outline

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.

4. Tracking

There are several ways I can track my output. I can use this sheet:

Project schedule2

Or this one:

Project tracking basic

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.)

Project tracking detail

5. Editing

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.

Project editing to do

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:

Writing Project Template 2017/2018

Delete, add, or change things as you see fit. 🙂

Happy writing!

17 Replies to “Organize your writing with spreadsheets + FREE TEMPLATE!”

  1. Hi Veronica,

    I guess structure will help to measure progress. Nothing wrong in that. I just find writing difficult to plan – the inspiration just kicks in at random:)

    I think it makes sense to make a framework for the writing – to keep track. I will try it out.

    “Each writer has their own unique process that forms over time”

    Let me see, a template with autogenerated amount of letters of average distribution – a function random_monkey_typewriter() in your editor that scramble these letters – press and viola, a masterpiece is born 🙂

    Like

      1. I’m sure it will come. And not just here, but AI everywhere.
        Around 40 years ago I made a number of AI from translations, physics simulations, matematical deduction, to chess playing.

        Doing an AI that can write – not a huge issue – doing an AI that can make a masterpiece worth reading – well – we will see it… – when? Don’t know – I’m not creating it.

        Like

  2. Thank you for these templates and examples of how you use them. I am a technical writer turned author so I really connect with process and “tracking” progress. I love the template for planning and structure. Since I juggle multiple projects in various stages in the writing process, I think you methods will be especially helpful. Thanks again!

    Like

    1. I’m very glad you find the template useful, Lisa! Being organized is very important and very useful for me. I found it greatly increased my productivity and reduced the meandering and endless tampering to a minimum. 🙂

      Good luck and have fun with your projects!

      Like

  3. Vero, thank you. I missed this first time round, only discovered it now. Presently I’m resting after finishing the Gift Trilogy, and sorting out short stories for publication in the new year. BUT fermenting at the back of my mind is another novel, as well as several novels already written ready to be converted into scripts. So hopefully a busy and productive new year – and those templates will either be fantastically useful – or another means of satisfying my tendency to procrastinate fiddling while Rome burns. Either way, thank you, and I hope you are all set up for a great Christmas – just four weeks away 🙂

    Like

    1. Hey Mike, glad you found this useful. I’ve gone through 3 different organizing sheets in the mean time, so I can definitely attest to their use as means to procrastinate. 😛 Seriously, though, I can’t organize things without spreadsheets, so I constantly refine them. I hope you’ll get something out of using them—and that you’ll have a rich experience delving into script writing. I’m very curious how it goes!

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  4. Hi Veronica, I just stumbled onto your site and your template looks awesome! I know I’m at the tail end of 2016 here but I can’t wait to give this a try. Thank you for sharing!

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  5. Wonderful tool, thanks for creating Veronica. I am using for Nano 2017 and other writing projects. I did notice one slight error in your 2016/2017/2018 Overview Tabs – in October the third week down below the pink monthly total cell. That one is totaling A58:E58, it should be totaling A56:E56, I believe.

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  6. Wow. Thanks for this! And as a bonus, I’ve just realized the difference between a vague, fuzzy goal and a concrete, specific goal. : )

    Like

  7. Hi Vernonica! I just stumbled across your site and tried out your writing spreadsheet. I find it great and well organized! Would you happen to have one updated for 2019? Either way, thank you. I’m going to give the current one a try.
    Charlie

    Like

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