Why You Should Track Your Writing

  • Dec 31, 2020
  • 4 minute read

I started 2020 with a lot of goals: I was angling to break the most words written in a year, I had two writing conferences lined up, we were going to go on a long-anticipated trip to visit my parents, I was going to do spin classes at the YMCA.

Of course, 2020 didn’t play nice. All my plans got thrown right out the window. 2020: Defenestration Station.

Now, before we get into this, you need to know one thing about me: I love spreadsheets. Love them. If it can be graphed, plotted, or turned into a beautiful line chart, I am all about that life. I’m totally going to try and convert you to #spreadsheetlife with this post. You’ve been warned.

I’ve been keeping track of my writing for a long time (since 2011). The spreadsheet has evolved over time, but it’s always included the date and how many words I wrote. My present spreadsheet is much more complex—I’m tracking words written, words edited, and words outlined; time of day; and name of project. All of this has coalesced into some really beautiful data.

For instance, I know I mostly write at night—53% of all of my writing happens at night.

But is that the best time of day for me to write? Not by a long shot! I write significantly more words per session when I write in the morning, ugh. (My night owl self weeps at this data.)

I also know that, as an aggregate, I write basically nothing in August and September. I don’t want to be writing during August and September—I want to be at the beach! And bless NaNoWriMo, that’s the largest chunk of all of my writing. (P.S., remember that this is data from 2011–2020; I did not write nearly 500,000 words in November because I do not want carpal tunnel.)

I also know which days of the week I write the most on, and surprisingly, it’s not the weekend. Rock on, Tuesday and Wednesday; you’re the workhorses of my writing life!

My point in sharing all of this data is that it’s a) beautiful and b) it’s delightful to look back at, but also that knowing your own personal habits is hugely powerful. Knowing that I never write in August lets me just take a break that month, pandemic or no. I don’t need to feel bad about it. I know I’ll make up for it in the coming months, because that’s what I’ve been doing my whole writing life.

2020 has been uniquely challenging for each of us, and I can’t pretend to be an exception—it’s been a long, hard year. I’ve burnt out more than once, learned how to live with migraines and panic attacks, and developed a great relationship with my therapist. But I’ve also written. Not nearly as consistently as I wanted to. I certainly wasn’t hitting every day like I did during the good years!

But at the end of 2020, I was shocked to compile all of my annual data and realize that it was my third best writing year ever.

I’m not sharing that to brag—it really did shock me. I’m sharing it to point out that if I hadn’t been keeping track, I never would have known.

I felt like a writing failure more than once this year. I had nightmares about my agent dropping me, cried about how I couldn’t find any writing time, and felt like I was just watching story ideas trickle through my fingers. I didn’t have the time, and more than that, I didn’t have the emotional energy. 2020 was exhausting, y’all.

But my spreadsheet was there, plodding along faithfully in the background, and I kept track more out of habit than anything. And praise the Excel Goddess, I’m so glad I did.

I went to one writing conference digitally. I didn’t break my word-count goal, or write the three books I had planned. We did lots of video chats with my parents. I miss that YMCA spin class fiercely.

But I did write . . . and I wrote a lot more than I thought.

It’s easy to see the dark sides of ourselves. It’s easy to linger there, looking at our failures. It’s easy to lose sight of who we really are and what we’ve really accomplished. If I hadn’t kept track, I would’ve absolutely written 2020 off as a failure of a writing year.

But it wasn’t. And I wasn’t. And I have the data to prove it.

Erin Olds

Erin Olds

Erin (she/her) is an experienced developmental and line editor with two secret skills: decreasing word count while retaining voice, and figuring out the one thing that needs to shift in order to make a story truly excellent. She loves working with beginner writers on craft and with experienced authors on in-depth skills like objective correlatives, theme, misbeliefs, and character arcs.