If you could improve your writing productivity by adding one quick step to your daily routine, would you do it? I’m talking about tracking your word count to chart your day-to-day progress, and there are a lot of reasons why making note of it every day can help you become a better writer, whether your goal is to write more, hit your deadlines or simply get to ‘the end.’ These tips are suited for both fiction and nonfiction writers, for plotters and pantsers.
1. Plan your progress
It’s all about averages. Tracking your word count at the end of each writing session will give you a wealth of data, such as your average words written per day and hour, allowing you to plan out your writing schedule accordingly.
If you know you typically write 1,000 words per day and you want to write a 90,000-word novel, you’ll know you need to give yourself at least three months. Knowing your average hourly rate is 500 words signals that you need to devote two hours to writing each day. Make sure you track your word count for at least two weeks to get enough data.
2. Stay on target
Has your editor given you a deadline, or do you have a date you’ve set for yourself to finish your book by? With your average word count data to guide you, you’ll know how much you need to write each day to hit your goal. NaNoWriMo is a great example of how word count tracking can help you; the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or 1,667 words per day. Keeping a log will ensure you don’t fall behind, and seeing your progress can be very motivating as well.
3. Make the most of your time
Are you actually a morning writer, or do you do your best work after sunset? Does your productivity increase in your favorite café, or should you stick to your office? If you also note the time of day and location when you write, and then look at how much you achieve, you can discover when and where you get the most done, as well as what you should avoid. Most of us have limited time to fit writing in; don’t waste it!
4. Consistency is key
Writers usually want to keep their chapters and scenes roughly the same length so their book flows well. If your chapters are usually 5-6 pages long, one that’s 25 pages can really feel like it’s dragging! If you track the word/page count for each chapter as you write, you’ll be able to quickly see which chapters need expanding on, and which could use some editing. This can really help with pacing.
5. Easy editing
Once you finish the first draft of your book, the work has only just begun. Editing is one part of the process that writers either love or hate, but no matter which side you fall on, having your chapter-by-chapter word count data will help make the job easier. Whether your objective is to cut or add a certain number of words, tracking your word count will show you your progress toward that goal. This is critical for every writer to do, because editing should be planned around specific goals and if you’re not charting your progress, you have no way of knowing if you’re meeting them.
Tips for tracking
So how can you track your word count data? As far as apps go, I recommend Wordly for iOS and Writer Tools for Android. Both let you track your word count by day and the time you spend writing—they generate graphs and charts of your daily and hourly averages. Both are free to use for one writing project at a time.
For desktop users, Scrivener is word processing software designed for writers. It lets you set daily goals, and if you establish a total word count target, it will show you a progress meter as well. The software will tell you your monthly averages, including total number of writing days and lots more. Many writers swear by Scrivener to keep them organized because all your notes, resources, outlines, and writing are stored in the same program.
Spreadsheets can also be a very useful tool since you can customize them to log whatever data you’re interested in tracking. They’re a bit more work to set up, but luckily for you, I’ve made some you can copy for your own use. The first one tracks words per day, month, and chapter, with a section for notes on where and when you wrote, or any other information you find useful. This one is best for someone who’s trying to create a daily writing habit, and allows you to set a word count goal with colour-coded formatting to show you if you met it or not. This last spreadsheet is for once you start editing your draft, and will show you how much you cut or added to each chapter.
You can also use an analog method like a bullet journal or wall calendar for very simple tracking, such as whether you wrote that day or how many words you added to your work-in-progress. Buy a package of gold star stickers and give yourself one each day you put fingers to keyboard!
It’s important to note that tracking your word count is not meant to shift your focus from the quality of your work to the quantity of words you’re producing, nor is it a good idea to compare your personal output to anyone else’s. The purpose is to help you organize and plan your schedule, as well as learn more about yourself as a writer—but if it’s stressing you out, consider adjusting your goals, or just don’t do it!
Tracking is one of many tools available to writers, and it really can make you more productive and efficient, whether that’s being more consistent, more prolific, or helping you meet specific goals. If you’re not already tracking some measure of your writing, I hope this has encouraged you to try.