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“This search for what you want is like tracking something that doesn’t want to be tracked. It takes time to get a dance right, to create something memorable.” – Fred Astaire
On Wednesday, I offered some advice on how to prepare your environment for NaNoWriMo. Today, I’m going to talk about another thing you need to make some decisions on, preferably before NaNoWriMo actually starts: how to keep track of your words. During the month of November, we’re always chasing that 50,000 word goal. It’s done day by day, word by word. The question you have to answer is: how do you want to measure your progress?
The reason I’m writing this now is because you want a method that’s going to be comfortable for you and that may take a few days of thinking and searching around. You want something that you’re going use, because the greatest spreadsheet or app does you no good if you don’t enter the information.
The easiest way is to use the tracker on the NaNoWriMo website. Starting November 1, you can enter your current word count in the box at the top right of the site next to your user name. Click submit and it will automatically log the words and take you to your progress page to show how you’re doing. That page shows count to date, words written that day, what your average daily word count is, how many words you need to write per day to make 50,000 by November 30, and when you’re estimated to finished based on your current average word count. You can see the layout in the screenshot, though most numbers are missing because we haven’t hit November 1 yet. Used to be, if you missed getting your word count in on a day (or two or three), you couldn’t catch up, but would have odd looking level spots on the progress graph. Now, if you’re writing on the go and don’t get a chance to record a day’s words until the next morning, you can edit the data so you’ll get a true picture of your progress.
No matter what other method you use, be certain to update your word count on the NaNoWriMo site regularly. If nothing else, you’ll have to run your manuscript through the validator before midnight on November 30 in order to claim your winner goodies, but keeping the page updated is an easy way to track your progress. Plus, once validation starts, you can validate your manuscript file to date and get an idea what the variance between your program and the NaNo word tracker. That way, you won’t encounter any ugly surprises as the clock ticks down about being just that little bit short.
Aside from the official tracker Excel and other spreadsheet programs are an excellent resource to track your numbers, with the advantage that you can get as fancy or as simple as you like. You can even sync your data across various platforms, depending on your need. From the NaNoWriMo Forums, I suggest checking out Outlaw’s Excel Progress Trackers. He has one to track your writing sessions and one to track your words on a daily basis. They are simple, easy to use, and many folks find them helpful. If those don’t appeal to you, turn to Google and search “NaNoWriMo Word Tracker.” An amazing variety of options will come up and you’ll just need to decide which one you want to use. What’s more, folks are creating and sharing these trackers with their fellow writers free of charge, so you’re not being asked to sink money into the enterprise.
As I was writing this article, I checked my hard drive and discovered at least a dozen versions of trackers that I’ve acquired over the years. Lots of information there, including how long sessions were, what was the scene being written, where I was writing, what my mood was while writing, etc. You know what I consistently filled in? Yup. It was my word count. I strongly urge you to think about what you want to track and to what level you want to track it. I grabbed those sheets because I’d love to have all that data. It would be cool to know how long it really took me to write those 50,000 words. But also consider how much time it’s going to take to enter those various data points. I frequently end up missing days or not capturing half the data the spreadsheet calls for. Which makes me feel guilty. Which adds stress. We don’t want to add stress at this time of the year.
My suggestion is to keep it as simple as possible. This year, I’m using the tracker on the NaNoWriMo site and setting up a page in my Bullet Journal so I have what word count I’m supposed to hit on a given day, my actual progress and if I’m doing better or worse than I should be. Boho Berry has a cute downloadable tracker you can put in your journal, and Tiny Ray of Sunshine has a slightly different layout. I especially like her boxes for every two hundred words, which is helpful if you’re aiming for a higher word count than 50,000 or to keep you going to a full first draft after November 30. I can pretty much guarantee that mine won’t look so pretty , but I’ll post pictures once it’s done.
That’s it for today. Join me on Monday for more talk about NaNo Prep. If you find these useful, check out my book, Surviving 30 Days of Literary Madness. I’ve posted the introduction and the essay for November 10 as the Amazon preview is…less than robust.