I’ve always been inspired by the idea of NaNoWriMo. In fact, A Thousand Roads started as a NaNoWriMo project back in November 2012.
That said, I didn’t “win” NaNoWriMo. In fact, I’ve been aptly labeled a NaNoRebel. By December 1st, 2012, A Thousand Roads was at about 28,000 words. But by that date, the habit of writing every single day to get a book done had kicked in.
After December 1st, I wrote every single day until August 2013 when I finally finished the 138,000 word first draft of that book.
Some days I only wrote 50 words. I was in the middle of a very busy math degree, and worked also as a tutor, so my days were all over the place. But I kept up the daily writing habit because I really liked how the NaNoWriMo method gave me a deeper connection to my novel by working on it every single day.
The most important thing about this is writing every single day is sustainable when the goal is simply write every single day. What is not sustainable is when you put a word count on it. That’s doable, but if life comes up on a certain day and you can’t hit your word count, you feel like you failed that day.
I picked up this “write every single day” habit again in early 2017, shortly after picking up A Thousand Roads again in a second draft. One thing that gave me an extra kick was when fellow writer Elan Samuel invited me to join a variation of the Magic Spreadsheet.
The Magic Spreadsheet is a motivational tool for writers. Every day you write, you must meet a minimum quota. The starting quota is 250 words. The spreadsheet tracks your streak (number of days in a row meeting your quota) and consistency (more general measure of how many days you meet your quota over time).
You get points based on how many words you write, your streak, and your consistency. You start at level 1 and as you get more points, you level up. Every time you level up, your quota goes up. For example, if you make it to level 26, you have to write 2000+ words every day.
Now, this got a bit addictive for me and I found myself going nuts to keep up. It made for good competition too because logging into this spreadsheet and seeing other writers nailing their word counts gave me the extra push to say, “Forget Netflix tonight, I’m going to write and write and write.”
But I’m a big picture kind of guy. By the end of summer 2017, “write XX words every single day” started to burn me out a little. I needed to see a bigger picture beyond just day to day. What end am I aiming for here in doing this? On a monthly level? On a yearly level? On a career level?
Most importantly, I needed grace if I’ve had a tougher writing day. Looking back to my time on the first draft of A Thousand Roads, particularly those days I wrote 50 words or less—where I simply opened my manuscript and connected to the story just a little bit, and kept things moving forward—those days were just as valuable as awesome days where I’d avalanche 7,000+ words and stay up all night with coffee.
So I created my own spreadsheet, and that is what I’m going to tell you more about today, in the hope that you’ll reach out and join us.
The Awesome Daily Writer Spreadsheet: writing group accountability without the guilt
I wanted to reward writers for being awesome and writing every day, no matter what they write, and give them a feeling of reward in proportion. Instead of just thinking about whether today was a success or fail, I want writers to feel like every day’s input is a reward unto itself. I wanted to create a monthly and a yearly perspective beyond just a daily perspective.
This has led to the Awesome Daily Writer Spreadsheet, which currently has 5 faithful members. (And I hope to increase that as a result of this post.)
For all of us, it’s like an ongoing NaNoWriMo, except here we can set and adjust our pace. Our goal is simply to write every day, and the beautiful thing about the spreadsheet is we can see at a glance all the months of progress and how we’re doing.
It’s quite simple in how it works:
- You can enter how many words you wrote today
- (And/or) you can enter how many 20-minute writing sprints you completed today
- In addition, you can enter a short note to describe important milestones for the day (i.e. CH 26 done) so that when you look back on your days you can appreciate how your various writing projects have come together
The spreadsheet does the rest:
You’re rewarded 200 words for every 20 minute sprint you complete (600 words/hour, which I set based on the typical writing speed range, 500-750 words/hour).
If you’re keeping track of the actual words you write though, and you’re writing faster, then the spreadsheet will award you whatever is greatest. For example, if you write for 3 hours (9 20-minute sprints), and you get 3,600 words done, you would be rewarded 9 x 200 = 1,800 words if you hadn’t tracked word count. But since you got 3,600 words done, you’ll get rewarded points based on those instead.
The idea behind this is the day in the life of a writer can vary over time. As much as NaNoWriMo is great for helping you kick off a new first draft, the reality of being a career writer is you have to be able to get through second drafts, and third, and fourth, and fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, etc.
So for a daily writing motivation spreadsheet, I wanted to create the basic community idea of NaNoWriMo, but extend it to all kinds of writers, since if you feel like you always have to write new drafts in order to keep up, it means putting off necessary revisions that will get you ahead in your career, and/or overburdening your days by feeling you have to write new as well as revise old, to the point of burnout.
So, if you’re on the 10th draft and lots of your time is spent reading / analyzing / problem solving, it’s unfair to reward yourself only for new words written. Time spent on your writing craft is what matters.
The most important thing about the Awesome Daily Writers Spreadsheet is your daily streak doesn’t depend on hitting a minimum. The point of the spreadsheet is to encourage all writers to write every day. I don’t know about you, but for me on Saturday and Sunday I have lots of other things going on like visiting friends and extra yard work, so it’s easy to just kick back and say I’m not going to write. It’s also not a good time to freak out about having to hit my writing quota. For me, personally, knowing I just have to open my manuscript and put in a 20-minute sprint makes it easy. I can do that before bed if I have to.
How the reward system works
Despite all I’ve just said, the spreadsheet is pointless if there isn’t some push to it. After all, NaNoWriMo’s 1,666 words/day gives you a sense of push—and knowing thousands of other writers are doing it makes it competitive to push you even more.
For the Awesome Daily Writers Spreadsheet, I decided I would make the point system like D&D.
Whereas the Magic Spreadsheet uses general points and levels, the Awesome Daily Writers Spreadsheet awards experience points, based on your words for the day.
These experience points grow a bit more as your streak increases. For example, if you’ve been writing for 17 days in a row, and on day 18 you write 250 words, you’ll get about 320 points for that day. Whereas on day 2 you would get 258 points.
These experience points also grow based on two other important all-time bests:
- Your biggest word count of all time
- Your biggest streak of all time
On the left column where you see your main stats, the spreadsheet will show you your all-time biggest word count. Mine is 11,622, for example. It will also show you your all-time biggest streak. Mine is 112 (the reigning champion on our sheet though has 294, unbroken since he joined the spreadsheet!).
Your experience points then are inflated a bit based on these two numbers. For example, if I’m on day 34 of a streak and I write 300 words, I’d get about 430 points. But with my maximum word count and my maximum streak, I’ll get 480 points instead.
Now, I said D&D, so that means where there’s experience points, there’s levels. In fact, I used an RPG level calculator to calculate your level based on your experience points over time. The idea here is like in any RPG: level 99 is as high as you can go. For the sake of this sheet, you would need to write about 100,000,000 words to get to level 99. If you can get more than that in, over your lifetime, then you deserve to be the first RPG-er to get to level 100 and beyond.
Every month, I maintain this spreadsheet. This is why I’ve kept it invite-only. (So please, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to join.) It takes a bit of upkeep to get everyone set up for the next month. But I also try to improve it every month so that the game keeps getting more interesting.
June’s spreadsheet, for example, will introduce two new features:
- A “NaNo push”
- Level handicap
For the NaNop push, I asked our writers what their annual goal is for 2018. One of our writers wants to write 1,200,000 words. My goal is 800 hours. Based on these, I’ll be adding, on the far right “extra stats” column, a number that tells you how many words you’d need to write every day in November and December to hit that annual goal. It lets you see realistically how you’re doing. Most importantly, if you’re having a rough week or have missed some days, you can see in the bigger picture—how you’re doing for the whole year. When NaNoWriMo hits on November 1st, you can push yourself based on that number to hit your annual goal.
For the level handicap, I want to add some challenge to this sheet. Unlike the quota imposed by the Magic Spreadsheet, I want your increased level to make your bonus experience points decrease. So, you’ll still get your streak and your reward for being awesome and showing up to write every day. But as your level goes up, you need to write more (either more time, or more word count) if you want to keep gaining experience points. This is much like how in a field battle in an RPG, the monsters get harder in proportion to the greater experience points you get for beating them.
And in any RPG, there’s always magic. I’m conscious of that and am contemplating (probably for a July or later update) including this with certain levels. What kind of magic would a writer need to do? Well, keeping your streak for one, if you take a day off. We’ll see where that leads, but suffice it to say, this motivational spreadsheet will keep getting more interesting as I keep innovating it, and as we all use it to push ourselves together to write every day.
Do you want to join the Awesome Daily Writers Spreadsheet?
I’m all about one-on-one relationships, especially with regard to the writers I connect with. That’s why I haven’t made this spreadsheet public, and why I’m not just putting a link up here so anyone can join. I want to make sure the writers who join this are going to get the most out of the sheet. I want to get to know you a bit too. So please email me at email@example.com and tell me more about your interest in this spreadsheet.
Over time, I’d like to see a small, sustainable community of writers come together, all motivated to work together and be awesome daily writers, the kind of NaWriMo you can win at day after day.
Do you want to get in on the Awesome Daily Writers Spreadsheet? Let me know by email — firstname.lastname@example.org — and I’ll help get you set up to join.
You can also join us on Twitter at #AwesomeDailyWriters.
Are you wanting to improve your daily habits and take charge of your creative time?
In addition to running the Awesome Daily Writers Spreadsheet, I’ve expanded my daily wellness tools to now include journals. You can read more about this opportunity in this recent feature on M.S. Wordsmith’s blog: