Posted On August 15, 2014 by Print This Post

Organize Your Writing Project(s) via a Spreadsheet by Stacy McKitrick

When I first met Stacy McKitrick, we were both unpublished writers and members of the Ohio Valley chapter of RWA. Stacy has left me in the dust, with her second book scheduled for release on September 1st, and I couldn’t be more excited for her. This is Stacy’s debut post for RU.

 

Are you a writer who likes to be organized?

Do you have so many characters that you forget their names, what they did, who they’re related to?

Do you struggle with writing your synopsis?

If your answers to those questions are YES, then maybe I have the perfect solution for you: a spreadsheet.

I can hear you now. You’re not an accountant, what do you need with a spreadsheet? Well, you don’t have to be an accountant to use a spreadsheet effectively. You just have to love organization (and even if you don’t, you might find this useful).

Awhile back (I’m talking years, here) on Janet Reid’s blog, she featured a guest poster who kept track of his writing using a spreadsheet. I became intrigued and decided to create my own. Maybe what I have here won’t work for you (just like what that guy had didn’t really work for me), but maybe it’ll give you an idea, especially if you’ve been looking for a way to keep track of your stories. Or to even keep track of your writing.

All my writing-related spreadsheets are located in one Excel file because I found that to be the easiest for me (I hate opening numerous files, especially if I don’t have to). I have one tab for my characters and a tab for each book. I also have a tab to keep track of my writing achievements (because I’m anal that way).

Here is a partial example of my Character Tab:

 

Name Character in Book Mentioned in book Role in book Species Age (in book) Eyes Hair Height Other
John Pennington Forever 32;Bite Me, I’m Yours;Ghostly Liaison;Blind Temptation Bartender, Sarah’s love interest Vampire
Sarah Daugherty Bite Me;Blind Temp Accountant, Johns’ love interest Human
Perry Davenport Bite Me;Blind Temp John’s friend, Does odd jobs for Committee Vampire
Barnet Groves My Sunny Vampire;Bite Me;Blind Temp Head of Committee Vampire

 

I list all my characters from all my books on this tab. I don’t care if they’re in the same series or not, because I’m liable to insert characters from one series into another on a whim and I need to remember where I did that. You can make the table into anything you want. I have a section about my vampires as to when they were turned and the age they were turned. Maybe you’re writing about wolf shifters. You could add a column for wolf color. If they died in a particular book, you might want to have a column for that, too (because wouldn’t it be embarrassing if you put a character into a future book and they had died? I would probably do something like that!). Put whatever you want and whatever will help you later on.

I suppose some people call this a character bible. Maybe it is. I just find it helps me tremendously (plus I LOVE spreadsheets!), especially when I’m writing my series.

Here is a partial example of a Book Tab (this is from my soon to be published novel, Ghostly Liaison, due out in 2015):

 

Chapter POV Page Day Date Time Scene Charlie Bridget Rob Barnaby
P C 1 Oct Charlie dies x x x
1 B 4 Mon 5/18 7:30am Bridget rides her bike to work x
R Rob talks to neighbor about house x x
B Bridget meets Rob x x x

 

POV = point of view where I list which character has that job in the scene.

For Page number, I used to list the page for each scene, but when revising, that became tedious to update, so I just put the page the chapter begins with. Besides helping to hunt down a specific scene and where it’s located, it also tells me if I’ve made my chapter too long (I try to stick to ten or fewer pages/chapter).

I include Day, Date, and Time columns because it helps me determine if events are feasible in that amount of time. I don’t necessarily use these dates in the book. I might use the day (if it’s needed), but it sure helps me in writing the scene if I know what day of the week it is (or time of year). Also, when I’m writing a later scene, I can go back and see when a previous event happened so I can have the character say “two days ago” or “Monday” and be correct.

The Scene* column is the column I find helpful when it comes time to write that dreaded synopsis. Be as detailed as you need (or as much as it takes to jog your memory). I can see in this table what happens and in the order it happens and I don’t necessarily have to scroll through my whole book to find this information. I’ve summarized it all right here. Basically, it IS my synopsis. Also, if I can’t summarize the scene to show what is happening, then maybe I don’t really need that scene. It’s a great tool (for me, anyway).

*Oh, and if you think I’ve given away part of my book, well, Charlie IS the ghost in Ghostly Liaison, and it’s already stated in the blurb, so it’s not a huge surprise that she dies, you know?

After the Scene column, I create a column for each character and put a check under their name if they are included in that scene. If your character list gets rather long (or, in this case, wide), you might want to consider cutting back on some characters. I know I don’t like to keep track of so many (whether reading or writing).

It’s important you update the Book tab regularly. I usually update it after I’ve written the chapter. You might find it easier to do it at the beginning of your writing day—that way you’re getting back into your story before you start writing that day. Again, whatever works for YOU.

If you add a scene, you can easily update this chart by just inserting a new line where the scene goes. If you move a scene, that line can be moved (either by cutting and inserting the new line OR copying and inserting the new line and then going back and deleting the old line—which is what I do in case I screw up; I don’t want to lose my data!).

As I mentioned earlier, I also use this spreadsheet to keep track of my writing. This is where my accounting skills come in handy (although I no longer work in that field). If you don’t like formulas or couldn’t care less how much you write a day, you don’t need this information to keep track of your story. I just think it’s fun.

But if you’re working on NaNoWriMo or some other writing challenge, this is a nice way of seeing if you’re on schedule.

Below is a screen shot of my Writing Log. You can see I’ve been doing this for awhile since this picture shows I’m currently on line 1269 (I started this spreadsheet in January 2011).

WritingLogSpreadsheet

 

 

The columns to the left of Notes are for my current WIP (the first draft). You can see I don’t work on it everyday when I’m editing/revising a project. I’m trying, though.

The Date, Beg, End, and Words Written columns contain formulas. Whenever I’m working on a project, I overwrite the End formula with the actual word count. I write a Blog, so I keep track of my writing here, too. I created weekly, monthly and yearly totals to see how I’m doing. As you can see, some months are better than others.

The columns to the right of Notes are for any project I’m editing or revising. I needed help remembering where I left off on the previous day, and found this information helped tremendously. And if I happen to be cutting words (like I did in April), I include that too.

If you aren’t experienced with spreadsheets, this might be too much for you. I have to update this each week by copying, pasting, and inserting, and every time I go into a new month I have to change the total formulas. But if spreadsheets don’t scare you (or you love them, like I do), this could be more fun than work.

***

So… Do spreadsheets still sound scary to you? Does this seem like something you’d be interested in? Or does your writing software do all this for you? I use Word 2003 (and yes, Excel 2003), so I’m pretty basic (which is the way I prefer). If it ain’t broke, I’m not fixing it! But I do dread the day I’m forced to upgrade. 

Join us next week for a full roster of talented guests!

***

Bio:

Stacy

Stacy McKitrick fell in love with paranormal romance, decided to write her own, and found her passion in life. She used to work in accounting, now she spends her time with vampires, ghosts, and aliens. Born in California, she currently resides in Ohio with her husband. They have two grown children. You can find her at website www.stacymckitrick.com or her blog www.stacysrantings.blogspot.com.

 

 

 

 

BiteMe,postcard,RGB,forDigitalOnly

Can a vampire find the perfect mate and not know it?

In My Sunny Vampire, Jack VanAllen helps Sunny Petersen become accustomed to being a vampire while searching for the vampire who turned her illegally. Is it just a coincidence she resembles his long-dead wife?

In Bite Me, I’m Yours, John Pennington dates the unique and highly irresistible Sarah Daugherty while keeping her away from any other vampire who might find her just as desirable. Could there be some truth to a story most vampires consider a myth?

These stories are about love. With a little bit of blood and mayhem thrown into the mix. They are vampires, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Discussion

29 Responses to “Organize Your Writing Project(s) via a Spreadsheet by Stacy McKitrick”

  1. Thanks for asking me to post, Becke. And I’m sorry for kicking up the dust. Never been considered fast before!

    Posted by Stacy McKitrick | August 15, 2014, 6:42 am
  2. Stacy, you are so much more organized than I am.

    Posted by Sandra Cox | August 15, 2014, 6:56 am
  3. This is a GREAT IDEA. Having been a Systems Analyst in my working days, retired 4 1/2 years now, I used to design spreadsheets from Word document reports; so design one for my writing had been a snap. The readers of this only need to use a design which they feel would help them keep track of everything in their book.

    And for those of you who have no knowledge of spreadsheets, etc; have no fear you still can keep track of your characters in WORD.

    Just type each of your character’s name in BOLD BLOCK CAPITAL LETTERS, then right below right your notes in Upper/Lowercase letters not BOLD and in a smaller size font.

    So instead of everything summarized by categories on a spreadsheet you now have the data in a narrative form.

    Robin Leigh Morgan
    YA Paranormal Romance Author
    “I Kissed a Ghost”

    Posted by Robin Leigh Morgan | August 15, 2014, 8:17 am
  4. Morning Stacy…

    This sounds like something I SHOULD do, but being a Master Procrastinator I’m pretty sure I’d get myself in trouble right away…lol.

    Small steps – maybe if I just start with the basics, it might become a habit.

    Thanks so much for posting with us today – and congrats on your books!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | August 15, 2014, 8:48 am
  5. I KNEW you were organized like that.
    I would LIKE to be. I try…but then I get lost in the spreadsheets and forget to actually write!

    Posted by Teri Anne Stanley | August 15, 2014, 9:17 am
  6. Hey Stacy and all,
    Great post.

    I think spread sheets are the devil incarnate. Seriously, I hate Excel – it’s one of my character flaws.

    However, seeing how you use them to organize your writing days makes me wonder if they might help me after all. Very cool that you shared your screen shots for us. I might try to use this awesome idea.

    Congrats on the books!!

    Posted by Paula Millhouse | August 15, 2014, 10:09 am
  7. Congrats on the book!I’ll stick to using Sriv for all my tracking and notes. I build tables in a file there and do about this same concept.

    Posted by winter bayne | August 15, 2014, 10:22 am
  8. Stacy – Sorry I’m late, I’ve been spreading the word about your post across my social media sites.

    I hope the spreadsheet image is legible – I tried making it larger but then it was too wide. Thank you for your brilliant formatting skills – usually I have to ask Carrie for help setting up tables, but yours came through perfectly!

    I’m so impressed with your organizational skills. When I worked in an office I was super-organized but I don’t always manage to be organized at home or when I write. Since I’m a pantser I’m both awed and freaked out by the thought of spreadsheets. Your post makes it seem (reasonably) easy to do, so I’ll give it a shot.

    Thank you so much for joining us at RU!

    (And congrats on your books, too!)

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 15, 2014, 10:27 am
    • Thanks, Becke! Yeah, at work (when I used to go to one), they always called me the organized freak! I had procedures written for everything, too!

      The spreadsheet looked fine when I clicked on it. Some people have asked me for a blank workbook. I need to get one created first (see, I’m not so organized!), so if anyone else is interested, they can e-mail me (semckitrick at aol dot com) and I’ll send it as soon as I can. :)

      Posted by Stacy McKitrick | August 15, 2014, 10:38 am
  9. What a great idea! I need to get more organized so that I can look at my data. Thanks for this!

    Posted by Terri L. Austin | August 15, 2014, 10:33 am
  10. HI Stacy,

    I use an Excel spreadsheet for my characters, their ages, birthdays, traits, and nicknames. It really helps. I have the Scrivener, but I haven’t had the time to figure out the bells and whistles. For now, a spreadsheet serves as a quick and easy reference.

    Thanks for blogging with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | August 15, 2014, 3:52 pm
  11. For those to whom a spreadsheet is another world (or who don’t use excel) a variant that allows the same technique is to build tables in the word processor program such as MS Word or an organizational program such as Evernote.

    I started out using an excel spreadsheet for the character lists, then switched to MS Word so that I could have the tables for the secondary characters and more in-depth pages for the main characters.

    Whatever you use, do what works for you for any given project. When I first started I put in the chapters and page numbers for each occurrence of each character. Result a few hundred pages later–too much wasted time that wasn[‘t used again. Dropped those columns and added one for a volume since the novel warped into a series.

    Happy Organizing.

    Posted by Helen Henderson | September 8, 2014, 3:50 pm

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