Another week has passed, and I have to talk about this simple yet amazing tool that’s been out among the writersphere (if that’s not a word, it is now!) that has been helping me with my three words for 2013. This is the Magic Spreadsheet, and it works. I found out about the Magic Spreadsheet through P.C. Haring and the posts from Mur Lafferty and “I Should Be Writing,” and I’m SO glad that I started using it for my writing project.
Seriously. It works, because whether or not the creators realize it, it meets all the criteria for being an effective means of accountability for short-term and long-term writing goals. It’s genius, and it’s simple, and if you’re not using it as part of your writing endeavors, you might want to consider it.
First of all, it’s a spreadsheet. Created in GoogleDocs and programmed and maintained by Tony Pisculli, it is a spreadsheet with an array of formulas and conditions that turn writing into a day by day, week by week numbers game. Some numbers, like the minimum word count for the day, are set by the spreadsheet. Other numbers, such as the total number of words for your project, require that you set them at the onset the project. Second, it requires a daily entry of your word count for the day. If you’re like me and use Scrivener, then you know that you can track your day’s word count with less than three mouseclicks. You take that final daily count and enter it into the spreadsheet cell that corresponds to your name and the day’s date. Once you key in your word count, the magic happens.
The magic is the third part, and like much magic when it comes to science and the natural world, it’s really just a gorgeous rippling veil of mathematics and logic displayed via a few boxes and a whirlwind of code. Once you put in your day’s word count, the spreadsheet gives you a chain number and a consistency number, as well as points. Chain and consistency speak to the number of consecutive days that you’ve met the minimum word count, and points take consistency as well as word count into consideration. You accumulate points by writing consistently and meeting the minimum daily word count.
Note: the minimum daily wordcount is 250. As I begin this sentence, I’ve written 385 words in this blog post. 250 words is not insurmountable, and it’s better than writing nothing. When it comes to starting and maintaining any habit of improvement, the key is consistency, not quantity. The Magic Spreadsheet manages this beautifully.
Finally, the Magic Spreadsheet is both public and portable (in that it is accessible from any device able to access Google Docs). Everyone using the Magic Spreadsheet accesses the same document, and you can see other consistency numbers and chains for consecutive writing days. Much like how your friends can see your word counts during NaNoWriMo, others using the spreadsheet can see your word counts and consistency numbers. If you have writerly friends and acquaintances using the Magic Spreadsheet, then it’s a case of shared accountability to remind others to enter in their daily number and keep the streak going. As if writing could be more fun, this tool turns it into a game.
Here’s why the tool works, from the nerdy academic side of things. It requires a daily entry and reminder of the long-term goal (finishing that novel, manuscript, or other writing project) while holding you accountable for a short-term goal of a daily word count. It tracks your consistency and reinforces your daily work by upping your consistency number. It is simple; you enter one number each day in the proper place. It is portable, which makes you more likely to use it when you can access it from almost anywhere. It is public and has a measure of accountability that shows you your progress as you move from day to day and month to month.
Of course, there will be naysayers. Folks who claim that anyone can cheat, that people could put the words down that they don’t have, that they don’t need a daily reminder of the words that they do, etc. The Magic Spreadsheet may not be for everyone; at the same time, the reasons that it works are the same reasons why people continue to document their goals and progress on a variety of projects. Consider a different (yet very similar) long-term goal of weight loss and healthy eating. One of the proven methods to sticking to a diet is to track food and write everything down; here, accountability comes into play again. There are many tools out there (I use LoseIt!) that ask for a starting weight, an end weight, and some information about how much weight you want to lose on a weekly basis. After that, it is on you to record the day’s meals and be honest with portions and food choices. If you’re not being honest about what you’re recording, then you’re not cheating anyone but yourself. When you’re honest with yourself, that’s when you’re able to make progress, and you can meet those long-term goals.
If you’re struggling with consistency in your writing habits, try the Magic Spreadsheet or something similar. Work to make your creative ventures a daily habit, and make that venture public so that you have some measure of accountability. A little each day is better than nothing; 250 words every day for four days is 1000 words, and that’s 1000 words more than if you hadn’t done anything.
The Magic Spreadsheet is allowing me to become a more consistent storyteller, and putting one’s word count in the open means being brave. Most importantly, this tool encourages me to finish my projects, which is something I struggle to do. Any tool that helps me align my daily habits with my three word mantra (Finish, brave storyteller!) is an awesome tool in my book, and one that I wholeheartedly recommend.
All Hail the magnificent Magic Spreadsheet!