Excel … lerate Your Writing

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…


Uh-oh, bet this won’t be sweet.

“Yes, dear?”

“It’s minus one and Kahlua won’t come in!”

Doesn’t she have a fur coat? Sigh…

Killer Kahlua

Minus one Fahrenheit, forty mile per hour winds, now I know why they call it God’s country, He’s the only one who could survive this! Oh well, I still love Colorado even through the blizzards, and an occasional snow day off from work definitely supports my writing. Now, having to get the dog in? Well, the jury is out on that one.

We are hot in the middle of the Holiday season, and the New Year is just around the corner. Why not make a resolution that you will thank yourself for until you die. I mean an actual resolution, not the usual weight loss, quit smoking, eat better type, but a resolution to get your writing off the ground and complete a project within 2010.

I realize it may sound like wishful thinking, but if you have created your task list using Excel from last time and placed all your Appointments to Write within it, then you have a real shot at finally completing that project you have thought about for years. Make it a resolution you plan to keep, and I’ll help you achieve your dreams.

No, I don’t mean your dream of winning American Idol, but your dream of being a novelist. After all, why should an honest housewife be the only one to get a movie contract about Vampires? Your ideas are just as good, but they won’t help you living inside your head. Let’s get them out and allow them to breath and be experienced by others. Are you with me? Good, let’s proceed.

Okay, you have your Excel spreadsheet open, and you are waiting to complete your first Appointment to Write. Congratulations, you have come a long way to completing your project. The spreadsheet is designed to both motivate, track history, and instruct your writing progress. The fields within the spreadsheet are designed to assist you.

Let’s go through each field individually and discuss how they change, if they change, during your progress. I have listed all the fields below for a quick reference, then we will address each one in detail after that:

  • Book
  • Area
  • Task
  • Status
  • Target
  • Comments

I realize the Book field is really wishful thinking if you are just starting your writing career, but it serves more than a way to differentiate your writing projects. For newbies, this field is your ultimate goal, the Holy Grail, the whole enchilada. Every time you sit down to write, look at the book field and think about it being completed and in your hands. If people can lose two hundred pounds on a reality show, you can write a three hundred page novel.

Area is your way to differentiate your writing tasks. Although you would think it is only about writing, you would be wrong. There is more to publishing a novel, but getting it written is the logical first step. Here are my suggestions for values to use in this field:

  • Writing – duh.
  • Editing – really duh.
  • Publishing – a lot here, too.
  • Research – yeah, I got to do some of that, too.
  • Administrative – you’d be surprised how much.

Later on, I’ll explain more about marketing and sales, so don’t think this is all you’ll have to do. However, this is a good start for the beginning.

Not much to say about Task, you simply describe a goal that must be accomplished and is difficult to break down into smaller components. Eventually, you’ll come up with standardized phrases that describe tasks you do over and over again, but for now, don’t sweat it, just put something in there and get ‘er done!

Status is one of those that will change as you progress. At first, most of your tasks will be done sequentially, so this field doesn’t carry its weight during that time. Later on, it is important as you begin multi-tasking your writing. Hey, get a blog and you’ll know what I am talking about. I have two blogs and they keep me busy while I still write the novels. Yeah, I am a little crazy, but the writing keeps me sane.

All right, back to Status. There are a few values you should use in this field as follows:

  • Not Started – sadly, they all start out that way.
  • Inprogress – early on, there is usually only one of these.
  • Done – oh, what a feeling!

Start with these three and later you can add more. However, make sure they are in an alphabetic order so sorting on that field provides a useful view. More on that in the next blog, but notice that listing my tasks by this field in alphabetic order has the Done tasks at the top, to be scrolled out of view, followed by the Inprogress tasks, and lastly, the Not Started tasks.

This means that as I complete tasks, they scroll up, and what remains is viewable from top to bottom. This is useful as it gives you a way to check your remaining list without wading through the completed tasks. Now, as you start a task, please change the Status to Inprogress. Once you complete it, change the Status to Done. All tasks are obviously entered with a Status of Not Started at the outset.

Target is just as important as the Status field, maybe even more so. This is the due date, and we also sort on this field so that the most recent dates are at the top. As dates go past without completion, you must readjust the remaining tasks to take into account this slip in your schedule. I know it sounds hard and time consuming, but the reality is, you won’t get the dates quite right untill you have done this a few times.

Be patient, complete this administrative task diligently, and you will quickly get the feel for good dates based on your past experience. In the future, I will instruct you how to use formulas to update all the later dates based on a slip in an earlier date. But for now, simply change them by hand.

All right, this brings us to Comments. This field is useful for storing all sorts of information about your task. Web sites, email addresses, phone numbers, references, and excuses can all be listed within this field. I use it a lot for web resources for particular tasks. When you get into marketing your work, this will be critical. For the writing, not much is needed there unless you want to use it for outlining each chapter’s general storyline. Just a thought, I don’t actually do that.

So your task spreadsheet should be a dynamic document that you look at every time you sit down to write, update every time there are changes, and use to help track and motivate your progress. I start new ones at the beginning of every year, and it is so satisfying to scroll through the completed tasks to see what I have accomplished in that previous year.

But nothing is more exciting than completing the entire project. I am just about finished writing my fourth novel in my Onyalum Series and can’t wait to get it published next year. Still much to do, but the end is in sight and that really motivates me!

So, I’ll leave you this year with a heartfelt Happy Holidays, but with a request that you finally make that resolution to write your novel. Use the spreadsheet and your Appointment to Write to help you achieve this dream you have had for so long. Anyone can dream it, but only you can make it happen!

“Okay, dear, I’ll see if I can find her!”

All right, I need a parka, gloves, and a hat. Be very, very quiet. I’m hunting dog! Sigh …


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