For many, writing is an art — but you can still use science to make the most of November and meet your word count goals (and then some)! Today, writer and engineer Benjamin M. Weilert shares how he used spreadsheets to become a more efficient writer:
I’m an engineer. While most of my colleagues use this as an excuse to keep themselves from writing anything, I argue it’s the reason they need to be the best writers. The concepts engineers can create in their minds still need to be communicated to the world, and they’re sometimes concepts never imagined before.
Similarly, how many writers are out there with an idea nobody has ever read, just waiting to get it onto the page? As an engineer, I have a particular set of skills — some would say “quirks” — that have helped me over the last eight years of NaNoWriMo grow from just barely finishing to writing rapidly and voluminously.
Most engineers are known for their problem-solving skills, and NaNoWriMo presents an interesting problem: how do I write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days? Like with most engineering problems, I resort to spreadsheets. After all, I’m already writing the book in Microsoft Word, so it’s not hard to set up an Excel spreadsheet to track my progress. This spreadsheet is what helped me grow as a writer. Here’s how tracking my writing helped motivate me to become a better (or at least faster/more efficient) writer:
#1: 1,667 words are the minimum.
My spreadsheet doesn’t allow me to slack. If the “words written” column for that day is less than 1,667 words, I have to keep writing. I may be 15 days ahead, but until I get those 1,667, I can’t stop writing for that day. Here’s how the spreadsheet looks:
#2: Compete with the past.
What’s nice about a spreadsheet that tracks your NaNoWriMo progress for one year is that it can be used to track your progress for the following years as well. Consequently, I’m always looking at ways to outdo myself each year, whether it’s being further ahead than in previous years, writing more per-day, or writing more than ever before. It’s how I was able to reach 50K in less than two weeks (four times), write over 10K words in a day (in six years), and even reach my record of 123,456 words in a month. No matter what your own goals and records are, by tracking them day to day and year to year, you’ll manage to write more!
#3: Recognize trends.
As I began to track my NaNoWriMo projects against each other, I started to see trends. I saw that I would usually write a lot during the Veteran’s Day weekend (since I get Veteran’s Day off). I also saw that I would get almost no writing done around Thanksgiving (since I travel out of town for it). Recognizing which days and situations were conducive to my writing helped me to schedule them out in advance so I’d be sure to use them to their utmost capability. Think about the trends in your life, and see how they impact your writing!
In the end, my spreadsheet allowed me to recognize the small — sometimes hidden — milestones that can give me a push to keep writing. For instance, last year, it helped me see how close I was to 500,000 cumulative words. I’m extra motivated to beat a previous “high score” day from a past NaNoWriMo.
Milestones like these are what made me realize that the impossible feats of veteran writers are actually quite achievable if you break them down into smaller chunks. And what engineer wouldn’t tackle a problem by first breaking it down into manageable pieces? But don’t take this engineer’s word for it; try it for yourself!
Benjamin M. Weilert is a verbal and visual artist from Colorado Springs, Colorado. He’s been winning NaNoWriMo since 2010, combining his love and knowledge of science with his writing. His first three projects, The Fluxion Trilogy, are what he likes to call “hard science in a fantasy candy coating.” His latest book, Fourteener Father, is a memoir of his adventures climbing Colorado’s 14,000 ft. mountains with his dad. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Goodreads, or check out his writing website.