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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Even If You Don’t Write Everyday, You Need to Track Everyday

illustration concept of agenda with spiral calendar marked by pencil. computer on background with line elements

Even if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, you don’t have to write every day. But, NaNo or not, you need to track your writing progress everyday. Even the days you don’t show up. Especially the days you don’t show up.

Note to NaNoWriMo writers: I know the suggestion that you don’t have to write 1,667 words every day in November is borderline blasphemous. But keep in mind that your goal is not to write 1,667 words a day for 30 days, it’s to write 50,000 words by November 30. There are other ways to reach 50,000 words: 2,500 words a day for 20 days (weekends off!) or 2,000 words a day for 25 days. I’ll say (blaspheme) more in my next post about why you might want to take planned days off.

If you’re doing NaNo, this means entering the words you plan to write every day, the number of words you actually write, the total words you’ve actually written so far and the total words you plan to write. You fill in the planned word counts in advance and the actual word counts every day. Here’s what it might look like if you plan to write 2,000 words a day.

Sample NaNoWriMo Tracking Table

Date Target Words Actual Words Actual Total Words Target Total Words
Nov 1 2,000 1,987 1,987 2,000
Nov 2 2,000 2,001 3,988 4,000
Nov 3 2,000 1,993 5,981 6,000
Nov 4 2,000 2,106 8,087 8,000
Nov 5 0 0 8,087 8,000
Nov 6 2,000     10,000
Nov 7 2,000     12,000

If you’re not doing NaNo, I suggest you track time rather than words. My standard commitment is 15 minutes a day, Monday thru Friday and 0 minutes a day on weekends. I track my intended target time (which can be anywhere between 15 minutes and 6 hours depending on what else is on my calendar for the day) and my actual time. If I hit my target, great; if I don’t, equally great. What I must meet is my commitment. Time tracking can look something like this.

Sample Product Time Tracking Table

Date Committed Target Actual

Oct 31

15 minutes 1 hour

9-10 am

45 min

9-9:45 am


Nov 1

15 minutes 1 hour

9-10 am

1.25 hr

9-10:15 am


Nov 2

15 minutes 1 hour

9-10 am

1 hr

8-9 am


Nov 3

15 minutes 3 hours


2.5 hr

9-11:30 am


Nov 4

15 minutes 2 hours

9-11 am

1.25 hr

8:45-10 am


Nov 5

0 minutes  0 min 0 min

Nov 6

0 minutes  0min 0 min

You Can Bury Your Head, But You Can’t Hide

the man buried his head in the sand vector illustrationIf you track only the days you show up (NaNo or not), and for one reason or another, you don’t show up for a day or two, your tracking document will remain blank and you can ignore the little voice in your head nagging at you. Two days away can stretch into three or four, the little voice grows fainter and you get hazy about how long you’ve been AWOL.

The only way you can ensure you won’t get to the end of the week (or month, or longer) and suddenly realize how long it’s been since you gave your writing the time and energy it deserves is to track what happens with your writing practices every day.

For NaNo writers, entering “0 words” and seeing no increase in your total words on a day you planned to write will make you even more determined to show up the next day. If you’re in the habit of tracking every day and you know you’re going to have to type “0 words,” you might just find the energy and time to write something instead of trying to ignore the fact that you are not doing what you intended to do.

For Non-NaNo writers like me, entering “0 minutes” in the Actual time box next to “15 minutes” in the Committed time box will have a similar effect.

The habit of tracking every day makes it impossible to not know.

Non-NaNo writers who write “0 minutes” for Product Time on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday and Thursday, can’t really be surprised when Sunday rolls around and they haven’t put in the five 15-minute sessions they intended.

NaNo writers who track no increase in their total words for several days can’t give themselves a vague promise that they’ll “catch up soon.”

Any days you plan to not to show up will either have 0 words or 0 minutes in the target box. NaNo writers can relax about entering “0 words” for the daily count when the number they enter for their Actual Total Words is close to the pre-filled Target Total Words. Non-NaNo writers can relax when the actual time is equal to or more than the time they committed to.

NaNo or not, you can’t relax when your actual is not close to your target or commitment.

If you want to know when you can relax and when you need to get busy to reach your writing goals, you need to track what you do — and what you don’t do — every day. You’ll find more Tricks of Tracking in upcoming posts.

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4 Comments on “Even If You Don’t Write Everyday, You Need to Track Everyday”

  1. mpalmer27684 November 7, 2016 at 7:06 am #

    This is equally applicable to ANY habits you want to establish, from writing to increasing physical movement to eating more healthfully…


  2. Glynis Jolly November 5, 2016 at 8:28 am #

    NaNo isn’t for me. With General Anxiety Disorder, I’d have to abuse my medication to get anything done that way. Not a good thing to do, obviously. Besides, abusing the pills would make any writing erratic anyway. I use yWriter for my WiP. It automatically counts my words for me each day, even showing zero words when I take a day off. I’ve made my minimum count 400. After all, in most cases, a writer can’t complete the thought of a passage in less words.


    • rosannebane November 7, 2016 at 8:08 am #

      Thanks Glynis! NaNo isn’t for me either. The timing is never right – I’ve never been ready to start a novel on November 1. I’ve been working on revising Essential Path for years and hope to get this done and start the next book in the series. And when I’m ready to start, I’m not waiting for November 1 to roll around… But I talk to writers who are tremendous inspired by NaNo and that’s fabulous. The most important thing is follow what works for you. I didn’t know yWriter shows 0 words. However, just because you wrote 0 words doesn’t mean you didn’t do Product Time that day, which is why I track time rather than words.


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