Tracking and Estimating Books in Progress

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I’m a big fan of data and using it to my advantage, all the fun quantified self metrics, bullet journaling my work tasks, most relevant to this discussion, writing. I found that knowing how far along I am in a novel and how much is left helps me plan out the next scenes and keep momentum. Additionally, it helped me fix a pacing issue I didn’t realize I’d created.

At the one-third mark in Kludged Singularity I threw together a spreadsheet to track the words per scene and scenes per chapter to keep myself motivated to write on the book in general. At the halfway point I added a column to track the character, then looked at the difference in scene length and number between the characters. This showed me that I was severely shortchanging one character in screen time, despite having an equal distribution of scenes. I cleaned up some of the weak scenes and moved them around a little to get a better flow in the story

At around the three-quarters mark I had a rough idea of how many chapters were left, so I used the spreadsheet to estimate how many words would be in the finished book. I added a column to track percentage of book complete at the end of each chapter, and checked to see what actions were occurring around which point in the book. This resulted in a lot of chapters being shifted around so that things weren’t slowing down and certain actions were happening at a good interval.

It also showed me that I didn’t introduce the antagonist to the protagonist until the almost 25% mark. Even though the reader had seen him already, I felt their lack of interaction weakened his impact on the main character. So I found an earlier spot for a proper encounter that helped set up and flesh out their later interactions. A beta reader had pointed this out around the same time and it made me appreciate both the beta reader and the value of the data I was collecting.

When I started up my current WIP, I immediately copied the spreadsheet and blanked out the data to track everything from the start. The first thing I noticed was that I hadn’t started at the beginning of the story, so I put some placeholder chapters in with bullet point outlines for their content. Looking at the major story beats I had planned I guessed I would end up with around 50 chapters again, which is what gave my me current wordcount estimate.

I’m at the 40% mark now and couldn’t imagine trying to keep myself on task and keep this novel paced appropriately without a proper tracking spreadsheet and I highly recommend any other writers encouraged by data do the same.