How I Track My Writing in 2020

My way for tracking the words I write against my long term writing goal

Joel Brown
Jan 28 · 5 min read
Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

If you are a writer, you probably have a goal for your writing. It may be how often you publish, finishing your manuscript or like me a word count goal in a set timeframe. One of the greatest challenges I have found for any goal is an effective method of tracking.

With writing goals, there are some things that are easier to track than others. A goal for how often you publish is easy to track. Reaching the end of a manuscript could be much more difficult as the end or length could be flexible.

Tracking Word Counts

Keeping track of my word counts has been a challenge every time I have tried. Keeping the counts in a notebook works until you don’t have the notebook handy and trying to remember to update it later. At other times the micro segments of writing you just forget to write the word counts.

I have used various other systems such as Excel spreadsheets and websites that you can add your writing totals in. Almost all systems I have tried rely on multiple stages of checking, recording, and transferring the word count.

With short periods of time, some of these challenges are easily overcome. However, when you are trying to track a big goal of a long period, you need a system. A system that has the least friction for collecting and reviewing data.

What The Word Count Tracking System Needs

I have established that a system for tracking word counts needs two things. The system needs to be easy to record data and easy to review progress towards the goal.

To me, a system needs to incorporate an easy way to record data in just one step. The more effort that you need to spend to create the data, the less likely you will continue recording the data. I believe this should be only about 5–10 seconds for any piece of data that you need to record.

You must also be able to check your progress without having to put in a lot of work to calculate your progress. Ideally, the calculation for total word count would be automatic as you record your data.

My Word Count Tracking System

There were three systems that I considered for this project. There is a notebook, Microsoft Excel, and a program called Ulysses. As I was reviewing systems, there were some that I excluded immediately.

Based on previous experience, I immediately excluded the thought of a notebook. For longevity, it is not a practical option, combined with the fact that you have to have it with you everywhere when you are writing. The only benefit to a notebook is that it can be a cathartic experience to stop and write it down.

Both Microsoft Excel and Ulysses both showed some promise, if set up properly. However, as you might have hoped, there was one that came out the winner.

Microsoft Excel

I have attempted to use Microsoft Excel in the past without luck. The system would work very similar to a notebook, just easier to automate the progress calculation.

I could use an individual line to note the project and the word count in the next cell. I could set calculations for daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly totals.

One of the biggest challenges comes from the time involved to set up the system initially. Along with the need to have multiple steps to record the data.

To record the data, you need to find the word count, type in the project name and type in the word count. That to me is three steps and sometimes it may even be four steps. Finding the word count in some applications would require copying the text and pasting it into another application.

For the above reasons, I decided against using Excel as an option.

Tracking My Writing With Ulysses

Ulysses is an app for writers, kind of like Notepad on Steroids. However, while that is the reason I originally got the app, it is not how I am using in this situation.

One feature of Ulysses that is perfect for this situation is the ability to create a goal for a folder. Once you set that goal it will automatically calculate the word count of all documents in that folder against that goal.

Creating a goal. Source: Author.

With this in mind, I decided that I would create a folder for the year. In this folder, I would place a copy of everything that I write this year. To do this, I created a folder for every month and below that a folder for every day.

Folder structure. Source: Author.

Recording data for my writing is very easy. When I write something, I just highlight it and copy that writing and paste it into a new sheet in the folder. No need to write the word count, as Ulysses automatically calculates the word count and adds it towards my goal.

Goal for 2020, 1 million words. Source: Author.

The total time to record the data is under 5 seconds as I keep Ulysses open in the background. It stores the data in a Dropbox folder so it is also like a backup of everything I write.

How Do You Track Your Writing?

For the time being, this seems to be my best option for tracking my word count. I might find it is not as successful as I would like and might adjust. But for the moment it looks good.

I would still be interested in hearing how you track your own writing. If you use a method like I have mentioned or maybe something else entirely.

Joel Brown

Written by

Creator of Travel Explored — Topics I enjoy are Travel, Walking, Photography, Motivation, Business and Inspiration.

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