Calculating your novel’s completion date #spreadsheet #authortools


I know a lot of authors are obsessed with their daily word count, but to be honest I’ve never found it particularly useful, or motivating. Anyone can turn out 10,000 words in a day. Just type the word ‘wibble’, highlight it (along with the following space), and then hold your fingers on CTRL-V for five minutes. There you are: 10,000 words. Don’t ever say I don’t give you anything. No, I’ve always maintained, in a rather snooty arrogant way, that getting the ‘right‘ words down, first time, is far more important than churning out 10,000 words of wibble on a daily basis.

That is until my agent told me I needed to be turning out two books a year, and suddenly snooty arrogance wasn’t going to cut it any more.

So, if you follow me on facebook you’ll notice that I have, recently, got into the habit of posting my daily word count, usually under a picture of someone at a typewriter. But along side this, and my excuses for the day, is my average daily word count.  

Average Daily Word Count is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the total number of words I’ve written so far, divided by the number of days since this current project began. And for me, it’s a whole lot more revealing than your regular word count.

For starters, being an average it smooths out those peaks and troughs: It reigns in my enthusiasm when I’ve managed to bash out 2,600 words. But it also encourages me when all I’ve managed are a measly 500. It also discourages me from going back and editing previous days, and it punishes me for days when I haven’t been writing. ADWC shows me exactly what kind of a writer I am. There’s no hiding from it.

But most of all, now that I’m working out my ADWC, it’s possible to extrapolate when I should theoretically finish my current ‘work in progress’ assuming I continue at the current rate… and being the total nerd that I am, that’s exactly what I do! I post my estimated completion date! And that is very motivating indeed.

Of course, you’ll realise by now that I work all this stuff out using an excel spreadsheet. There isn’t anything in the world that can’t be achieved with a good excel spreadsheet. If it sounds like something you might find useful, you can download a copy for yourself, here.

word count

To use the sheet simply replace my numbers in the blue squares with your own

  1. In cell C10, type in the estimated length of the book you’re writing. Novels are generally between 60,000 and 100,000 words depending on genre.
  2. On row 16 type yesterday’s date, and the total number of words written so far.
  3. On rows 17 onwards, type the day’s date, and the new total word count. The sheet will work out the number of words you wrote on that day. It’ll also update all the stats above, including your ADWC and your estimated completion date.

There’s even another tab where you can cut and paste today’s stats and paste them into twitter or facebook with minimal editing.

Feel free to share the spreadsheet all you like. And if it works for you drop me a line. If it doesn’t work for you, or you’d like it amended in someway, or you screw something up and need it fixing – well drop me a line anyway and I’ll see what I can do.

And if you like this spreadsheet you might like my other one that helps manage your story’s timeline. You can read about that here.

In the meantime, what’s your ADWC? Post it in the comments below.

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Hot news; my debut novel The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl is part of Amazon’s 99p Summer Book Promotion. Get my quirky, lad-lit, rom-com for less than a quid! But hurry – the promo is for July only!

The film will be along some time in the next decade.

Managing Your Story's Timeline #spreadsheet #authortools


Many moons ago, back when writing was just a hobby, something that my wife would encourage me to do in the evenings whilst she planned world domination with the cunning use of post-it notes – back when The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl was still in first-draft and barely a few thousand words long – I discovered a problem that I suspect is fairly unique to fiction writers.

I was having one of those rare writing moments when (it felt like) everything was going well – words were pouring out of me. I was bashing out scene after scene with unparalleled delight. Never mind that most of those scenes seemed to start with the phrase “the next day” or words to that effect. That could all be dealt with in the edit. The edit which would happen when I’d finished the WHOLE book. I’d learnt that much about writing: Write first. Edit later.

Although, as I wrote “the next day” for about the fiftieth time that evening I started to realise that I might have a problem that couldn’t wait until the grand ‘fix-everything’ edit. And the problem was this; in my head the chapter I was writing was supposed to span roughly a month, sometime in the summer, a year or two before the turn of the millennium. But as I scrolled through my manuscript and counted the number of times that dreaded phrase appeared I realised I’d successfully created a month with 47 days. And given that most of the action was supposed to happen during office hours…


Which is when I turned to excel. Because obviously, that’s what you do when a crisis of this magnitude happens. There’s nothing in this world that can’t be fixed with a good spreadsheet. Trust me. I partially built an entire career in banking with my mediocre excel skills. But I digress.

I present to you the timeline spreadsheet. A way of keeping track of your novel / script / short story, when & where each scene takes place, as well as how old each of your characters are on that day. And because it’s a rare author who has the luxury of not having to worry about word count, there’s a bit of that thrown in for good measure.

Feel free to download it and share it all you like. And if it works for you drop me a line. If it doesn’t work for you, or you’d like it amended in someway, or you screw something up and need it fixing (in the spreadsheet I mean, not your story) – well drop me a line anyway and I’ll see what I can do.

In the meantime here’s a brief tutorial on how to use the sheet


This is a Microsoft Excel (office 97) spreadsheet. A basic knowledge of spreadsheets is probably useful. You should be able to open it in Open Office (which is free) or Apple’s Numbers. There are three tabs to the spreadsheet (you’ll find those at the bottom). To avoid breaking the spreadsheet (which is really, really easy to do) only change what’s in the blue areas, everything else should change automatically. The sheet comes pre-filled with example data – just delete this when you’re ready to start work.

To see any of the images below bigger, and in a new browser tab, just click them.

timeline - word countTab One – Word Count

The least interesting of the three tabs, but still useful. Delete the example data in the blue box and enter the maximum word count you’re allowed. As you populate the rest of the sheet this tab will tell you how many words you’ve written and how many you’ve got left!

timeline - the actual timelineTab Two – The Timeline

Right then. This is where all the good stuff happens. As you write each scene tell the spreadsheet (in the blue boxes) where that scene takes place, the date, as well as what happens. You’ll notice that column E works out what day of the week that date falls on (pretty cool eh?) and over there on the right hand side it tells you exactly how old your main characters are (once you’ve completed the third tab). Use column B to make a note of what chapter you’re writing, and then in Column C put either the word count for the entire chapter (as I have), OR for each scene (although personally I found that a bit labour intensive).

Even though I recommend only tinkering with the blue boxes you can still use formulas. For instance, if you’re writing a scene that takes place the day after the previous scene don’t type the date in, click the date above and add +1 in the formula editing thingy. This way, if you move a date earlier in your story everything should recalculate automatically. This is where the spreadsheet really comes into its own.

timeline - eventsTab Three – Events & Characters

Use this tab to make a note of your main characters and their birthdays. Why? Because then the spreadsheet can calculate the age of your characters on this and the previous sheet. Useful if you’re the next David Nicholls and you’ve written a story that spans years.

Use the events section to make a note of significant events that happen outside of your story, but still that have some sort of bearing. For instance, if your story starts 10 days after the aliens have invaded, put the date the aliens invade on this sheet, and use a formula to calculate 10 days later on the timeline tab. Then if you decide that the aliens have to land on a different day, you merely change the date on this sheet.