Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How a CPA Writes a Novel (Because I Know You're DYING to Know!)

Did you know it's entirely possible for a book to be written in an Excel spreadsheet? Okay, all you pantsers, stop snickering at me. I'm serious.

Since Pepper shared her writing process last week and Julia has been talking about storyboarding, I thought I'd share a little piece of my writing process today.

When I first started writing novels, I stumbled upon Randy Ingermanson's website Advanced Fiction Writing. At the time, it seemed like a coincidence. Now after meeting Randy, I know it was all part of his greater plan to take over the world. :)

He's known for this thing called the Snowflake Method of planning a novel. Since I like order in my life, I lapped it up like a thirsty dog, only without the loud slurping. When I got to the part where he talked about outlining scenes in Excel, I knew I'd found my place (can't help it...I'm a CPA).

From that point forward, I started outlining my books and scenes in an Excel spreadsheet. For each book, I have columns with the date of the scene, the chapter number, the POV character, a summary of the scene, the word count, the plots/subplots (more on that in a future post), and more. For every version of my manuscript, I have a separate tab in Excel.

I even created a tab where I track my daily progress. I have a line for each date and I log the time I spend drafting, editing, etc. Then I have a column where I track my scene goals for each day. So if I'm starting the editing process, I might have Scene 1a on Monday, Scene 1b on Tuesday and so on. I refer to my word counts on the other tab to help me gauge how many scenes I can complete each day.

Now I know this method wouldn't work for everyone (All you pantsers have glazed eyes right now. Am I right?), but I think it's important to track our goals and progress somehow. Before I started this process, I wandered aimlessly without a real target. But now that I treat my Daily Progress tab like a time clock, it helps me stay focused.

Does the idea of using a spreadsheet to plan a novel scare you? How do you stay focused on reaching your goals?
*Keyboard image: br3akthru /
*Minutes image: Salvatore Vuono /


Heather Sunseri said...

Oh, it must be a CPA thing. My spreadsheet is very similar to above. I love, love, love excel. And when you get so used to tracking every 15 minutes of your day as you work (as you do with taxes and accounting), that has to transfer over to our writing life, right?

Julia M. Reffner said...

Hmmmm...I like the idea of tracking your goals on Excel...CPAs and assistant librarians must think alike ;)

Pepper said...

Okay, Sarah.
I'm taking deep breaths in and out. Spreadsheets? Whew. I really like to watch OTHER people use them. :-)
Although....I know, step back and hold onto your hats, I do have a TABLE I use to keep track of my scenes that I create out of order. A table is very different than excel. Fewer lines. ;-)
But I'm always fascinated by people who have brains THIS organized. I would probably be numb from the brain down if I tried to put all that info into excel :-)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I can certainly see how this method keeps you on track. My mind goes blank thinking about starting this way. I've become a lot more of a plotter, but still my characters want to boycott the whole plotting deal. They are yelling for their freedom. Such unruly characters I deal with.
~ Wendy

Patti Lacy said...

Sarah, just HAD to pop in after seeing this in an e-mail.
I'm so proud of you!!!

I too have used the Snowflake method! Not "lapping it up," like you, dear one, but licking the melted remains from the floor!!!



Am adding THIS to my reader blogs!!!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I think I need this, but as a visual person, I'd LOVE to see a picture of your actual spreadsheet. Talking about tables and columns makes my eyes cross. I like the idea of being organized, but the actual doing it...well, it's hard for me to get started. Can you take a screen shot and add it in?

Cindy R. Wilson said...

I like spreadsheets but do I LOVE them? I don't know...I think this might be a little too organized for me :) I love that everything has it's place. I am a big plotter but I just type out what I'm doing scene by scene almost like I'm writing a story. And I do the same with character sketches. So I DO have a clear plot but it probably doesn't make much sense to anyone else but me.

As far as tracking your progress, though, I LOVE this idea. I enjoy making goals and sticking to them and this would be a great way to stay on track. Oh, and I second Sherrinda's suggestion--it would be great to see a visual of this.

Donna Cummings said...

As a confirmed pantser, I shudder at the thought of using this to plan my books.

BUT wait, there's more! LOL

I have done something similar during the revision process, to keep track of what each scene is contributing to the story, the characters' emotional arc, and if I'm doing something with a mystery subplot, which clues are being revealed.

So yes, I have a deep and abiding love for Excel. But not at the beginning of a book. LOL

Mary Vee Writer said...

Getting organized..what a novel idea.

I suppose if I listened more to you, Pepper, and Julie, perhaps I'd be further along.

Guess I should turn a new leaf and join the ranks.

I get excited, I must admit when I learn a new excel feature. There are many secrets in that program.

Krista Phillips said...

Now hold the phone.

I am a PANSTER and I found nothing out of the ordinary here... Maybe because that's because I'm a numbers geek too and I LOVE LOVE me some excel worksheets and formulas!!

You see, I have a spreadsheet that I have used when writing a book that keeps track of my word count. I even add in formulas so all I have to do is to enter in my current word count and it calculates how many I've written for that day and how many I have left until my goal wc.

Now, I don't break it down to scenes, but I do keep track of chapters and timelines in excel as well. I just don't do these in ADVANCE, but after I've written a chapter, I'll log it. I'll put a short snippet about what what the chapter was about, when it occurred, etc. This helps me keep up with time passing, makes me summarize each chapter to make sure something important HAPPENED in it and that I wasn't just writing excess, meaningless words.

So, excel can work nicely even for us pansters. We just do it after... instead of before:-)