Excel for Writer’s – organizing a novel with a spreadsheet

Writing is a creative process but it’s hard to let your muse roam freely when you can’t remember if your main character’s husband’s name is Fred or Frank.  That’s one reason I use a spreadsheet.

I open the spreadsheet every time I work on a novel, using it for every detail of organization, from plot and character development to tracking word counts.  Here’s an overview of how I mind those devilish details:

I have separate tabs (pages) in the spreadsheet for:

  • Scenes:  This is how I outline. It has major plot points, location, characters involved, status and a word count tally.  I don’t outline in advance but do add ideas here as I think of them, so I know what to write next when I’m done with a scene.
  • Major Characters: I note strengths, weaknesses and basic information about my main characters.
  • Minor Characters: a list of names and identifying detail – so I don’t get it mixed up if the character shows up multiple times.
  • Other Details: for all the minutia, like the name of that restaurant they go to twice.
  • Timeline: To keep track of seasons and important dates.  I had to do a little rewriting when I realized a scene took place during Decemeber, with no mention of the holidays.
  • ToDo: If I need to fact check or look something up, I note it here, so it doesn’t slow down my writing.  If my writer’s group notices I overuse a word or phrase, I note it here, so I can search for it during the editing process.
  • Progress Report: This is where I update my ending word count tally for the week so I can track my progress.  At a glance I can see percentage, totals, and how much more I need to do.

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  • yikes i would be spending my day filling in blanks i barely get my 15 minutes in every morning with creative writing. Good idea though. I do used bookmarks to be able to jump to each chapter… that’s my little trick

  • Great post! I love the idea of this system – especially since my “system” is some hastily typed notes in a plain word document. I wonder if I have time to get myself this organized before Nanowrimo begins. Hmmm….

  • This is a great resource – thanks for sharing!

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  • Gregg Macklin

    Where can I get this spreadsheet?????

    • Greg, I don’t have it available for download yet but you can set one up following those steps.

  • Just_Some_Nobody

    Do you have a template available you wouldn’t mind sharing?

  • Jeff Dunaway

    Is your Excel work available anywhere?