How I Track Progress on My Book

I’ve been asked a few times how I track the progress on the book I’m writing. So I decided to share my system with you. I’m sure every author uses his/her own preferred system of tracking progress (or not). But this is the one I’ve been using for a number of weeks now, and I’m reasonably happy with it. It is probably more advanced than the average personal progress report, but that’s only because this is the first time I’m writing a book, and I really don’t want to screw this up. Maybe this system could help some of you for your own project. If so, let me know. I will eagerly take the credits. 🙂

Here we go…

I have a spreadsheet called book progress. So far so good. It looks like this (click it for an enlarged version):

I am planning to write 18 chapters (excluding a preface and a bibliography), and I estimated most chapters to be 20 pages long, on average. The total length of the book should be around 340 pages. This is based on the empirical results of having written chapters 1, 4 and 5, which are now ready in draft versions. I expect most chapters to be somewhat longer after finishing the drafts (chapters 4 and 5 are now actually 22 pages long), but I also expect to be cutting the weakest parts in the final stage. And as they say, less is more. (But I’ll keep everything I wrote until the very last moment.)

For each chapter I listed a number of columns representing the stage each chapter is in. As you can see, I always start with off-line and on-line research, after which I determine the structure of the chapter. Then I write a first sketch (not bothering with spelling, grammar and typos), and after that I rewrite everything into a first draft. I actually use exactly the same process for my blog posts. However, in the case of my book I won’t be finished then. I will be asking/getting feedback from advisers (column A) and the publisher’s book editor (column E). Their feedback will be my input for a second draft, which in turn will be sent to a number of reviewers (column R). Then finally, when the reviewers submitted their comments, I will finalize everything, and I will be done. Well, that’s the idea anyway.

You can see two columns in each stage, a white one and a yellow one. Each white column has a number, like 0,05 (for structure) and 0,75 (for first draft). This is the amount of time (in hours) I estimated to spend per page in that stage. In the same (white) column, for each of the individual chapters, I write down the real number of hours per chapter. And the second (yellow) column calculates the estimated hours per chapter. This system enables me to compare my real effort with the estimated effort. For example: I spent 14,5 hours writing the first draft of chapter 4. My estimated effort was 15 hours (0,75 hours * 20 pages = 15). So I completed that stage nicely on time. I was a bit quicker with chapter 5, requiring only 10,5 hours out of 15 expected hours. The total number of hours I expect to spend on all first drafts, for the entire book, is 255 hours (0,75 hours * 340 pages).

At the bottom of the table you can see that I spent a total of 32 hours on writing the first drafts for chapters 1, 4 and 5, while I had estimated this to be 37,5 hours together. This indicates that I could probably lower the factor 0,75 to 0,65 for a more accurate estimate. And the more I write the more accurate I can make the estimates for the remaining chapters. But for now I like my estimates to be on the safe side, so I will keep it this way for another chapter or two.

Each other stage works in the same way. I spent less time on research (both off-line and on-line) than I had expected. So I might be able to lower those values as well. On the other hand, I still have no idea how much time I will need to spend on the remaining stages (second draft and finalization) for each chapter. I have pulled the factors of 0,1 hour per chapter out of a big hat, but these might be far too optimistic. I have no way of knowing until I receive the first feedback from the editor and the reviewers. And this could take a while. Though I’m happy to have received the first draft book contract, nothing has been signed yet…

Finally, writing down the number of hours I spent on my book enables me to calculate my average velocity: the number of hours I spend writing every week. Right now this is a meager 16 hours (see the green cell in the upper left corner). That’s because I also spend a lot of time working, reading, blogging, speaking at conferences, and meeting with interesting people. (These activities are crucial too. But it’s not writing.) And last of all, I have calculated a total estimation of 697 hours for the entire book (see the purple cell in the upper right corner). By dividing these two I am able to calculate my estimated delivery date of the full manuscript, which is now July 2, 2010. (The deadlines for the individual chapters are calculated by counting backwards from that final date.)

This final delivery date is a goal I attempt to achieve by continuously monitoring and tweaking my writing process. I regularly tweak chapters, update page counts, and fine-tune estimates per page and stage. And I pay attention to my weekly time management to improve my effectiveness. Sort of.

And I do all that to try and keep the final delivery date steadily fixed on the first week of July.

Hope it works…

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