«Return to Blog List Why You Should Chart your Writing Like a Doctor


A guest post by Daphne Gray-Grant 

Eighteen years ago, I spent much of my life feeding babies. Heck, in those days, I spent all of my life feeding babies.

My 7-week premature triplets were tiny, fragile and lousy eaters. It would take an hour to feed one of them – and they ate every two hours. Do the math: it wasn’t pretty. What scared me the most was horror stories of parents forgetting to feed one of their three kids. Understandable, really. In the melee of aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends all anxious to lend a hand – it would be frighteningly easy to feed one baby twice and another not at all.

There was no way that was going to happen in my household! To prevent this, I became the doctor of mothers and drew up a feeding chart. It listed each child’s name on one axis and the times of day on the other. Anyone who was feeding a child was instructed to mark it on the schedule.

We kept this daily record for the first year. Today, when I see my 6-ft 2-inch tall son (born at 4 lbs., 10 oz.) emptying the fridge for his bedtime snack, I smile. He’s so easy to feed! But 18 years ago, the record was a lifesaver.

And so it is with records. They let you know what you’ve accomplished and what you still need to do. They inspire and motivate you. They keep life clear and on track. And all of these traits make charts extraordinarily useful for writers, too.

For example, such a record kept me from losing my sanity when I wrote my book, 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. I’d never written a book before — my strength was the short form — stories and articles for newspapers and newsletters. I could usually write the first draft in one sitting at the keyboard.

But a book? No way! It took me about six months to produce a first draft. I generally wrote first thing in the morning — around 6 am. And what kept me grounded was the chart I had myself complete after every writing session.

My chart let me record: i) how many words I wrote that day, ii) my cumulative word total to date and ii) how many words remaining I had to write. The chart also had a fourth slot for a sentence on how I felt about that day’s writing — whether it was fun or tiresome and what I thought of the quality.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that chart made me finish my book.

On days when I felt “blocked” or too overwhelmed, my previous record of success was enough to persuade me to eek out a few more words so my daily total would never be shameful. As well, I also could easily calculate when I’d be finished — a glorious thought. The sentences about how I felt — which ranged from the giddy to the depressed — taught me that writing is not a straight course, but a zig-zagging one, like a trail meandering through the mountains.

Want to give your writing a boost? Make a chart about it. Just use the “Table” menu in Word, select “insert table” and choose the number of columns and rows you want. If you’re writing a book, you can follow the four slots I used. Maybe you’re writing copy for your own web site, blog, a promotional article, or a big client project. Just tweak the chart to fit your needs. Regardless, record what you do.

Over time, you will discover that how you “feel” about writing is wonderfully unimportant. All that matters is that you do it, day after day.

Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book, “8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better.” She offers a brief and free weekly newsletter on her website. Subscribe by going to the Publication Coach.

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