Why you should chart your writing like a doctor

Reading time: About 2.5 minutes

Mothers, doctors and engineers all benefit from charts. But it’s a strategy that many writers overlook. Have you ever thought of drawing up a writing record?

Sixteen 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 — no, make that ordered! — to mark it on the schedule.

We kept this daily record for the first year. Today, when I see my 6-ft tall son (born at 4 lbs, 10 oz.) emptying the fridge for his bedtime snack, I smile. He’s so easy to feed! But 16 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. 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 the first draft of 8 1/2 steps to writing faster, better. 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 recorded how many words I wrote that day, my cumulative word total to date and how many words remaining I had to write. The chart also gave me room 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-zaggy one, like a trail meandering through the mountains.

Recently, I’ve started a new chart. I’ve been concerned about how little I was accomplishing, so, at the end of each day I now write a list celebrating the important things I’ve finished. After less than a week of this I discovered I’m doing way more than I’d ever given myself credit for. Talk about uplifting!

Want to give your writing a boost? Make a chart about it.