Use Excel to Track Your Novel

Learning how you write a book is like finding your way in a pitch black room full of furniture. You can learn by barking your shins, but there are less painful ways. Hopefully, this post will help.

I’m an organized person, so it would make me crazy trying to locate details in my WIP. Which chapter did the dog first show up? Or the first kiss? Or harder yet, the smaller details – what kind of shoes did the old man wear the second time the heroine met him?

I’d end up scrolling through two hundred pages. And get distracted.

Oh, now there’s a clunky sentence.

Wait, did I really use the word ‘jerk’ twenty-three times in this book?  

I did NOT just compare his private parts to a DEER ANTLER! (yes, I did, and my crit group will NEVER let me forget it.)

Before you know it, I’d be hopelessly mired in the text, and forgot what I came for.

I’m an accountant by trade (well, I used to be – Ah, retirement) so if I need something organized, of course, the first place I go is Excel.

I know all you math-adverse readers have now broken into a sweat. Follow me here – no formulas are involved. Promise.

First, I thought about what information I wanted to capture. Here’s my list (yours may differ)

  • How long each chapter was
  • What happened in each chapter – by scene
  • Track POV – so I could check the balance in my novel
  • Track the romance, and where it happened.
  • Timeline
  • Word count

So I made up what I call my Chapter Cheat Sheet. Here’s what it looks like for my novel, Her Road Home:

If it’s too small to read, click on it and view it full-size.

  • I now know how many pages each chapter is, and the word counts (if you total the word count column, you’ll have the total word count of the book.)
  • The pink highlight = chapters that advance the romance. I can see quickly where it is, and if I have enough
  • The column in the middle shows scenes, using only a few words, separated by ‘/’
  • The POV is shown by the color coding in the scenes; Green for the Heroine, Purple for the Hero
  • Blue I used to denote scenes that could be cut, if I ran over my allowed word count
  • Red was problem scenes I knew I’d have to come back to later.
  • The far right column is a timeline – because I stink at them.

Note that I have more than one sheet to this workbook. You can use them for a more detailed timeline, or anything else you’d like to track. Revisions usually means cutting and pasting scenes in different places, so I’ll create a new sheet for my newly revised version.

Honestly, the Cheat Sheet has been invaluable for me. It gives me a bird’s eye view of the entire novel on one screen. I can’t imagine writing a book without one.

Hope it helps save your shins!

What do you use to organize your WIP? Any suggestions for us?

Oh, and if you’d like a template of my Excel sheet, email me!


  1. Katherine on August 13, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    Hi Laura! I only just now stumbled upon your page looking for tools to use Excel for organising a novel. If it’s still available, I would LOVE a copy of your Chapter Cheat Sheet. Thank you!

  2. Judy on May 21, 2023 at 11:54 pm

    Hi Laura – would it be possible to send me a copy of your Excel sheet template? Many thanks!

    • Laura Drake on May 22, 2023 at 5:07 am

      Check your inbox, Judy! Hope it helps…

  3. katherine leverence on June 5, 2023 at 4:05 pm

    hi, this is inspiring. Could I get a copy of the template? Thank you, Katherine

    • Laura Drake on June 6, 2023 at 5:09 am

      Check your inbox, Katherine – happy writing!

  4. Kim on February 7, 2024 at 4:30 pm

    Hi Laura, I just now stumbled on this and it’s just what I’ve been (wasting time) looking for! I’d love a copy of your template.
    Thank You!

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