Two years ago, I did my very first NaNoWriMo. (And then a year later I finally “won” the month!) One thing that I loved about the whole thing was the easy way for tracking your word count and the nice visuals to show you where you were versus where you needed to be on your novel. I struggled to keep myself motivated once I no longer had that level of accountability and encouragement, so I did what anyone would do in that situation: found my way to Pinterest and looked around for writing resources that I could use year-round to keep me at a NaNo level of motivation. And that’s when I first found Pacemaker Planner and fell in love!
Pacemaker Planner is easy to use, super customizable, and free (at least for your first three plans). I’ve been using it consistently for a year now, so I figured it was about time that I spread the love and helped other writers find a way to track progress on their WIPs. Let’s go through how to create a new plan, and then I’ll explain a few of my favorite things about the system.
Create a New Pacemaker Planner Project
When you select “Create A Plan” from the main header, you’re taken to a screen with a list of options along the left sidebar. Your daily word counts and the corresponding graph will change depending on what you choose.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Create a name to help differentiate it from any other writing projects you might have. For instance, you could use the working title of the project or even something as simple as “First Draft.”
I’ve only used Writing and Editing, but you can also choose Drafting, Plotting, or Proofreading depending on what stage of the novel-writing process you’re in. (Pacemaker also has the capability to track non-writing tasks like Saving, Spending, and Running, but I’ve never messed with any of them. Let me know if you do!)
You can track your progress on a Blog Post, Thesis, Novel, Poem, or any number of types of writing. Or you could always go with the ever-general Project.
Amount of Work
Here’s where the fun really starts! Think about how many words it’ll take to finish your project. For me, I put down 100,000 here, then about halfway through when I realized that I was wordier than I ever thought possible, I changed it to 150,000. You can change up any of these items at any time, so don’t think you’re stuck to anything that you choose during this process. When you get to know your novel better, you’ll be able to change the Pacemaker plan to coordinate with it.
How It’s Measured
For the majority of you, I would imagine you would choose Words like I did. (I certainly wasn’t writing toward 100,000 Pages!) If you’re in the editing stage of your novel, I could definitely see how going by Chapters or Sections could be helpful.
Is this an overall goal or a daily target?
I set mine up as an overall goal (and that’s the assumption we’re making as we go through this tutorial). You could always set up a daily goal instead, but I like being able to track my word count as well as my progress toward my overall word count through Pacemaker Planner’s graphs.
Your Start Date
Once you’ve finished up your outlining/planning, go ahead and start writing. Don’t let your fear keep you from starting!
Target Finish Date
You can change this up whenever you need to. (Believe me, I’ve done it many, many times.) Try to pick a realistic date based on your target word count, but don’t cut yourself too much slack either. It’s important to push yourself; it’ll make that feeling when you reach your daily word count even sweeter!
How would you like to approach this?
The Strategy portion of Pacemaker Planner is my absolute favorite part. Now that Pacemaker knows how many words you need to write and the time you’ve given yourself to write them in, it has multiple ways of determining what your daily word count should be.
Pacemaker Planner divides your word count by the number of days, just like NaNoWriMo does to get the 1,667 daily word count we all know and (sometimes) love. This one is simple and perfect for writers who like consistency throughout a project.
With this strategy, you start with the smallest chunks of words and gradually build to larger and larger daily word counts. If you’re a little apprehensive about the huge undertaking of “writing a novel,” perhaps start off with this one and gradually increase your word counts as your confidence in yourself and your writing increases.
This one is the opposite of the above. If you’d rather complete larger chunks of your novel at the beginning and gradually cut back on the number of words needed each day, then this strategy is for you.
Just like with climbing a mountain (which I’ve done exactly one time during my study abroad month in Ireland), you start small, reach the top in the middle, and then gradually work your way back to ground level. This strategy is the one I normally use because it starts me off small enough but also gives me a sense of accomplishment halfway through when I “reach the top.”
As you can imagine by the title, this one is the opposite of the mountain. By starting off and ending strong with more aggressive daily word counts, you get a bit of a break in the middle when writing fatigue may start to set in.
This strategy jumps between lighter and heavier word counts, appealing to those who like more variety of word counts in their writing life.
And finally there’s one that is completely random, which I doubt would ever work for me, but I’m sure someone out there would prefer it to any of the more measured strategies.
This feature is currently in beta, and to be honest, I don’t really mess with it. You can choose between Gentle, Low, Average, Medium, and Hard Core, but I usually just leave it in the middle and move on.
Here’s where the real customization begins, and I think it’s a great feature for making the most of your weekends versus weekdays. While I wouldn’t suggest anyone Skip writing on the weekends, choosing to Do Less or maybe even Push! during them makes sense to me.
Customize Workload on a certain +weekday? +date? +date range?
Maybe you have an event that takes place every Monday night, so you need to Do Less on those days. Or maybe you’ll have the house to yourself on August 1 and know you can Do More on that day. Maybe you’re going on vacation from September 3-7 and know you’ll want to Skip those days. Pacemaker Planner lets you do all of these things and more!
Be honest with yourself and make a concerted effort to work your writing into your schedule in the best way for you. With all of these customizations, Pacemaker Planner helps your writing life fit seamlessly within your everyday life, which is best for everyone. You can even add a number of “free days” at the end of your project plan, just in case you need them!
You can choose to display your tracker as a Table, Graph, or Calendar (or Bar Graph if you choose to pay for Pacemaker Premium). I always leave mine on Graph, but the other two are also helpful depending on how you work visually.
I also leave mine with the weeks starting on Sundays instead of Mondays, but you do you.
The great thing about the first question asked under this heading, How does your plan change with your progress?, is that you can change it up whenever you want. This allows you to see how you look with the graph changing based on your progress so far and with the graph staying constant, so you can tell how far ahead or behind you might be.
You can also record your progress based on how many words you’ve done overall or how many words you complete on a day-to-day basis.
And that’s it. You’re done! I use Pacemaker Planner for my ongoing writing projects but also to plan ahead for the second drafts, editing pass-throughs, etc. that are also a part of each novel. All of this planning helps keep the left side of my brain happy while the right side goes crazy with the words on the page.
Have you ever used Pacemaker Planner to track your writing goals, or do you maybe use a different system outside of NaNoWriMo? Let me know and also feel free to leave any questions you might have in the comments. I love to talk about this super helpful, easy-to-use tool!
P.S. This app is also a must-use when prepping for NaNoWriMo.