Use Excel spreadsheets to organize writing projects

Novelists are often advised to keep a story timeline, especially for complicated plots. But if your plot gets too complex, or you have multiple storylines going on, you may need more than a linear list in Word or on a notepad.

I started creating my timelines in Excel years ago, but my self-designed spreadsheets were awfully primitive. Then I discovered Vertex 42.

Vertex 42 is a training company specializing in Excel spreadsheets. The website offers a stunning array of free templates for Word and Excel, including business cards, legal forms and time sheets.

© Petr Ciz -
© Petr Ciz –

My favorites are the calendars, especially the Perpetual Calendar Template. You plug in the year in which your story takes place on page 1, and the spreadsheet automagically places the dates on the right days of the week, and calculates most American holidays, too. For Easter, you’re on your own, because the calculation is just too crazy.  Try the Time and Date website if you need that.

The Vertex 42 perpetual calendar has its limitations. It doesn’t correctly calculate nineteenth-century dates, but it handles twenty-third-century dates just fine. So use it for science fiction, but not historical. For historical fiction, you can get the information from Time and Date and plug it into a Blank Calendar Template. I used the blank calendar for my fantasy novel Alara’s Call.

I also use these templates for project scheduling: blog posts, client projects, and anything else I need to keep track of but don’t put in my primary calendar app (Apple’s Calendar) to reduce clutter there. It’s amazing what a spreadsheet can do for you when you move beyond toting up sums.

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