Right Brain Novel Organizing: Making Spreadsheets Work

One of the hardest things to work with for me has been the spreadsheet.  It’s mostly commonly the tool for tracking submissions, but I’ve also seen people talk about using it to track scenes, characters, and you name it.  But to me, a spreadsheet is sequential, which is bad for right-brainers who don’t think sequentially.  It’s also essentially a list of details, and details are not a right-brainer’s strength.

And yet, sometimes a spreadsheet is the only way something can be done.  When I was working on a newsletter, we’d get 20 or so articles in, and invariably I’d find out I’d missed one.  That would occur, of course, after I’d gotten them all into newsletter format.  Since Microsoft Publisher isn’t very flexible for major changes like adding an article, it was always very aggravating.

The solution was to make a checklist of sorts, listing the articles.   I could refer to it and make sure each one got in.  It, of course, required a spreadsheet, so my challenge was to make a spreadsheet look — well, less like a spreadsheet.  Yet, it would also still able to use the spreadsheet features like sorting.  This is what I did:

1.  Row height: 30 (the default is 15, so this is a big increase).   The extra spacing makes it easier to read and look less list like.

2.  Font size: 18 (default is 11).

3.  For the first column, I use different colors.  Admittedly, I don’t spend a lot of time on this — I just click on a cell, and pick the first fill color, click on the second cell, pick the second fill color, and so forth.  Though I like bold colors, I generally stay in the pastel zone for a spreadsheet.  I have to be able to read any text I type or write in it, and pastel just makes this easier.

4.  Then I add a row between each of them, 8.25 in height, so very narrow.  It’s just there to further break up the spreadsheety look.

When most people create a spreadsheet, they either use the default font size or make it even smaller (eye chart time!) so that everything will fit.  Here, I’m making it bigger and spreading it out so it looks a little less sequential.  And the color — that, surprisingly, makes a big difference in separating out the rows to me.  So there are ways to make an existing tool work for you if you’re creative!