It’s already been a whirlwind of a start to the year. I’ve managed to finish one new short story, FISHING OVER THE BONES OF THE DRAGON, which is about the loss of innocence, growing old, the reticence of men to speak to their emotions, father/son relationships, and, well… some fishing stuff, too. I quite like the way it turned out, but we’ll see if anyone else in the publishing industry agrees. I’ve started a second story which is a planned comedic short called THE LONG FRYDAY, about a women’s “day off” (strike) in a fantasy realm. Still figuring out where I want to go with that one.
On top of that, I got a really great email, followed by a marvelous phone call, that I can’t expound upon yet. But there’s a potential opportunity coming that I’m excited about and I’ll be keeping my fingers and toes crossed in the hopes of hearing good things soon. Not a done deal by any stretch, but either way I can come away from the conversation with a spring in my step. Oh, and another of my stories has been shortlisted for potential publication, with a final decision coming in a bit over a month. January is shaping up to be a pretty fine way to start the year.
On a related note, I’m now the treasurer for the Frederick, Maryland, chapter of the Maryland Writer’s Association. We’re supposed to have our first official meeting this Saturday (two previous ones were held to gauge interest and solicit volunteers for the first run of chapter officers), but weather may play a factor, so right now I expect it might be delayed. It was a volunteer position, although future ones will be voted on by the chapter I’m sure. I decided I needed to be a little more involved locally with writers groups, so I put myself up for it, as well as vice president. Should be a fun experience and who knows where it will lead.
Staying organized with all this is a bit of a pain in the ass when you’re a writer. I’ve done a few things to keep better track of stuff and help me stay organized. I’ve adopted tools and techniques which work for me and which I recommend (though of course, the same things may not work for someone else). But here’s a general rundown of things over the last six years that I’ve made part of my process.
I’ve used Excel for a ton of things. In terms of writing, though, I initially used it to keep track of my story submissions (since replaced). More recently, I created a word count document to keep track of my daily writing goals through the entirety of 2016, and I’ve updated the template every year since, although I haven’t used it much myself. I did make a new one for 2019 and have been using it again. All I need to do is enter the current word count for any work, and it automatically calculates: daily total; monthly daily average; yearly daily average; amount above or below the goal I’ve set; total words for the year.
Submission Grinder is a website where you can create a free account and keep track of your story submissions. This is definitely geared towards short stories, novelettes and novellas, not novel submissions. For novels, check out Query Tracker. The Grinder let’s you create entries for each story, and will search for markets that are current open that you can submit to, while ignoring any the story has already been submitted to, or that you already have submissions at.
I’ve used this site extensively since I found out about it a few years ago. Initially I used a spreadsheet to keep track of submissions, but this is way better. Most of the difficult work is already done for you, and it gives you a breakdown of your submissions so that you can see how you’re doing. I like to look at my year-to-year, as well as month-to-month, progress. How many stories I’ve submitted; how many rejections; how many of those were personal rejections. All of that goes into the end-of-month reports I started doing last year.
Alternative: Duotrope is a similar website, but it costs money to use. There is a free trial so you can try it out.
Related: Query Tracker is a similar product for tracking novel queries to agents. I’ve started using this site recently as well, replacing my query tracking spreadsheet.
I admit I don’t use Evernote as much as I used to, but it’s still a great tool. It’s a cloud based note taking app that allows you to create notes that are shared on multiple platforms (but just two with a basic account). It also lets you grab and store web pages to read later, or as a reminder of something you needed to remember for a story. It’s free to sign up and use, but offers additional features if you want to pay, like the ability to use it on more devices. These days, though, I’m usually jotting down a note in my iPhone note app and I transfer it manually later.
Alternatives: Microsoft OneNote; Cintanotes.
One critical thing you need to be doing is backing up your data. In my case, I choose to worry mainly about my stories and documents, and for that I use a free DropBox account. Not only does it safely store my work in the cloud, but I can download the stories at other locations and on other devices so I can work on them. On my home computer, I have a dropbox folder tied directly to my account, so all I need to do is edit or create a document and it’s automatically uploaded. The reverse is true when I upload a document from another system, it’s automatically downloaded to my PC the next time I turn it on. You can also share documents for others to view or edit, although I rarely use it for this purpose.
Alternatives: Google Docs (which my VP friends and I use for sharing things); Microsoft OneDrive
My wife bought me WriteItNow! 5 for Christmas a year ago. She’s a sweetheart, and I immediately installed and tried it out. It turned out that I loved it. It’s very much a Scrivener competitor with some similar features, so if you’re already using Scrivener you probably don’t need this. And I think Scrivener is a little cheaper. But I found the program to be everything I wanted and needed in novel writing software (note: not using this for short stories, just Word). It allows me to write and organize by scene and easily move things around as needed. There are places to store character and location information, or jot down plot notes and thoughts. While there are a few things I know Scrivener does far better (importing an existing novel is not as smooth in WiN; I wish I could work in WiN’s corkboard which you can do with Scrivener; the writing window in WiN is not great and Scrivener’s writing interface is far more WYSIWYG), I’m happy with the product and how it’s changed my relationship to writing novels.
Alternative: Scrivener’s website.
More recently I read a post by an author on the Tor site that detailed how they use a wiki to keep track of all their world building details (think Wikipedia, but private). I was definitely taken by this idea and spent most of a recent weekend figuring out how to do it. I have my own web hosting space, and it was easy enough to set something up for testing purposes, but so far I’m still looking for the right wiki software to install and use. I can learn the markup languages and short codes needed for a WordPress-based site, but I’m not sure I want to muck around with them every time I create a new page. I’ve chosen PmWiki, and I’ll be playing around with it in the coming weeks, starting with the Mirabel Sinclair novel world. We’ll see if this is something that sticks for me.
I’m lucky that I own my own domain and can pay for web hosting. For those who can’t who may want to try their hand at this idea, there’s a bunch of free solutions out there. There are some limits around those of course (free doesn’t mean you get to do what you want or have unlimited bandwidth/storage), but the trade off to try out the concept seems pretty fair.
There’s a lot of other things I use. Calendars (mainly google), notebooks for handwriting in, etc. But I’ll leave you to sort those out for yourself. I also work hard to keep my desk fairly organized, and the new desk organizer my wife got me for Christmas will help me keep that goal in focus. It’s far better than the old basket I had to store all these things.
Any of these can help you out, though none is a panacea to the core of your writing career. They won’t make you a great author, they won’t help you sell more stories. But they might give you a little piece of mind and help you stay organized. And for me at least, staying organized and keeping my work space tidy helps keep me on track with my writing.
Now if I could just get around to filing these documents that are all stacked up on my desk. Have I mentioned how much I dislike filing? Sigh. . .