managing writing projects

  • 26 fiction book ideas
  • 33 fiction story ideas (shorts / novellas)
  • 19 fiction stories in progress
  • 6 non-fiction essays in progress
  • 6 fiction short stories finished
  • 8 fiction short stories to be edited / revised
  • 1 themed short story collection started
  • Afraid to say how many #100DayProject entries (i.e. not many)

And the big one:

  • 10 life projects

When I tell my therapists I have projects in the works,  I am referring to life projects. Things like “find a job,” “update/manage” (librarian site), and so on are all individual life projects. Each “project” requires its own energy and resources. “Finding a job” meant spending 30+ hours a week on job searching, writing applications, finding references, and anything else associated with that task. I also spent five+ hours a week researching and updating my librarian (main career goal) site to keep myself fresh and relevant in the field.

Those two projects are related (but separate) and seem like they should take up a good chunk of my time. They are and they did but I didn’t have just those two life projects to keep me busy: I have 10.

Let’s give another example:

Code Louisville (life project #1) uses Team Treehouse (life project #2) as the foundational courses for Code Louisville’s cohorts. I reasoned I needed to also have a website to showcase my work which led to the creation of a consulting business (life project #3) for site design / content curation (of which I had enough knowledge to be dangerous but I was taking zero classes for, so I needed to take more classes to supplement (life project #4)). These life projects could be streamlined and consolidated into a single connected project (take only foundational courses needed for Code Louisville and use the website only as CL cohort increased, stop consulting services and taking additional classes).

But I didn’t think that way. I thought if I could do all the things, my chances of getting employed / noticed / famous would increase. We know how this story ends: Spread too thin and I was not a master of any and mediocre at best for most. How do I do I approach this to make sense in my head and to get the work done?

James Altchuer has the 5/25 rule. You make a list of 25 things you want to do and keep only five, the other 20 are distractions. I am using this advice to manage my projects better. Out of the 10, five were put on hold indefinitely. Two were consolidated (Code Louisville / Team Treehouse) which leaves me another three projects I can handle: update EPbaB (and the newsletter) once a week, work on my woo-woo makey feel good stuff, and writing for a total of four projects. Code Louisville / Team Treehouse are time specific and not immediate so that’s on the backburner for the moment; updating the personal blog and newsletter takes 10 hours a week (closer to five to seven but I want to be generous with time), and the woo-woo makey feel good stuff is my daily meditation, working on DBT, seeing a therapist which is also another 10 or so hours a week. In theory, since writing can be done at anytime and anywhere, I have about 30 – 50 hours a week I can devote to writing.

On paper, this sounds great, but there is more coming down the pipeline. I’ve applied for several online tutoring jobs which while it nets me some much needed cash, it also means I’m going to be working about 20 or so hours a week which will eat into my writing time. Plus there is general life stuff: errands, going out, dog things, etc which has an unknown amount of weekly allocated time. Finally, FINALLY, there is the writing itself. I have books to read, notes to make, ideas to simmer, when do I actually sit down and just bloody write?

Writing is on the forefront of my brain for the last few months and I want to change my framing of approaching it. If I do X (which I’ve done a million times), then X would surely, finally (not really) happen. Good intentions, bad follow through and it’s fucking with my goals. Look at the writing numbers above: 26 book ideas stretching back to at least 2001. 80% of the ideas will never see the light of day. The remaining five, maybe 2 will come to fruition if I actually get cracking on them. The other numbers will roughly have the same percentage. The only increase, and probably better completion of, are the non-fiction essays since I can knock those out fairly quickly.

Therein lies the rub: writing isn’t just about writing, it’s about everything you do before (and after) you put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard). There are queries to write, research to be done, edits to be made, notes to take, possible classes to sit in, books to be read, and if you’re self-publishing, there is far more work to be done for promotion and hustling oneself out into the world.

I get overwhelmed with it all, fuck off the world and play Animal Crossing. Surprise, surprise – nothing is finished.

900 words later, we get to the point: How do I handle writing projects? Walter  Mosely’s slim treatise, This Year You Write Your Novel can be summed up as such: Allocate X hours in the morning for just writing and spend the afternoon doing administrative tasks (email, errands, research) and within a year, viola! A novel. Jonathan Franzen (jackass) has widely noted he has his wireless card removed (to prevent internet distractions) and once, “…writing in the dark, wearing earplugs and a blindfold.” to finish another novel. (Pompous twit.) But it worked for him. Other writers have even more wildly different approaches. I know of one writer who, with deadlines looming, writes whatever is due before the final hour. NaNoWriMo‘s approach tells you if you write 1600 words a day, NO EDITING, in the month of November, you too can have a complete (unedited), albeit, short novel.

Here I am, with more ideas to shake a stick at, finally time I can reasonably carve out to write, and I’m writing a blog post about managing writing projects instead of, you know, actually writing.

All is not lost! I use a 9″x12″ sketch pad to plot out my life and now I have a visual idea of what I can reasonably handle even if the other ideas are 10000% awesome. I’m, for the first time, learning from my reading in addition to enjoying it for pleasure. I’m reading technical books to refresh my English comp classes, I’ve started plotting (new!) some stories to get an idea of how I want the stories to land. I’m keeping in mind the advice I gave a few weeks ago and using the spreadsheet of doom to track everything. I am starting a task for the day and completing it rather than have many tasks unfinished. Progress on reframing my approach, tiny but visible, is being made.

It’s hard. Writing is hard. We do not come forth and spill out Harry Potter or Ulyssys on the first tries. We know of the rejections and the waiting and the struggles. We forget these things when we see authors we love become more famous or in some, become obscure. We cannot be everything at once and in all life projects, yet we try to be. We have a voice we want to be heard but we keep strangling it on the behalf of others advice with the thought of shame we are not doing things “right.”

And that’s our greatest struggle of all.

let me spreadsheet that for you

I’ve made lists and spreadsheets long before I was a librarian so when I desired to take my writing one step further and begin to submit my pieces, I needed a way to track everything without losing my mind. I’ve searched for such a thing but most of the tools were lacking. Then I came across Jamie Rubin‘s spreadsheet and later the one from The Sleeper Hit and the great spreadsheet of doom was born.1

I keeping a few of my examples to give you a better idea of how it works, starting from the left tab and over:

  • Upcoming deadlines Pretty self-explanatory. It has the name of the publication, theme/idea, due date, cost (if any), payment (flat rate or per word), and link to the submission information.
  • Stories I only count finished but you could break it up to include working as well. Title, abbreviation, word count. It should be noted some places have limits on word count hence this column. DO NOT MODIFY THE COLUMNS IN GREEN. This will become important later on.
  • Submissions Some of the cells will have drop-down options for each cell not green. Date (date you submitted);  market (which populates from the market tab); status (which populates from the configuration lists tab); leave the next three green columns alone; last date (when the piece was accepted); leave the next green column alone; and lastly, contact and notes.
  • Places to pitch The basic agreement is to collate listings of your favorite websites where you want to write and include the idea/theme of that site as well as the contact information. 75% of this list was compiled by The Sleeper Hit and I’ve been adding as I go.
  • Markets Market is similar to places to pitch with the difference by adding type of payment (populates from the configuration lists tab), the next six green columns pulling from the submissions tab, and the last green column pulling from the publications tab.
  • Publications A list of all places you’ve published coupled with how much you made for said sale. Story column will have a drop down generated by the abbreviation of your stories tab, markets pulling from markets tab; type pulling from configuration lists tab; fill in payment with how much you got paid (which will then populate the total payments column on the markets and payment summary tabs); payment date (date you received payment), and payment type (populated from the configurations lists tab); link to the piece and finally, year (which will be used in the submission and payment summaries tabs).
  • Submission summary for those who like charts.
  • Payment summary for those who like charts.
  • Configuration lists which are populated through the workbook. You can add cells (starting below the last filled cell) as necessary but do not delete the columns.
  • Instructions are for the Jamie Rubin parts of the workbook with links to their blog piece describing the process.

Some notes:

Yes, this seems overly complicated and could probably be simplified in bits but I found its current status to work well. Markets and publications and places are used interchangeably. (I should probably fix that some day for consistency.) As I’m a very visual person, having the visual gives me a better idea of how much work I’ve done in writing and submitting. At least one more tab I’m going to add is one for novel writing for daily word counts. (I don’t count blog pieces, journal entries, or anything of the sort since those have no value other  privately for me.)

There you have it!

1. The spreadsheet can be modified to fit a variety of projects, not just writing.