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 lisa.rabey.net” (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.

“what the hell do i write about?”

“what the hell do i write about?”

this is a question i’ve mulled over for ages and i can’t seem to find a satisfactory answer. i tried chick lit many years ago but while i loved to read it (shut it), several of my pieces started out strong and eventually  fizzled. i suppose if i found an editor who could help make a difference it would have been different, but in the end my heart wasn’t into that genre anymore.

next came fantasy/sci fi/paranormal/magical realism. i love the works of terry pratchett, jasper fforde, and others, and i’m keenly interested in mythology and fairy tale, and while that’s all well and good, and i have notes up the wazoo on various pieces, i just cannot get going on building my worlds.

then i started dabbling in mysteries with cabinet particulier (working title), “…a book project about a near-failed Edwardian actress who finds she is extraordinarily talented with a still camera. A little too extraordinary. It’s 1907. Throw in a bit of magical realism, fairies, Arthur Conan Doyle, motorbikes, and a murder and you have the makings of a fantastic world” (i apparently write fabulous summaries), but that’s stalled not because i’ve lost interest but everything else going on in my life has pushed the book far into the background.


i’ve been contemplating recently on two very important points:

  1. i should keep writing no matter what i do
  2. and this quote by theodora goss: “i tell myself that I’m allowed to be jealous of another writer if i’m willing to be jealous of everything, the good and the bad.”

the last one is particular poignant because i follow two women writers who’ve started from nothing and ended up blowing up huge. i’m jealous of their success, their recognition, and their fans who love them. but i remember both struggling, finding an audience, wanting to be read more than anything in the world, their  failure after failure and lastly, never ever giving up.


one thing i’ve learned about myself this past year, and one trait i’m thrilled to finally have down pat, is starting something and continuing on. i’ve meditated for 413 consecutive days; i’ve recently started weight watchers and i’ve been diligent on keeping on track (and so far losing 12 solid pounds since starting and 19 pounds from my highest weight recorded earlier this year); doing yoga on a continual basis, and the most important one: being smoke free since january. these are but small things but knowing i can start and continue a single thing has helped pushed me into doing more things  i can actually follow through with.


this new ability is v. important. i have adhd and coupled with my other brain gifts, starting projects, following through, and finishing those projects has only succeeded 1% of the time. so why the (positive) change? i attribute it to drugs, mainly, but the feeling of doing something and finishing something has made a huge impact on my life. i remember the feeling when i finished my book; this feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction i created something and i gave it to the world, which gave me a natural high.

and that high is addicting.


i’ve spent a good portion of my morning reading through what i have written in scrivener and upon closer inspection, things aren’t as half bad as i feared. the writing spanned from chick lit to magical realism; some better than others (despite my earlier assessment) and i found myself wanting to complete some of that work. there is a lot to work with, with some pieces closer to completion than others, which is only right. i have some fairly good ideas i cooked up and i can see where the mania pushed some work further down the road in terms of tone and plot while others are dark and short relative to the depression i was going through at the time. there is quite a few non-fiction pieces in addition to the fiction, with smattering of erotica and poetry (which is terrible. i am certainly no poet.

my voice in some pieces is fresh, while others are still in need of a lot of work. i caught myself, after reading a few pieces, finding stuff similar to other voices. the question gets turned not from, “what the hell do i write about?” to “how can i make this mine?”


“what the hell do i write about?”

the question remains valid. i am worried, and to be frank still am, i would be regulated to writing about the things i feel strongly about (myself, mental health, libraries, comics) rather than widen my horizons into other areas (short stories, novels, erotica).


i’ve always struggled with anxiety about my writing: it’s trite; it’s not strong enough; the story has been retold too many times. i feel overwhelmed i cannot compete on the big stage. my writing is never good enough.

i’m going to add more pieces of advice i received about writing:

  • read your work out loud
  • remove as many “thats” as you can
  • use a thesaurus liberally
  • watching your “-ings”
  • watch your verbs
  • just because you’re sick of your writing doesn’t mean someone else is

the last piece stays with me more often than not and is underscored by people who tell me they love my writing. so why don’t i have belief in myself?


“what the hell do i write about?”

in the past i felt writing about this topic would get done to death, but today i think it’s okay to keep hammering the point when necessary because it’s a good reminder it’s okay to be scared, overwhelmed, and insecure. not everything is going to be perfect from the belly and it’s okay to have some bad work as well as exceptional work.

the last piece of advice i’d give a new writer: it’s okay to be scared.

 

p.s. i’m going to do a variation of the #100dayproject where i write one page a day for 100 days. i’m not going to post that shit on instagram, as dictated on the project page, but i think in the end i might post here to my blog or do something for accountability. anyone want to do a project along with me (doesn’t have to be writing) for moral support?

here we are, yet again

blew the dust off of scrivener a few weeks ago to see what horrors laid within and discovered two short stories i recently allegedly written. alleged as one of them is very well by me as it is about a serial dream i had several years ago but the voice and tone is slightly different and the other? the other i’m not so sure as there are glimpses of me here and there but the story and verbiage feels like someone else. does that make me hack? i’m so poor in creating my own world i must reach out to take someone else’s voice?

who the fuck knows.


lately i’ve been contemplating on changing my writing professional name to something else. sometimes i think lisa rabey is too tinged in controversy to move forward than i think i would find redemption in my writing life by keeping my name.


a piece of advice i received seemingly a lifetime ago was thinking about writing was also work. just because i wasn’t putting pen to paper didn’t mean i wasn’t doing something and that it just happened to be in a different space. i remain skeptical.


i’ve become a huge fan of newsletters in the last few months because why browse the internet for things to read when someone else is already doing it for you? many of the newsletters are written by writers who add essayists to their slashes (fiction/memoir/essayist would be my slashes) as well but are getting publication and maybe payment for their work because THEY ARE ACTUALLY PITCHING TO THESE WEBSITES.

i know — i’m as shocked as you are.

as i read their work, i became more influenced on what i could write and the list just keeps growing.

as of this writing, i have come up with 20 different pitch ideas and essays i’d like to write. maybe it’s not too late afterall.


it is seemingly convenient to forget when i was on a pitching spree last fall those pitches were accepted and some of them were paid gigs.


longtime readers of exit, pursued by a bear know i’ve been traveling / moving around a lot these last two years and many of my belongings continue to remain in boxes. much of these boxes have been repacked and renamed so i always slit the tape, check the contents, and then tape it back up to verify its contents when i land in a new place.

a couple of boxes remain what they are marked: notebooks. as one would guess, notebooks covers diaries, journals, other writing from my catholic tinged youth until my mid-20s. much of it is fiction, more of it is diaries. i’m afraid to read any of it because what secrets they hold may be just that – secret. but these boxes are comforting, they tell a linear story i seem to casually put on the shelf and maybe i am not the hack i continually tell myself to be.


here we are, yet again.


if you’ve been paying attention you get the subtext something is up and that something is i’m going to keep trying. even if i have to recoup and beat and recoup and beat until my dying breath on this topic of woe is me and woe is my writing life,

i’m going to keep trying because that is what i do.


i expressed my fears to the ex-husband, he who is my biggest fan, and he remarked he’s played thousand of hours of basketball but he’s always suspected he wasn’t quite good enough for the nba (though at 6’7, he’s certainly tall enough) and because of that he has never tried out. so maybe, he posited, that is what it’s like for me? maybe it isn’t about the name recognition, literary fame, or writing a solid story. maybe it’s just the sheer joy of writing that should sustain me.

i’ve been thinking about his comment and i’ve come to the conclusion it is not so much as being rich and famous but that i have a voice that i want the world to hear.

maybe that is all that matters.

So now you’ve got that in-person interview!

Dear Internet,

Another institution contacted me today to schedule an interview. #fistpump Once I confirmed I was still interested, I started researching the location to see if it would be a good fit for me. Now you may be wondering why I’m doing this as it’s the “get to know you” interview. Simple: I applied for the position as it seemed like a good fit and now I need to see if the location fits me too.

Here are the questions I ask myself and how I obtain my answers:

  • How much are they paying me? You have a good chance of finding your potential salary on the call of applications and it will usually have a range. Because of my experience, I place what I should be commending between the median and high end of the range to give me a rough idea of what to expect. If I fall below that, I negotiate like heck. If they don’t advertise it on the call for applications, you can do one of two things:  The institution may require you meet the meet all the requirements of the union, whose website they gave me, to obtain tenure. I checked the union’s website and it gave the list of the pay ranges for each track of position, in this instance, full, associate, or assistant professor. Often, instead the pay ranges via the union, they will have a pay band, usually associated with a number or letter, so this job may fall into pay band of A21 which the pay is between $55K-$70K. University / college websites are so convoluted you’ll not be able to find this information easily so in google I use the search “salary site:nameofcollege.edu” to find the info. (As a rule, I do not use the college’s search box because it’s always terrible.) If none of this works, email HR to get the salary range. (One of my pet peeves is when institutions want you to provide your salary range. Don’t. This gives them the idea of what they can pay you versus what is available plus that number, for you, might be flexible. If you can live on $60K in one city, the cost of living in another might be low enough for you to live on $45K. So don’t tell them and it’s none of their business.)
  • Holy cats! Can I afford to move to XXX? Cost of living rules our daily lives. For example, we know living on the East Coast is more expensive than living in the Midwest. But just how much more expensive is it and can I use this knowledge to negotiate a higher salary? Let’s start by comparing your current location with the prospective one. For this I use Sperling’s Best Places to get that answer. For this example, I’m comparing moving from Grand Rapids, MI to Louisville, KY with a salary of $60,000. The increase to move is only 2%, which to me is negligible but depending on the pay range of the new institution, if I was near the middle, I’d probably negotiate higher.  If I were to move from Grand Rapids, MI to NYC, the increase is 90% and heck yeah would I be negotiating that salary. Remember this is an estimate and not an absolute number.
  • How much rent can I afford? Now that you have a rough idea of pay, and you have a rough idea of cost of living, let’s take a look at the biggest chunk of your paycheck: rent. To get this number, I head to Zillow’s rent calculator and use the following equation: $X (salary) x .75 (I am generous with taxes/SSDI and usually go 25%) / 12 = monthly take-home. For this example: $60K x .75 = $45K / 12 = take home of $3750. I plug that number in and leave monthly expenses at $0 to get your max amount of rent you can afford each month. (I leave the monthly expenses at $0 as they shift too much to get a minimum and I’m more interested in the max of affordability.)
  • Make an effing budget Now that you have a general idea of how much you’re making and what it will cost for you to live, how are you going to pay your bills? In December I had scored two second interviews with two institutions and I had to be prepared to make a decision so I needed an idea of what i’m looking for. I knew some things were constant (cell phone bill, car insurance) but others were going to be variable (gas, food, internet). I figured out what I was spending in Louisville and amped it up by at least 25% to give me an idea of what my disposable income would be. Make an effing budget.

You have your average salary, cost of living, and what you can afford for rent, the next step is to figure out where you want to live.

Let’s assume you’re moving to a new city and you don’t know anyone, so finding an area that fits your needs is going to be rough going but it’s not impossible. Just like the list I gave the other day on my requirements, for location virtual scouting these are the tools I use:

  • Walkability score  I am not and never have been by any stretch of the imagination a suburbs girl, so I always check the walkability of places I’m interested in. What this also gives you a good idea where neighborhood markets, coffee shops, bookstores, and the like are located. Check out Walk Score to see where your neighborhood lands and Walk Score also allows you to sort by the most walkable areas.
  • Google Maps  for anything I am interested in (coffee shops, trader joe’s, comic book stores, whatever), I use the search string “coffee shops near name of city” in google maps. Up pops a lovely map of all the coffee shops in that city, which I cross reference with my other requirements. Now I have a general idea of where I want to be
  • Google I use search strings like “best bars in X” or “best whatever in X” to also get a good idea of locations. This should also pull up local magazines, newspapers, and websites dedicated to the area since they typically run these type of listicles.
  • Wikipedia I use wikipedia to get an idea of what the town, overall, is like and get an idea of culture.

    Is this a lot of work? Yes — I can spend an afternoon or two just doing research but remember, you’re interviewing the city as much as you’re interviewing the instituion.

Good luck and may the gods be with you in your job search.