During the course of one year, I co-authored two books, edited three, and wrote on a weekly basis for a nonprofit, a university, several magazine and four major corporations. I was also pregnant and raising a two-year-old at the time.
Not every year of my life is so productive (thank goodness!), but the organization I put to use can be applied to any writer’s life. When people ask me how I stay organized, I usually talk about two categories: tools and tactics.
Organization tools: What I use
• Desk calendar. My desk calendar takes up the majority of my working surface. I can’t miss it—and that’s the way I like it. It’s a huge visual reminder and prompt.
• Inbox folders. I create new folders in Microsoft Outlook email program for each client, and sub folders for each project under each client.
• Excel spreadsheets. Spreadsheets help me keep track of which sources I have interviewed for which stories, whether that’s an article or a book. So at a glance, I know which people I can draw upon again for a different purpose. For example, I have used one source for three different magazine articles and one book.
• Skype. Using Skype (Internet-based phone service) for interviews is cheap, and the conversations are automatically recorded and stored in Microsoft Outlook.
• Post-it notes. I have pads of these in my office, next to my bed, on the kitchen counter and in my purse. So when a thought crosses my mind, I quickly get it down in print. I also move post-its around to different days on the desk calendar, or stick them on my monitor.
Organization tactics: How I write
All the right tools, however, are only effective if you exercise discipline in your writing life. Here are a few tips for how to do that.
1) Put writing time on the calendar. Make arrangements for child care if you’re a work-at-home mom like me. When I had just one child I could write during her naps, but when #2 came along, I hired a college student to come in three mornings a week.
2) Just do it. Don’t wait for inspiration to come or the right mood to strike. Just start writing. It’s a lot easier to revise a really bad first draft than it is to revise a blank page. (If you’re paying a babysitter for that writing time, you’ll get over that writer’s block in a hurry!)
3) Get up an hour earlier. This will give you time to get organized for the day before plunging into work—or two get some work done before responding to emails/phone calls.
4) Put your deadlines on a wall planner or desk calendar. Block off time for certain projects. Work backwards from deadlines to allow time for interviewing, writing, sending to sources, editing. You might use different color pens for appointments, interviews and deadlines. Write the phone numbers for interviews on the calendar, too, so you’re not searching for it at the last minute when you should be dialing.
5) Prioritize daily, weekly, monthly. Post a to-do list in prioritized order for each day, week and month. Be realistic so you don’t frustrate yourself unnecessarily.