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Episode 015 | 5 Essential Systems for Writers


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Whether you’re…

  1. a pantser or a planner,

  2. prefer a messy desk or one that is always photo-ready,

  3. prefer digital files or the old fashioned kind,

  4. write your drafts using a pen and paper, dictation, a typewriter, a word processor, or a computer…

…you need the following five systems to make your writing career happen.

1 TIME/WORK MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS – If you’ve been listening to the show, you’ve heard me encourage you to find time for your writing by getting very intentional about your schedule and tasks. Now that you’ve freed some hours up for writing work, think about how you’re going to use them. Set up clear, reasonable goals for your work and do your best to stick with them. Depending on how you’re wired, you might choose a deadline and then work backwards to figure out how much you need to do every working day between now and then to achieve it. Or you might just enjoy watching the words stack up, appreciate the practice of creating some number of words every day. Either way, track those wordcounts! Some people like to get really meta about it and try out different times of day and writing conditions to see what helps them produce the most work. Others are just squeezing it in when they can and don’t have the luxury of tweaking their times and locations. Whatever motivates you to get the words down is the best approach for you. Remember, though, that if you want to put your work out into the world, there’s more to it than just (just! ha!) writing your story. David Mamet suggests you do one thing for your art every day and one day for your business. Depending on what stage you’re in, you might be tempted to spend all of your time working on your art by focusing on taking classes or revising your “work in progress” (or WIP). However, try to remember to mix in a little of the business end of writing, even at the beginning. Quick and simple things can add up. Spend a few minutes reading up on industry trends. Jot down a contest or agent you’d like to submit your work to in the future. Network on a facebook group for writers of your genre. The best way to ensure that you regularly write and attend to your writing business is to have a time/work management system of some kind. There are more options than ever for helping you track your time and work. I’ve used both physical planners and electronic ones and have liked both. I will never tell you there is one perfect way to keep up with your schedule. I can urge you to try different methods until you settle on one that works for you at this stage of your life.

2 IDEA & RESEARCH MANAGEMENT SYSTEM – Ideas and valuable research details will often come to you at odd, inconvenient times. To make sure you have access to them when you need them, it’s helpful to have a system that both catches your ideas quickly/easily and stashes them long term. If you’re truly old school, even the proverbial cocktail napkin can work. However, it all hinges on whether you have an effective way to keep track of all of them. You can do better. If you lean more analog, consider following the example of Anne Lamott, who shared in her beloved writing book Bird by Bird that she always has a few notecards and a pen at hand so that she could jot down her ideas quickly. While Bird by Bird came out almost a quarter-century ago, there are still many writers that swear by this method. For a lot of us, however, the only thing we always have at hand 24/7 is our phone. And the good news is that the are about a bazillion different apps that serve the same purpose as Lamott’s trusty notecards. Try different harvesting methods out and see what works for you. Then decide on what sort of storage system makes the most sense for you, given your skills, resources, and inclinations. My suggestion is that you at least try Evernote. It can serve as a short-term harvester and a long-term information storage system. It’s free, and you can see what it is you do and don’t like about it. It’ll offer a baseline so that you can figure out what else might be right for you.

3 DRAFT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM – Again, there is no one size fits all system for everyone here. If, for instance, you like to write longhand, then someone else’s file-naming tricks or the various features on programs like Scrivener or Storyist that allows you to save different versions will do you no good. The bottom line is this: When you start to write, make a decision about how you’re going to keep track of the different versions of your project and then stick with it. Avoid the frustrations of things like misplacing a draft or realizing that you’ve been revising an old version of a chapter. There’s little more frustrating in the writing process than suspecting that you actually did something better in an earlier version of a story, but no longer have access to it. If you always work in the same document the entire time, you will rob yourself of the opportunities to go back to earlier versions. One draft means you will have already sent those words into the great beyond, leaving no trace that they ever existed.

4 SUBMISSIONS MANAGEMENT SYSTEM – If you want to be published, eventually it will be time to start sending all those words out into the world. I’ve seen a wide range of ways that people have dealt with this. One prolific writer and single mom of two boys kept everything in a notebook where she wrote down where and when she sent something and the response she got. Lots of people I know use spreadsheets. Some use online programs like Airtable. Some use paid services like Duotrope to help them keep track of it or simply go with the basic features in Submittable. However you do it, make sure that you have a way to track places you want to send things and places you have already sent things.


5 MARKETING & SALES TRACKING SYSTEM – Indie authors and freelance writers will have more to keep track of than traditionally published authors, who have more support for these tasks. It could be as simple as a notebook or as advanced as a computer program designed for these purposes. The point is that you need to plan for both the space and the time to track your sales and the effects that your marketing efforts (including social media) have upon them. You’ll also want to keep track of people you meet while networking. You never know how you might be helpful to one another with future promotions, reviews, blurbs, etc.

**BONUS SYSTEMSYou might also consider tracking your reading. What have you read? What are you reading now (and why)? What do you want to read? Are you keeping up to speed on the types of books popular in your genre? Are you continuously building your writing skills? Are you reading for research for your WIP? Are you keeping abreast of trends in the publishing industry? You might also track classes, conferences, podcasts, and other opportunities to improve your writing skills. Finally, if you are thinking about writing a series, you should strongly consider keeping a Series Bible. Like everything else, this can be as simple as a three-ring binder or as complicated as keeping track of your own wiki or database.

Did I forget any? What other systems do you think are critical for managing your writing life? Send me your thoughts! You can reach me by email at: info [at] therookiewriter.net.

Until then, happy writing, people!



  1. 5 Organizing Tips for Writers and Authors by Conrad Zero

  2. 6 Organization Tips for Disorganized Writers by Suzannah Windsor Freeman

  3. Be a Better Writer: Get Organized by K.M. Weiland

  4. Get Organized: How to Organize Your Writing Notes by Jill Duffy

  5. Keeping Organized as a Writer by Elizabeth S. Craig

  6. The Zen of More Organized Writing: 5 Steps You Can Take Today by Bryan Collins

#salestracking #podcasts #Airtable #classes #wordcounts #ProjectManagement #AnneLamott #submissionsmanagement #skillbuilding #Duotrope #timemanagement #Submittable #DavidMamet #Evernote #seriesbible #conferences #artandbiz #ideamanagement #draftmanagement #BirdbyBird #researchmanagement

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