Hi, folks! Remember me? I’m the one who dragged in my day-job experience developing strategic plans, applying those techniques to my writing career and forever muddying the floor here at Magical Words. I figured I’d continue that theme today, looking at ways that authors can use calendars to best track their writing careers.
As an initial note, I use Apple’s iCal as my calendaring software. The techniques I’m about to discuss, though, were developed using Outlook. I’ve even worked similar systems using index cards. The *concepts* are what’s important here, not the specific techniques.
Like all of us, I juggle a lot of balls in my day-to-day life. To that end, I have created multiple sub-calendars on my main calendar. Each sub-calendar is assigned its own name (e.g., “Writing”) and its own color (e.g., green – because that’s where my money is coming from ) I share my entire online calendar with my husband, so that we don’t cross-schedule each other. My sub-calendars and their colors are:
- Mindy – blue: This sub-calendar details personal activities, such as lunch meetings with friends, doctor’s appointments, and personal solo travel.
- Joint – blue: This sub-calendar details activities participated in with my husband, such as symphony performances, dinners with friends, and vacations. (I purposely keep it the same color as my solo calendar because the activities occupy the same “mental” space as the ones I do alone.)
- Husband – purple: This sub-calendar details my husband’s personal activities, such as sporting events that I loathe.
- Writing – green: This sub-calendar details professional activities, such as deadlines for books, promotional engagements, and research expeditions.
- Household – orange: This sub-calendar details obligations connected to home ownership, such as changing the air filter in the furnace and weekly laundering of the bed-linens to murder dust mites. (I’m primarily responsible for all home maintenance, shopping, etc.)
- Celebrations – grey: This sub-calendar details annually recurring events, such as birthdays and anniversaries.
- Tentative – yellow: This sub-calendar details all obligations for all other sub-calendars that may come to pass but are not yet certain, such as a friend visiting from out of town, attending Worldcon 2012, and taking a cooking class.
Of all these sub-calendars, the most valuable is the “Tentative”. I regularly use it to block out stretches of time when I might not be available to friends or family. At the beginning of each year, I typically place all major cons and several minor ones on the Tentative sub-calendar. When I plan my actual attendance at a con, I place all mandatory events (e.g., panels where I am participating or meetings with my editor) on the green Writing sub-calendar, and then I add all hoped for events (e.g., panels that I want to attend, not-yet-scheduled-but-hoped-for dinner with friends) on the yellow Tentative sub-calendar. As events firm up, I can change the calendar entry from Tentative to Writing (or delete it altogether.) I find that the visual representation of the Tentative calendar keeps me on track, especially during very busy stretches.
The most important part of my calendaring system, though, is not an actual sub-calendar. Rather, it is the “To Do” items. I create and maintain a separate To Do item for every ongoing writing project and every freelance client. I also maintain “catch-all” To Do items for Household Management (where I list recurring household tasks and their due dates), for Medical Matters (where I list recurring doctor’s appointments and related tasks, along with their due dates), and Paperwork Management (where I list recurring obligations such as shredding papers, performing annual credit checks, and filing estimated taxes.) Finally, I maintain some To Do items without specific due dates. I use them to list Getaway Weekends (places that I’d like to visit but can never think of on the spur of the moment), Restaurants (ditto), and Mad Money (what I’ll buy if an unexpected royalty check arrives.)
For each To Do item (other than those last list-keeping ones), I specify an “Attention Date” — the date on which that item will come to the top of my To Do list. That date isn’t necessarily the date on which something must be completed (hence, my using a To Do item, rather than just calendaring the obligation in the first place); rather, it’s when I need to start thinking about taking some action. For example, I know that I will post on Magical Words on the third Thursday of every month. My Magical Words To Do item comes up on the second Thursday of each month. If I’m too busy that day to attend to it, I reschedule it for the next free day.
Once I have paid attention to the To Do item, I record the next action that must be taken, and I re-set the Attention Date. For example, I have an item for New Romance Series. My To Do item indicates that I submitted a proposal to my editor on July 8. My Attention Date is August 8 — I’ll give my editor one month to reply. On August 8, I’ll query about the proposal, make a note to that effect on the To Do item, set a new Attention Date of August 22, and then forget about the matter until then. Each To Do item, therefore, functions as a mini-log of activity for that specific matter. If I need to follow up multiple times, I keep the record of each contact, so that I can review the chain of communication at one glance.
I have one To Do item called “Daily Details”, on which I list everything I intend to do the next working day. That list includes domestic details (make my husband’s lunch, make my lunch, go to exercise class) and writing details (draft Magical Words post, complete new series synopsis). My last chore each work day is to create the Daily Details list for the next work day.
(The To Do items could be maintained as calendar entries, keeping the log information in the “notes” field. I prefer keeping the entries segregated on my computer screen.)
So. Those are my calendaring tricks. I live and breathe by my To Do items; if they were accidentally deleted and I couldn’t access my back-up, my writing career (and personal life) would suffer substantially. Using these tools, I have never missed a deadline, and I’ve been able to stay on top of other publishing professionals who are not quite so … organized.
What about you? Do you use an electronic calendar for your writing life? Do you have other tips or tricks? (Anyone who is interested in my analog index card system, let me know in comments, and I can explain how it works.)
Mindy, curious to hear how others use similar tools.