This post originally appeared at The Oak Wheel on May 8th, 2014.
Buckle down and get ready for pictures, because today we’re going to talk about, well, insert title here.
Let me start out by adding my voice to the crowd and state that there are really no laws of writing, just training wheels to take off when you feel you’re ready. And then you try not to crash into a car. So don’t think that I’m telling you that this is the one way to Heaven. This column isn’t called Things That Everyone Should Like, and this article isn’t called The One Right Way for You to Get Things Done either.
But the stuff in this column has usually worked out well for me, and that’s reason enough for me to say “Hey, have you considered trying this?” [Here’s where you pretend that I make a joke about how I push ideas like a drug dealer, which I dropped because I decided I couldn’t make it funny or tasteful enough].
You don’t want to submit the same thing to somebody twice, submit something too soon after your last submission to that place, or not submit something because you thought you already sent it.
I’m an old fogey in my soul so I use carbon copy for a lot of my records, but for stuff that’s changing regularly, like this, I almost always do it electronically. I prefer Excel but any kind of spreadsheet program will work well for this. From left to right, my columns are headed: Work; Submitted to; Word/line count; Pay rate; Date submitted; Expected response time; Actual response time; Verdict; Issue; Other notes.
Listing both the expected and the actual response time can help you figure out when you can really expect a response. Sometimes they regularly take longer and sometimes they usually get done in half the time that they say they will. “Issue” isn’t for listing issues with the submission but for the issue that it will be published in (more relevant for short stories and poems than standalone works). I guess that the word/line count and payment (if, you know, they buy the piece) isn’t really important, but I like having it up there.
But how do you decide where to submit? I kept the list of markets on a word document once upon a time. Now I use index cards. I apologize for my shorthand, which is developing more and more shortcuts as I use it. To make up for it (and the small size of the photo!), here’s what I include, starting from the top:
Above all of that I write the name of the publisher, and to the right of that I write their web address.
I’m always looking to improve my process, and my next step is color-coding my catalog. One edge will tell me about the price, another about the publisher’s stance on previously-published submissions. This will let me quickly sort through
I use carbon copy so much because I like having something physical that I can handle and rearrange and set out in front of me on the kitchen table. For anything that I have a physical copy of, you could probably make an electronic version of. I would suggest using a personal wiki, and from my experience I would recommend Zim.
I have a lot of ideas. Ideas for plots, for characters, for how to write a story… It got to the point that I was inspired to start the Idea Bank to make those ideas accessible to other people, because even if an idea could only be done just one way it would be pretty near impossible for me make something out of every one of those ideas.
All these ideas produced something else, though: unmitigated chaos. Here, there, and everywhere, even when they were in a single word document, it was unmanageable. Now the little ideas are in a Google Doc that I call the Page of Sorted Ideas, where I can look for them according to sections like Gods, Cities, and Magic Systems.
Newborn ideas also find their way to the physical world, of course. Every so often I take my latest ideas, print them off, and cut it all up so that each idea is on a separate slip of paper. I take these and the other idea slips, spread them out on a big table, and then move things around and start to group them together as I see connections. This and that go with those other things, and now I’m starting to really see a story come out of this mess. I make more than one group as I go along, and if time runs out before every group is “complete” then I put the incomplete groups in envelopes before I put everything back in the idea slip bag.
Once an idea grows big enough it goes to its own document on my Skydrive, sorted according to whether the story is meant for my blog (and further sorted between original and fan fiction) or to be submitted for publishing. There, it grows and grows until I have enough material to create an outline, and once I’m ready to work on a story I print off any pertinent material (the outline, of course, but also maps, etc) and stick them to the wall (I just use tape, but if you’re worried about your wall then you could use sticky tack or mount a bulletin board (or use multiple computer screens). Putting stuff on the wall (at or around eye level) makes it easier and faster to refer to.
You know, I have to admit that I’m feeling pretty self-conscious about this. The whole column, really, but especially this article. I don’t have any major publishing credits to my name, half of the time I’m all depression, and sometimes I barely feel up to pouring some granola in the bowl and eating, and whatever. And here I am, giving you advice like I’ve proven that I’m worth your time.
So why don’t we turn the tables and make it—
Your turn: What’s another aid for the mechanical side of authorship that’s worked well for you, and that you think other people should try out?
PS. Gotta pop back in here for a minute since I already said something I didn’t intend to. If you have depression, or dysthymia, or cyclothymia, or anything like that, then check out DIY Couturier’s 21 Tips to Keep Your Shit Together During Depression. And if you run any kind of serial (like this column), write in batches and keep a heavy backlog (I hope that goes without saying, but I’d like to make sure you knew).
R. Donald James Gauvreau works an assortment of odd jobs, most involving batteries. He has recently finished a guide to comparative mythology for worldbuilders, available here for free. He also maintains a blog at White Marble Block, where he regularly posts story ideas and free fiction, and writes The Culture Column, an RPG.net column with cultures ready for you to drop into your setting.