My New Day Job

On Friday, June 13, I left my old day-job, as the National Library Manager for an international law firm with 14 offices, managing 26 employees and supporting 700 attorneys across seven time zones.

On Monday, June 16, I started my new day-job, as a full time novelist and freelance writer, managing, um, me.  As with any new job, I spent a couple of days learning the “lay of the land” and getting my support structure into place.  Most importantly, I did the following:

1.  I created a to-do list.  This list isn’t anything fancy – I’m just using iCal.  (In my old job, I used the office default, Outlook.)  I use a to-do entry for each item with a deadline – things as substantial as “UNNAMMED NOVEL 9 – write first draft” or as relatively insubstantial as “COOL BLOG SITE – write guest post.”  The title of each entry is the novel, article, promotion opportunity, whatever.  The “date due” is the date when I next need to act.  The “notes” contain specific reminders to myself about what needs to be done, along with a list of all other dates when I will need to act.  As I complete each date due, I modify the entry until the entire matter is completed.  Then I delete it, so that I never need to think about it again.

2.  I updated my address book.  I deleted old business contacts that I’ll never, ever, even potentially need again.  I added new business contacts that I’d been storing on business cards and slips of paper.  I sorted the address book into meaningful groups (Writing, Library, Personal).  I used my newly updated address book to contact all interested parties, to let them know my new (home) phone number, email address and (where necessary) street address.  As a result of this process, I had an editor ask me to submit a proposal for a new novel series; she wants to see it by the end of this week.

3.  I created new, relevant email folders.  I can save myself time, energy, and clumps of pulled-out-hair if I can quickly and efficiently locate correspondence.  My email folders are generally set up by individual, so that I can save all correspondence from those individuals in a single place.  For high-traffic people, such as my first reader, I have multiple sub-folders, so that I can save his work in one folder, his comments about my current work in progress in another folder, etc.  For low-traffic entities, I create topical folders (e.g., “Illustrators” for all correspondence that I’ve had with all illustrators for my, um, as-yet-unillustrated books.)

Before I was a full time writer, I used some of these simple systems to support my writing career, but this is the first time I’ve had all of them in place.  The major challenge, of course, is to keep them up and running, always current.  But that’s a challenge that I met for twenty years, for my law firm employers.  Why would I do less for myself?  Especially when I know that these techniques – especially the to-do list – work?

What traditional business techniques do you use to support your writing career?

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  1. 1. Antony Johnston

    I found that soon after I went freelance, my entire organisation went to hell in a handbasket. Which was odd, because in the old day job I was supremely organised. I naively didn’t realise that you still have to be organised when you work for yourself, too ;)

    I use a sort of quasi-Getting Things Done method to stay on top of everything (which I wrote a long piece about, called Getting Things Written: ). But it’s mostly common-sense, low-key stuff like using iCal todos and so on, as you say. And subdividing contacts into groups by author/editor/press/etc is vital, I think, especially for when you need to look someone up but can’t quite remember their name…!

  2. 2. Paolo

    First of all, congratulations! Big step, just a dream for many of us. A pretty cool tool I found out about is SLIFE:
    Basically it tracks how long you are using applications or working on certain documents. Very good if you want to: 1) see how much work is going into a freelance assignment and 2) check out how your workday balances out, how time is used, spent on email etc. vs. real writing. All this without transcribing time in a spreadsheet, slife does it automatically. Oh, and it’s free.

  3. 3. Sam Taylor

    Well, since I’m just starting out, I set goals. As needs be, they are currently quite flexible:

    1) Write a certain minimum every day.
    2) Get a significant milestone of one project, any project, done every week.
    3) Follow the rules (which include getting, if at all possible, an alpha-draft of any short story done the day it is started; also, only work on one novel at a time — and no moving on until the current draft is done.)

    What I don’t have right now — and what I need — are rules about short story submissions. The rejection has scared me, I guess. Only a tiny fraction of my completed stories are actually submitted anywhere, right now. I find it emotionally exhausting, just writing the address on the envelopes.

  4. 4. Kelly McCullough

    Sam, think of it this way: You can’t sell a story that’s sitting on your desk. Won’t happen. Every time you send something out, you increase its odds of selling by an infinite amount, from zero, to some unknown number greater than zero. Instant infinite improvement. What more could you ask for?

    And don’t let the rejections get to you. I’ve had something like 410 rejection letters over the course of my career to date. I sold my first short after 96 rejections for various shorts and novels and my first book after about 360.

    Rejection happens. It hurts. It’s also a point of pride, not something to be bummed about because finishing and submitting a story means you’re in the game and you should be proud of that. Rejections are a measure of finishing and submitting a story—you can’t get one without the others. How many people do you know who say they want to write but don’t? How many who start things and never finish them? How many who finish, but won’t send something out?

    So when you’re feeling down because you’ve gotten a rejection, or worry because you might get one, remember that it means you’re in the game, pat yourself on the back, and write another story.

  5. 5. John Lenahan

    On your first day, did you do any writing?

  6. 6. Karen Wester Newton

    One of my essential get-things-done hints is to write on a laptop with no Internet access. No tempting “I’ll just check my e-mail” moments. I have to keep a to-do list of things to research later but I don’t stop writing to go online.

  7. 7. Adam Heine

    Kelly, I like your words on rejection. I was just picking out a third group of agents to query for my novel last night, and I was getting depressed because most of the first two groups had already sent rejections. I kept looking at information on new possible agents and thinking, “They’re not going to be interested in this novel. Will anybody?”

    It’s the first time I really had to struggle with that feeling. The first few rejections were, as you say, a point of pride, but they wear after a while. Your words have encouraged me :-)

    Karen, I like that hint. I keep telling myself I need to do that, and I never do. But the fact is that the days my internet has konked out are my most productive writing days.

  8. 8. Kelly McCullough

    Adam, glad to be of service. It’s a tough road, but you’re submitting. You’re in the game and chasing the dream instead of just watching from the sidelines and thinking “I wish.” In short, you rock!

  9. 9. Mindy Klasky

    Hmm… I can see that my understanding of the comment system was, um, lacking. Since I can’t respond to individuals, I’ll respond en masse:

    Antony – thanks so much for posting your link. I found it really useful to see how you’ve applied the GTD principles!

    Paolo – thanks for the link. Slife is totally new to me, but the notion of tracking time is way too familiar, from years spent in law firm life. I look forward to exploring the potential!

    Sam – goals are admirable, and a great way to get (and keep going.) I agree with Kelly, that you have to use your rejections to measure your progress. (I say this, as a woman with enough rejection letters to wallpaper my entire home office, multiple times!) As Kelly notes, if you don’t submit your work, you *know* it won’t be published.

    John – On the first day, I got some editing done, revising a proposal for a YA series. The revisions were pretty substantial; they took me most of last week (the time that wasn’t spent in career-organization!) The first *new* writing that I did was this week, a few essays for various online spots.

    Karen – I had always believed in my own will-power, to keep me focused. With Scrivener, though, I’m finding myself relying on the full-screen option (it blacks out everything else on the computer.) I still have to turn off the bell on my email alarm, and I have to use strength of will not to surf, but with the all-black screen, I’m far less tempted…

    Adam – The thing about agents is, no one is interested until someone is. Better to keep searching for the right someone than clutching at unsuitable folks (she wrote, having had a not-good-for-her agent for years before landing her current match :-) )

    Kelly – Thanks, as always, for chiming in!

  10. 10. Scarlett Azaria

    I used to use Outlook to pretty much run my entire writing life. I’d use a separate .pst folder for every writing project, and then set up sub-folders for the journal, calendar, contacts etc. My characters would go into the contacts, time recording into the journal, documents posted straight into the inbox, writing schedule in the calendar, to do list in tasks, notes kept in notes etc. The bit I loved the most, was using Outlook’s powerful contact management system to link my contacts (the characters) to documents, notes, appointments, tasks etc. So, effectively, I could go into the activity tab of a contact and see anything in Outlook related to them – deadlines, stuff I needed to do, chapters they were involved in, what days I had written any scenes with them in etc. It was brilliant. And then I swapped to OSX and I haven’t been on Outlook since =p

  11. 11. Barbara Martin

    Like you, I use the outlook bring forward calendar to remind me of due dates when I need a particular work ready. To help me keep my deadlines clear was writing blog posts in conjunction with Travis Erwin’s “My Town Mondays” (, that by posting for a specific date assisted with me being able to keep to deadlines.

    Now I’ve done a list of when I expect to get certain parts of my WIP done by.

  12. 12. Mindy Klasky

    Scarlett – I am truly impressed! You could teach an entire course on Outlook exploitation! (Reading your description makes perfect sense to me, but I wouldn’t have thought of doing it.) I’ve been disappointed in some aspects of the Mac equivalents to Outlook – mostly they trade robustness for simplicity and beauty. (Maybe I just need more simplicity and beauty in my life :-) )

    Barbara – I completely agree with you, about having specific deadlines to keep all deadlines. That’s one of the things that I’m working on setting up, in this new full-time writing gig. (Setting specific deadlines for the actual writing bits is mandatory for me, too.)

  13. 13. Christopher Weuve

    Scarlett — What do you use now? (I’m exploring Scrivener and Tinderbox.)

Author Information

Mindy Klasky

Mindy Klasky is the author of eleven novels, including WHEN GOOD WISHES GO BAD and HOW NOT TO MAKE A WISH in the As You Wish Series. She also wrote GIRL'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT, SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL, and MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL, about a librarian who finds out she's a witch. Mindy also wrote the award-winning, best-selling Glasswrights series and the stand-alone fantasy novel, SEASON OF SACRIFICE. Visit site.



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