The body of this article is a post I made on the Writer's Digest community blog. I've been writing for a long time, but it's just been over the past month that I've decided to get serious about it. The post below is about my current approach to getting my tools together.
Judging by various articles on writing I've read, some writers have a problem motivating themselves to actually write, and finish their work. That isn't exactly my problem. I can sit at the keyboard in the morning and come up with dozens of ideas for stories. I can also allocate time to hammer out and polish an article or short story from any of those ideas.
My problem has always been submitting, and then tracking those submissions.
A few weeks ago I decided to sit down and devise a system of submission and tracking for short stories.
First I worked up a list of publications along with their submission guidelines. If they accepted electronic submissions I bookmarked their submission page in my browser, if they only accepted submissions by mail I added their address and editor's name to a running list.
I created a spreadsheet organized by story. Alongside the title of the story I included date of completion, a list of prospective publications based on the nature of the story, a corresponding list of submission dates (to track where the story actually was at any point in the submission-rejection-or-acceptance cycle, and the status of the story (in development, submitted, accepted).
What this allows me to do, when a rejection comes, is simply mark the article rejected by the periodical's name on the spreadsheet, submit it to the next publication on the list, and mark the date of submission next to that publication.
That takes care of tracking the actual submissions.
Another problem I had was losing control of the version of the story. I'd do rewrites to a story, come back to it a few weeks or months later, and discover that I had two or three versions of the same story. This was aggravated by the fact that sometimes I'd do edits at my desk computer, sometimes my laptop, and I was saving my work, inconsistently, onto a thumb drive.
I solved this by setting some policies. I created a folder entitled "Writing". The sub-folders within Writing are for each story, and contain any files associated with that story (outline, notes, the story itself). I save my work frequently as I edit, and several times per day I save the whole Writing folder and its sub-folders to my thumb drive. I haven't used my laptop to do edits since I set these policies a few weeks ago, but my plan is to carry the thumb drive with me, and carefully transfer edited stories between the laptop and the desktop using the thumb drive. In the past I've tried Google Docs for editing, but I often edit where I have no network connectivity, and don't want to be dependent on the web.
One other thing I've done is set up templates in my word processing software for the formats of each of publications on my list. I use Open Office, but every modern word processing software package I'm aware of has templates of some sort. This way, when I start a story, my name, page numbers, and contact info are inserted automatically, along with the settings for font and spacing. All I have to do is open a template for the first publication I plan to submit to, provide a title, and start typing.
One other thing I do is have envelopes ready, including a few envelopes addressed to me for SASE, so that if I'm submitting to a publication which doesn't accept electronic submissions, getting them a hard copy is quick and easy. It minimizes the impulse to procrastinate.
As a result of these changes to my habits and system, I've submitted three short stories (which were already written before I made these changes) within the past week, and I have another story nearly ready for submission.
Over the next few weeks I'll be working up a similar system for non-fiction queries. I'll post a description here when I get it worked out.