That Paper Dragon

by Jaym Gates and Joie Brown

Last week we discussed some of the basics we use to stay organized, but this week we’re delving into some of the grittier details—client information, multiple deadlines, business cards. You know, those little things that shouldn’t cause any angst, but somehow build up until you can’t see your desk anymore.

-How do you break down projects in order to balance more than one at once? 

Joie: Step 1: I panic. Step 2: I then analyze the project’s parameters and see how it might be broken down into parts. Step 3: I estimate how long each part will take, and attempt to plan my week accordingly, balancing different projects at different times of the day. I say “attempt” because last minutes things come up, clients change their minds, I get panicked emails, I decide it’s better to organize my pony collection… you get the idea. Giving myself a guideline for the week is good, but I also have to stay flexible.

Jaym: That’s something I still struggle with a little. I have such a diverse list, but the biggest problem is that my bigger projects *suck* at allowing me to maintain a schedule. No matter how carefully I set up systems and deadlines, I swear they work together to make sure that there’s always something exploding. Mostly I break down deadlines and tasks, and try to balance it so that I tackle one or two big things on each project per week, and a lot of the little details–which take up a lot of space and let me cross a lot off of my list really fast–as time allows. 

-What about client information systems?

Joie: Currently I use the slapdash method of having client phone numbers in my phone and scrubbing through old signed contracts if I need their address. I’ve found a neato spreadsheet that I can plug clients into but I’ve yet to spend the hours necessary filling all the information in.

Jaym: Spreadsheets don’t really work for me, I’ve found, mostly because I forget them. I have a ‘Client’ folder, and everyone has a separate folder for ‘essential documents’, which includes contracts, contact info, billing cycles, and other info stuffed into one clearly-marked folder. Billing dates and such get added to my main Google Calendar.

-The Business Card Demogorgon is its own special problem. How do you keep track of contacts, business cards, and other networking detritus?

Joie: I have the most dorky system ever– I use a miniature filing cabinet that collects the business cards of people I meet. Writers, artists, lawyers, other professionals; you name it, I have it in there. I’m slowly building a secret spider web of everyone in the world, and having those tangible, colorful cards is very satisfying to flip through. After I get someone’s business card at an event, I follow up with them to connect. Then I make a note on the card about where I met them and file it away. And yes I go through it frequently. My precioussssss web!Paper Dragon 4

Jaym: I get my stacks of business cards home and follow up with the necessary people, enter the contacts into Gmail’s contact manager, and mark the cards as ‘finished’. I usually hold them for about a year, and clean them out every once in a while. But there are some I keep, especially if they’re particularly cool or useful. Consul-General of Finland? Hell yes, I’m keeping that one. NASA folks? Always. Dearly-beloved friends who have bad-ass cards? Yup.

I also have a spreadsheet of contacts that is HUGE. I have a page for authors and their emails, alphabetied, one for reviewers. Other pages for editors, news contacts, government/military/science folks, media (TV/Hollywood agents/etc), convention contacts…you name it, I have it in there. It desperately needs someone to organize and update it though!

-What about the little, rotten cousin of the Paper Dragon—the Digital Dragon?

Joie: To keep projects, contracts and what not straight, I keep them digitally when possible. I have a fairly nice system going about how to keep things organized (see pic). That said, I have a bunch of OLD files that really need to be filed into my regular system. I’m sure you know the conundrum: get a new computer, copy over unorganized old files into a dumpspace, swear to organize them… and then don’t. Repeat in 2 years. Collect 10 years’ worth of files. But I’d say 90% of my stuff is organized and easily find-able.

Jaym: I just did a HUGE reorganization project a couple of months ago. Everything digital got restructured—I actually broke Dropbox—and reorganized. Cleared hundreds of useless files, and got things totally up to speed. About three weeks later, I had found about a dozen ways I could have done it better! But I have files for Fiction, Nonfiction, Editing, and Clients, and then dozens of sub-folders and sub-sub-folders, and somehow, everything works. Usually… and then Google goes and updates its entire Bookmarks system, and the thousands of bookmarks I just reorganized are now in a pile on the digital floor, and I am kneeling beside them, screaming “Nooooooooo!”

Jaym: I’m cheating and adding in something not QUITE freelancing-related because I’ve had people express surprise at my methods for organizing worldbuilding details. I do a fair amount of freelance writing, including for RPGs and tie-ins, so I need a way to track inspirations and existing details, but I also have an immense personal world that my current project is set in.

Scrivener is my angel, there. I refuse to use the thing for actual drafting—it’s screwed me up too many times—but it is a FANTASTIC internal encyclopedia. I also use Pinterest—private boards, mostly—as a visual communication tool with collaborators or editors/authors of projects I’m on.

And that’s all, folks! We hope it helps, and we look forward to suggestions from you all, too. How do you stay organized?