Guest Author, Sulagna Misra, talks about challenges with organizing her writing schedules and deadlines as a freelance author. More on the author below.
I got a check in the mail today! It was great until I realized it was for two different invoices — #5 and #7, which means I wasn’t being paid consecutively. I checked past checks and saw I had been paid for invoices #1 and #4. I double-checked the excel spreadsheet where I keep track of all these payments – blue stands for published and paid, orange stands for published and unpaid, etc. – to highlight the correct ones. The spreadsheet is more orange than blue, and also contains a huge patch of red – the color of stuff I should be working on.
Admittedly, most of those things are blessedly free from deadlines. And it took me forever to get to that level of red – in the beginning I did not even need a chart to keep track of my work, because I would work on one essay at a time. After it would publish I would agonize over the fact that I had nothing in the pipeline and spend the next few days pitching ideas and letting my anxiety and fear fuel me. Would I ever write again? Was that last essay my final hurrah?
To my shock, this has yet to be the case. In part because of my anxiety, I now have a wealth of editors to pitch to and a long list of essays to write. The problem was that my mind had yet to catch up with my work. I had left my job in August to work on writing full time and it took me until this past dark wintry February to realize that while I had a lot of work I needed to be doing, I would wake up in the morning still unsure of what my schedule was to be that day. Usually I would keep a cluster of notes on an essay before taking the day of the deadline to finish the piece and send it to the editor. I still do this, but at the time it had become unsustainable, as I realized when I had three deadlines for three articles due on the same day. I had to email each editor to ask for more time, and while it worked out fine in the end, I realized I needed more organization in my life.
First, I needed a writing schedule that staggered out my deadlines, anticipated that I would gain work in the future, and gave me an idea of what I needed to accomplish each day. And while I am an anxious person, I’m also very much about looking for any available possible opportunities both in terms of interesting people and interesting work, so my days could be quite nebulous – I wouldn’t know when I would get edits on a certain piece, or hear back about a pitch and either have new work or want to pitch the idea elsewhere. I bought a notebook and created and drew in my own schedule for these things, creating a weekly agenda but with two extra columns: one for what happened beyond my to-do list that would factor into future to-do lists and another for interesting, fun things: having a piece published, finishing a book or watching a TV show, making a new connection, even hearing a nice comment or seeing a friend. The last column was to appease my anxiety — when I felt unproductive or like a failure, a gratitude column gave me a way to put things in perspective.
Second, I reorganized the aforementioned excel spreadsheet. I separated 2014 and 2015, separated what was already published and what was in progress, and made note of what exactly had been paid. After a muddle with invoice numbers, I always checked to see what each check was paying for, and noted when I received them. (I already deposited them immediately through my bank’s mobile app, though. I don’t understand people who wait! It’s your hard-earned money! How can you stand waiting for it?) I’m still waiting on one outlet to pay me – if I don’t get a check this week they will get a flurry of stern emails – but I always feel calmer when I know the rhythms of how a place pays me, even if it takes two months. Yes, I know they all have to pay me, but it’s the same problem as the Anxiety of the Final Essay – if they have yet to pay me, I wonder if they’ll ever pay me.
Third, after reading a particularly horrifying article on how a writer’s clips disappeared from the internet as the sites they worked at went defunct, I archived all my past clips. It was beyond time to do so, anyway – I had enough clips that I couldn’t easily ramble off each one I’d written anymore. I also created subfolders in my “Freelancing” folder, putting invoices and articles and notes in a folder marked with each outlet. It isn’t yet perfect – I still have random documents floating around in that folder – but it’s given me a system to stick to from now on. Now every week, I take about fifteen minutes and update my website (http://sulagnamisra.com) with newly published pieces.
And fourth, I kept track of the money. On the advice of my family’s accountant, I went back through my cards and bank accounts to note my taxable spending in January, February, and March, in order to gear up for paying my first freelance balance in April. I’ve decided to spend about fifteen minutes a week on that as well. I also created sections in my work spreadsheet so I could sum up how much money I had made and could expect to be paid and how much money I could expect to make in the future based on my in progress projects.
I am so, so grateful to my system now, as it saves me a lot of worry and has helped me figure out steps to prevent unneeded stress and burnout from excessive work. Unfortunately, it has also given me the time and mental space to think of new projects. So I might end up creating five, six, or seven more points of organization in my life.
Sulagna Misra, in her own words, is “a freelance writer in New York. She also draws, reads, blogs, reblogs, edits, journals, scribbles, and watches things, like TV and gifs and the bug that just ran across the floor, ahhh!!” Sulagna Misra on Twitter.