Having a submissions tracker is aspirational . . . it shows you’re creating enough “content” that you need to manage it. That you are serious about finding readers. The empty lines in the spreadsheet are almost like a coach, motivating you to send your work into the world.
The internet gods attacked two of my logs this year. Those crimes spurred me to create two new logs that help me as a writer. So buckle in and get helped, if you want.
The First Attack. I have a software program called The Athlete’s Diary. It’s a daily log of my exercise. I have 37 years of daily workouts and races in that data base. I’ve logged around 40 thousand miles of running, cross-country skiing, cycling, hiking, paddling, and rollerskiing. I’m on my second lap around the earth. This log is my life’s work. I’m not kidding.
Recently, I updated my computer to the latest operating system. I was shocked when my Athlete’s Diary didn’t work anymore. I “sucked up some seat cushion,” as they say in the flying biz when you get scared. I wrote the company and they said, “Yeah, we aren’t supporting the desktop version anymore.” The application still works on my phone, thank goodness. For a second, I thought I lost my magnum opus.
The Second Attack. I subscribed to Writer’s Market online for about 20 years. When I was new to submitting work, it helped me find new markets. Eventually, I subscribed just for the submissions tracker. It was an online database that kept track of where you sent your work. I had 20 years of submissions in that database. Since I travel for my day job, it was good because I could access it anywhere. One day, I went to Writer’s Market, and the website was gone. I emailed them and they said, “Yeah, we’re not doing that anymore.” I suggested that maybe they could’ve given me a heads up BEFORE FLUSHING TWENTY YEARS DOWN THE TOILET. Luckily, I saved a backup record. It was about six months out of date, but I was able to cobble together a new log. Just 541 different submission attempts I made over 20 years. No big deal.
The Two New Logs. So, the two bad things happened: my workout tracking software was dumbed down and my submissions tracker was eliminated completely. Two new good things came from it. I have a new way of tracking submissions and a new way of logging my writing time.
The First New Log. First, my new submissions tracker. It’s a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. I’ve included a sample picture and a blank spreadsheet that you’re welcome to have. It’s the backup I made of the Writer’s Market website. This whole experience made me ask this: Why track submissions? I track my submissions for three reasons: Writing needs readers, having a submissions tracker saves time, and it helps me act like a professional. (“Act like one”; ahem)
Writing needs readers. I like the process of writing. I learn about myself, others, and the world through writing. But I also believe that writing isn’t actualized until a reader absorbs it. It hasn’t reached its full potential until somebody reads the words you wrote. Having a submissions tracker is aspirational. Gee, you must have work to track. It shows you’re creating enough “content” that you need to manage it. That you are serious about finding readers. The empty lines in the spreadsheet are almost like a coach, motivating you to send your work into the world.
A submissions tracker saves time. I don’t enjoy the submissions process. Especially when you’re trying to break into a new market. You have to spell the editor’s name right. You have to put the manuscript in the correct format. Do I include my stupid address on the first page or not? Do they want a bio? Tedious, boring, and exhausting. The tracker helps me cut down on this time. I can see that I’ve submitted to someone before and go update that previously rejected cover letter. I’ll already know what publications accept simultaneous submissions or previously published work. It’s easy to find when I last submitted to a certain magazine. Which publications I have a better success rate with. There’s no avoiding some legwork when submitting to a new market. But with the tracker, I don’t reinvent the wheel each time. I like having readers. I don’t like spending time on clerical work to find them.
A submissions tracker helps me act like a professional. It’s a lifelong process to become a “serious writer,” especially if you’re a slow learner like me. My new Excel submissions tracker has spurred me to submit more often. I can still get to it everywhere since I save it on Dropbox, one of many file-sharing options you can use. When I submit simultaneously and something is accepted, I can easily find the other places where I submitted and notify them.
The biggest driver on my spreadsheet is the “Next Action Date” along with the adjacent “Next Action Description.” Sorting my spreadsheet by this date lets me see ALL the things I have in the hopper and the real tasks that are next. When I first submit a piece, if they specify how long they want to be left alone or when they’ll announce acceptances, I put that as the next action date. I don’t have to keep looking up when to follow-up and I don’t pester a busy editor. I use the “Notes” section freely, especially to highlight why the “Next Action Date” exists. If a piece gets accepted, I put the expected publication date in that column, so I can share it and bask in glory. After it’s published, I put a date sometime in the future so I can make sure I got paid or a contributor copy. “Paid?” goes in the description column. When a piece gets rejected, I leave the current date there, but add a “resubmit” comment until I submit the piece somewhere else. That way the resubmitting task stays higher in the pile. Professionals are detail oriented, punctual, disciplined, and committed to finding readers. But like Vonnegut says, we are what we pretend to be. The submissions tracker helps me pretend, because I’m no pro.
The Second New Thing. So, we covered the submissions tracker and my three reasons for having one. Now, the second new outcome: my writing time sheet. It’s inspired by my Athlete’s Diary, which acts like a minimalist journal. My time sheet is simple, too. It’s another Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and I included an example. It’s yet another way to show I’m a “serious writer.”
I log the date, how many hours I worked, and what I did. I don’t have obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I have those tendencies. I tried to weaponize my OCD before by tracking my writing word count. But there is more to writing than word count. Editing my work is vital, but there’s no word count for that. Researching and interviewing people for articles takes time, but has no word count. For me, logging my time at work lends the whole enterprise more meaning. The fact is, I like logging things. So, this writing time sheet is also a motivational tool, like the submissions tracker. If I get to log it, I’m more likely to do all the work that writing entails.
I’m new at this time log. It might help me to determine what my time is worth. What things are effective as a writer vs. things that waste my time. It’s like the old Annie Dillard quote: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” In a typical year, I fly airplanes for about 600 hours. In a good year, I ski/run/bike/hike for 300 hours. For the first time in 20 years of writing for publication, I know my writing time. If I stay on pace, I’ll put in 400 hours on writing this year. I’m surprised that it’s up with my other “serious” pursuits. And I also learned why I’m a little soft around the middle. I need more mileage to match the sedentary “butt-in-chair” time.
Evil forces attacked two of my logs. I came up with two new logs as a result. And I share this with you dear reader, because maybe it will help you take this solitary writing work to the next level. Also, I really like Ren & Stimpy, so I got to include a picture of the famous log song cartoon. Keep writing!
Eric Chandler is the author of Hugging This Rock: Poems of Earth & Sky, Love & War (Middle West Press, 2017). His writing appeared in Northern Wilds, Grey Sparrow Journal, The Talking Stick, Columbia Journal, The War Horse, Consequence Magazine, Sleet Magazine, The Wrath-Bearing Tree, O-Dark-Thirty, and The Deadly Writers Patrol. Eric cross-country skis as fast as he can in Duluth, Minnesota. Check out his website: Shmotown