Juggling Projects and Deadlines
One of the biggest challenges facing full-time writers is managing your time. When you don't have a regular day job, it's easy to fool yourself into thinking you have plenty of time to do lots of writing projects; you tend to forget about other obligations of daily life, like running to the grocery store, doing the laundry, attending your children's soccer games or concerts or plays, and spending time with your family and friends. Because your schedule is your own as a full-time writer, it's your responsibility to be realistic about what you can and cannot do.
Keep Track of Your Projects
One of your first priorities should be to devise a system for keeping track of your projects. Professional writers usually have several projects going at once, in various stages of development. They may be working against a deadline for a magazine article on fly fishing, researching another article on the history of jousting, polishing a short story for submission, and working on plot points for a novel, all while waiting for responses to a query about a nonfiction book on herbal medicine.
Calendars make convenient tracking devices; you can note when you mailed your material, when you should expect a response, when your deadlines are, and professional and personal events. Having all this data in one place also can help you plan your schedule and determine whether you have enough time to do additional projects.
Even if you're not quite that busy yet, you need a way to keep tabs on the details of each of your projects. There's no right or wrong way to do this; create a system that works and is convenient for you. It should include such things as what you submitted (a query, a completed article, a proposal, etc.), where you submitted it, when you should expect to get a response (based on listings in the market directories), and where you plan to send it next if this market doesn't pick it up.
Your tracking system also should include a to-do list for projects that aren't ready to be marketed yet and an organized filing system to keep the details of each project together. If each of your projects has its own file folder, you can keep all the paperwork associated with that project, such as rejection slips or e-mails, in that folder, and that lets you see at a glance the history and progress of that particular project. Given that months can go by between when you submit something and when you receive a response, such a filing system helps refresh your memory. It also gives you a place to put notes about new developments or ideas relating to that project.
A common mistake among new writers is bunching up project deadlines. It is possible, and sometimes even desirable, to work on more than one project at a time, but it's also extraordinarily easy to stretch yourself too thin. And, when that happens, chances are you won't be doing your best work on any of your current projects.
Sometimes writers are afraid to say no to assignments, even when the deadlines conflict with prior obligations. Your natural instinct, especially when you're just starting out to live your dream, is to grab every opportunity that comes your way, even if it means that you won't have time to sleep for the next six weeks. But you aren't always stuck in the take-it-or-leave-it trap when it comes to deadlines. If you think you'll have difficulty meeting a deadline, for any reason — other projects, a scheduled vacation, or whatever — ask the agent or editor if the deadline is negotiable. You might be surprised at how willing editors and publishers are to adjust schedules for projects and writers they really want.
There are advantages to working on more than one project at a time. Having several projects in the hopper helps ease the natural worries most writers have about receiving rejections. When you always have another idea to be polished and fitted for the right market, you're less likely to obsess about the fate of one of your other ideas.