Time is always a writer’s enemy.
If you’re a self-employed writer—or even just trying to manage your writing life—that’s doubly true.
Running a business means keeping track of time, income and expenses, contact information, writing projects, account information, and a dozen other things.
Below are five great tools for tasks you might encounter in your own work. Instead of giving you detailed instructions for how to use each tool, I’ll instead encourage you to try each of them out. You can be up and running with each tool in a matter of minutes, and that’s one of the reasons I chose them. You shouldn’t have to spend hours poring over instructions—you should just be able to start working.
These aren’t the only ways to tackle the problems, of course, but they’re the best I’ve found—and I use them every day. Whenever possible, I try to use and recommend web-based tools, because (a) they’re usually cheaper (or free), and (b) they’re easy to access anywhere, from almost any device.
About free tools
There are many free (or nearly free) tools available to help you automate and simplify many of these tasks. I’m a big fan of free tools. If you’re just getting started, I highly recommend using free (or very inexpensive) tools; many of these are good enough to grow with you, and after a while you’ll have a much better idea of what you need and want in productivity tools.
1: Track submissions and publishing markets
The Luminary Writer’s Database is a free, web-based manuscript submission and tracking tool that’s easy to use. You can track multiple submissions, of course, but also things like word counts. You can also research and track markets, submission deadlines, and more. Not the flashiest website around, but user-friendly and free.
2: Manage your writing/book marketing/publishing projects
37Signals is a fantastic company, and they make some of the best web-based productivity tools around. Best of all, they almost always have a free or inexpensive version, and their tools scale with your needs.
For managing projects, try 37Signals’ Basecamp. Basecamp has a host of features, including the ability to share files, make to-do lists, track milestones and time, create calendars—basically, almost anything you’d do for a project. It’s a great tool for writers, because it gives you a one-page, at-a-glance summary of each project. I make every writing project I do a separate project, but also have a master calendar and list to track everything I’m working on. You can also use it to collaborate with others, or even a client.
3: Track contacts
Highrise is another 37Signals tool, and I use it daily. It’s a full-fledged contact manager; you can track up to 250 contacts for free, and thousands more for a graduated fee. I use it to track writing proposals and key business and audience contacts, but the power of Highrise lies in its ability to search contacts by specific criteria. And, for the more savvy, Highrise also integrates with MailChimp, Gmail, Windows, Mac, and iOS address books, and several other tools for mailing list promotion tasks.
4: Track your time
Time tracking is a strange thing. One person might want to track every minute of their day; another just wants to know how long it took to write a chapter. I have yet to find a perfect tool that does everything I want, but Toggl comes close.
Toggl (yes, without an “e” but pronounced like “toggle”) has a free option, is web-based, and supports Windows, Mac, and mobile devices—you can track time in a web browser on the desktop or device, and share data amongst different devices. Toggl offers time (and cost) budgeting features, visual reporting, Google account integration, and currently supports 18 different languages. I was up and running in less than five minutes.
5: Track all those user names and passwords
The best option is 1Password. 1Password is a popular, highly secure, easy to use tool for storing all the passwords you use for different accounts, allowing you to use just one password to access everything. If you’re like me, you can’t possibly remember every user name and password, and this make your memory task as simple as possible.