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Writers As Bookkeepers
by Willma Willis Gore

Is there anything more tedious for a writer than keeping records? Well, maybe it's sitting through the proliferation of commercials that invade my favorite TV programs. After all, we are creators, not bookkeepers.

However, as necessary for a writer as our computers is the need to keep accurate records of what's going out, coming in, due, pending, and published. Even computer storage may not be 100% safe. An e-mail wail came this week from a much-published novelist friend. "I'm devastated by a total computer crash. Thank God, I had backed up the chapters in my latest novel, but I lost everything else, including my address book."

Those skilled in using computer generated spread sheets, conversant with storage and retrieval systems, and diligent about backing up everything, should go for it, but for those of us who like the assurance that our work is in a tangible file, here are a few tips.

DAILY RECORDS: Although I write books—have published books, a novel and a how-to, and have three novels in various stages of production, most of my steady sales are essays, travel, profiles and how-to articles. Accurate records are essential. A 3-hole binder contains form sheets marked with vertical columns. Along the 11-inch side of the 8 1/2 x 11 page are headings: Date, Title, Computer File Name, Editor/Publisher, Accept/Return date, Film/Postage/ Mileage Costs, Publication Date, Pay. This shows me, in chronological order, the location of every title.

MANUSCRIPTS: Although my computer stores query and cover letters, my paper file contains copies of all correspondence to and from editors along with a copy of every manuscript, filed by title. This gives me the history of that article's travels through the years. Most have been out a dozen or more times. Several have sold several times. Pieces I have faith in have been up-dated and sold as much as 40 years following their creation.

PUBLISHED COPY: One file drawer contains published articles, filed alphabetically by title. Each folder holds a copy of the piece, as published, and multiple photocopies of the article that I use when an editor wants to see tear sheets of my work. .

PUBLICATIONS: Another file drawer contains copies of these published pieces filed and cataloged by title of the magazine or newspaper in which the piece appeared. More than 75 publications, regional and national, have carried my work. Many pieces were published before I bought my first computer in 1985. It would not be worth my time to enter all these on my computer. But these are important records-and sources to tweak for re-sale.

IDEA FILE: New titles or subjects occur to me regularly and I often hear comments or quotable lines from my associates or on TV. Backs of my obsolete business cards (I move around a lot!) are ideal writing spaces to sketch an idea or record a quote that is too brief to warrant development at that time-but still needs to be retrievable. The card goes into my "Idea File," a no-longer-used recipe box-always a great resource, and it takes up no space in my file drawer or my computer.

The time invested in keeping records (including copies of e-queries and responses) saves me more time for doing the creative writing I love.

© Copyright 2006, Willma Willis Gore

At age 87, Willma Gore is still writing daily (having sold her first article at age 19) with her most recent book Long Distance Grandparenting, released by an advance/royalty publisher in Nov. 2007. She welcomes visits to her blog and website: http://willmagore.com/blog/ www.willmagore.com

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