The Writer’s PDA

December 29, 2007
By Perry P. Perkins

It was a day that changed my life. Does that sound overly dramatic? If so, I don’t apologize…I’m a writer.

Honestly though, I’d spent years scoffing at my friends who carried around PDA’s in their shirt pockets, constantly tap, tap, tapping away at their little screens.

It was a fad, a gadget, an expensive toy. I had more important things to do with my time and money.  Unfortunately, most of my valuable time was spent searching through stack of unfiled papers and notes, leafing through rejection letters and trying to keep track of what I had written, who I had sent it to, and what they’d had to say about it. 

Then a friend called and offered to sell me his Palm Pilot.

“It’s great!” he said, “Color screen, tons of memory, infrared port (whatever that was) and all the other bells and whistles.”

I asked him why he was selling it and he admitted, shamelessly, that a newer model had just been released and he had bought it that morning.  I snickered. This was just the kind of behavior I had come to expect from these hoity-toity PDA owners. 

Still, he was offering it to me at a very attractive price, and offered to take it back if I didn’t like it.

Three weeks later he couldn’t have pried that little machine from my fingers with a red-hot crowbar.  It had revolutionized my writing, streamlined much of the mundane paper-pushing that I had come to dread, allowed me to submit more work to more publishers in less time than I ever had before, and I knew where I had submitted that work and when!

It was like…getting religion.

Now, several years later, I’m still tap, tap, tapping away on my PDA (I’ve since upgraded to a Treo Palm Phone) and I’ve organized the standard features to work for me as a writer. 

Recently, I mentioned this to a fellow attendee of a writer’s convention and spent the next hour going over the features in-depth as he scribbled notes furiously on the back of his registration form. 

That night I sat down at the computer and thought to myself, I wonder how many writers out there are as organizationally challenged as I am? Probably not many that hopeless but still, if I could help a few others dig their way out from under that incomprehensible paper mountain, than I will have followed the Jedi code and passed on what I have learned.

So, I went to work, and what finally took shape was the article you’re reading now. 

Due to the variety of hand-helds and operating systems out there, I’ve avoided creating a step-by step process for any one machine.

Most PDA’s, however, share the common functions of Date Book, To Do List, Memo Pad, and Address Book. Hopefully this article will give you a basic overview of how you can use your PDA to streamline the research, submission and tracking processes, giving you more time to focus on what’s important: your writing! 

PDA Basics
PDA’s, or Personal Digital Assistants, are mobile computers that manage your calendar, contact information, memos, and to-do lists. Many include a digital voice recorder, and others even let you read e-mail and information downloaded from the Internet.

Usually handheld or pocketsize, a PDA often includes connections to your desktop PC or to the Internet to synchronize tasks and data between it and your computer. 

There’s much more that your PDA can do for you, and many avenues available to learn how to get the most out of it, but for the sake of brevity let’s assume that you own one, or are familiar with how a PDA functions, and let’s focus on how you, the writer, can make these basic functions work best for you.

The “To Do” List
I use my To Do list to keep track of my current, unfinished projects.  If I have a deadline from a publisher, I enter a deadline for the To Do entry anywhere from three days to two weeks prior to what my editor has requested. This gives me time to finish up any last minute details and get everything gathered and into the mail.

Nothing can dry up your creative juices quicker than looking at a To Do list that stretches on for pages. We’ve heard it again and again: create manageable goals. One thing that helps is to only list items in your To Do based on an entire project.

Don’t break them up and create two-dozen entries for a three-page article.

Each To Do entry has a built-in Note page, use this to elaborate on the individual steps required to complete the project.  Organizing your To Do list by project will help you organize each piece you’re working on while (hopefully) keeping your list short enough to seem manageable. 

If your To Do list still seems overwhelming, you may be trying to complete too many projects at the same time.  It’s been said that we can do one thing with excellence, two things very well, three things passably, and any more at a level between mediocrity and failure.  I’ve found that working on more than two or three projects at a time is a recipe for disaster, just food for thought.

Keep track of your To Do items!

There’s nothing more embarrassing or frustrating than forgetting something that you specifically put into your PDA to remember. The way I keep track of my To Do items is to jot a note in the calendar program on the day that I want to complete that item.  If I check my calendar everyday (and I should) I’ll see a small note reminding me that I have To Do items pending. 

Some PDA’s allow you to set an alarm on each entry, making it even easier to remember.

The Address Book
The address book is fairly self-explanatory, this is where you list contact names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.  However, there are still a few simple tricks that can make it easy for you to find who you want, when you want, among several hundred entries.

Create Categories.

PDA’s allow you to create a number of folders or categories to sort your address entries. Always set your PDA to organize alphabetically, and then create your categories based on the broadest view first. For example, I want to keep all of my publishers together, so I create four categories that start with the title “Publisher”, then, to further narrow the scope of each category, add which type of publisher.


a. Publishers/Short Stories
b. Publishers/Outdoors
c. Publishers/Relationship
d. Publishers/Misc.

Now, Instead of scrolling through 625 publishers to find the current email address for The Frenzied Fisherman, I can scroll to the “Publishers” area of the list, click on Publishers Outdoors and narrow the list to less than a hundred. 

To help make the search even easier, I then…
…alphabetize within the category. Eighty-three entries can still be quite a search, so once I’m inside my Publishers/Outdoors category, I break down my contact entries by type of publication (under name) and its title (under company).

Keep your entries as complete as possible. You never know when you’re going to need that fax number or email address, but you can bet that you won’t have time to dig it up when you do! 

The Address Book also has a Note feature for each entry. I use this to record submission guidelines (often you can just cut and paste these from the publisher’s website), special notes or instructions I’ve received from that publisher, and any work that I’ve had published by them.

Your Address Book allows you to create a personalized market guide that’s always right at your fingertips!

The Memo Pad: My Best Friend
The Memo Pad is the real nuts and bolts of the new, more organized me.  This is the feature that tells me what I’ve written, whom I’ve submitted it to and what their response was…and it’s so easy!

Creating categories in your Memo Pad works just like it does in the Address Book. Here are some of my own categories:

My Writing: This is where I keep tools and references I’ve picked up along the way. Style tips, editing reminders, and the latest notes from writer’s magazines.

New Projects: Like a flash of lightening comes the premise for the next Great American Novel.  This is where I keep the notes on all of my future bestsellers.

Submissions/Articles: This is where I track all of my magazine submissions.

The Submissions/Articles category is the brain of the whole operation. Here, I create a file for each piece of work (sorting by title is easiest). Once I’ve created a file for the article “Small Water Fishing,” I use the following template to track my submissions:

Starting on the first line of the memo page:

FF Small Water Fishing (The FF keeps all of my “Fly Fishing” articles listed together.)
Small Water Fishing (The Title)
Fishing (Type of article)
1000-1500 Words (Word count)

Then I leave a space and type in:

Oregon Fishing & Hunting News  (Last magazine I submitted this article to)
Sent Query/Article:  05/06/03  (Submission date)
Result:  (Sold, pending, rejected)
Note on slip: (Editing requests, reason for rejection, etc)
Rights: (First, All, etc.)
Pub Date: (As listed on magazine or book)
Payment:  (How much)    Date:  (Date on check)
Notes: (Any additional information)

The last section I create in this memo is:

Send To: (The list of publishers I’ll will send this piece to)

This template should be saved in another file and pasted in whenever you create a new entry. 

I like to keep my templates in the same category as the articles they are designed for. Placing one or two periods (..) in front of each template title will keep those entries at the top of the category list and easy to find.

A note on entry initials: As you can see, I use FF to designate an article as a “Fly Fishing” essay. Other designates that I use are:  DR (drama), PM (poetry), and SS (short story).

Use any initials that will help you find your work fast.

The Date Book: Tying it all together.
The Date Book feature may be the easiest of all the basic programs on your PDA, it may also be the most important. 

Obviously, we use this feature to keep track of upcoming appointments, conferences, and those all-important book signings! It’s also very handy for keeping yourself on a submission schedule. 

Here’s how:

1. Create a Submit entry in your Date Book, under today’s date, for your work:  Ex: “Submit: Great American Magazine Article”
2. Look up the first available publisher listed in the Memo for this article.
3. Follow that publisher’s guidelines, as listed in your Address Book, and the mail off that prize-winner using contact information in that same entry. Note the average response time listed in their guidelines.
4. Track this submission, using the template, in the Memo for this article.
5. Go back to your Date Book, open the submission entry that you just created and move it forward based on that publisher’s estimated response time.
6. Forget you ever wrote it.

What? Forget I wrote it? Are you crazy, I worked for three weeks on that article!

So what?

Once it’s finished, submitted and awaiting a response, what is that article doing for you except drawing your energy and attention away from your next project?  Don’t worry, it’s not lost forever.

In three weeks…or six…or twelve, you’ll open your Date Book one morning and there it will be: Submit: Great American Magazine Article.

Then you can check the Memo for this piece, see if it was sold or rejected, and then send it back out, always moving your Date Book submission entry forward again. Your trusty PDA will keep track of all of those mundane details while you focus on your muse!

What more could a writer ask for?

One last thing I’d like to mention is the importance of always backing up your work.  On my Palm Pilot, I can sync my information to my computer desktop. This is handy in that when I am home, the larger screen and keyboard of my computer are easier to see and use for data entry.

Also, if by some terrible misadventure I should lose or break my Palm Pilot, all of the data is still there and can be downloaded into a new PDA (Make sure that the operating systems are compatible).

Still, when it comes to my work I am admittedly paranoid and couldn’t sleep well until I had backed my files up to an external hard-disk as well.  The chances of both my PDA and my desktop forsaking me at the same time are slim, but why risk it?

The PDA is an incredible tool. The features and applications are virtually limitless. Play with it, tweak it, and make it your own. 

No, it won’t publish your work for you and it can’t write the Great American Novel, but maybe with the extra time and peace of mind that these amazing pocket computers allow for…you can write it yourself.


Perry’s Bio

Perry P. Perkins was born and raised in Oregon.  His writing includes the inspirational novels: “Just Past Oysterville,” “Shoalwater Voices,” and the eBook, “The Light at the End of the Tunnel.” Perry is a student of Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writer’s Guild and a frequent contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies.

Perry’s work can be found online at http://www.perryperkinsbooks.com/

Permission is given to copy this article for ezines, newsletters, as web-sites as long as bio and link to my website are included.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: