Managing my various writing projects has always been a hassle. Then I found the holy grail of organization — Notion.
Are you looking for a way to organize your writing on one simple dashboard? I was too. My mission for the past few months was to create a hub where my personal writing pipeline was easily accessible. I wanted one-click access to all of my documents.
I originally started using Notion to manage a few website projects with my partner. The major advantage to using Notion over other systems was its capabilities. It was on par with premium management software without the hefty price tag. Finally, I decided to condense the complete chaos of my Google Docs contents into an easily monitored area. Thus, my writing pipeline was born.
Why use a digital Kanban board?
The style of board I recommend for managing your writing projects is the Kanban board. This gives you an easy overview of where all your projects are in the process: start to finish, left to right.
You could certainly create the basis of a writing dashboard with a stack of sticky notes and a free wall in your home. The difference is the ability to tag your projects and maneuver into your working documents with a single link click. You can’t exactly do that with a piece of paper.
What to include in your writing pipeline
Whether you need to keep track of personal writing projects, a self-publishing schedule, freelance clients, or content management for your own websites, I have found Notion has the versatility to do it all. You have all the customization options imaginable to make a customized system.
Every writer is different. What I’ve shown may or may not work for you. But, the good thing is, you can try it for free and trash it if you hate it.
Here are the ways I recommend you break out your writing pipeline:
- In a simple format using columns for ‘Not Started’, ‘In Progress’, and ‘Completed’
- Using a more extensive breakdown of stages including additional columns for ‘Pitched’ and ‘Published’
- With a fully fleshed out process breakdown of your writing stages (how I use my personal writing pipeline)
How I setup my writing pipeline
Every writer will be different depending on the type of writing they do and their avenues of publishing. My writing process probably doesn’t look like yours (but if it does, hello there kindred creative spirit) and that’s okay.
Here’s how I adapted my layout to meet the needs of my writing pipeline management. This is done using a replica of my person pipeline because I’m superstitious and can’t share any of my titles before they’re published.
I break the stages of my writing process down into the following, with different types of writing projects skipping over certain steps:
- Not Started: All of my infant ideas chill out here until I decide it’s time to get to work.
- Researching: This could mean anything from me still using the product in question, reaching out to people to interview, or collecting survey results.
- Plotting: For fiction, this slot is for work I’m currently plotting. For nonfiction, this slot is for work I’m laying out the general structure of, down to the headers and visuals needed.
- Outlined: Work chills out here when I’ve completed plotting it out but haven’t yet dived into drafting.
- Zero Draft: Nonfiction skips this step. My fiction falls here during zero drafting, This is when I’m stream of conscious, word vomiting the story onto the page.
- Fast Draft: Stories in the fast drafting stage are becoming more fleshed out with more focus on detail. Once again, nonfiction pieces skip this stage.
- Drafting: My pieces, both fiction and nonfiction, stays in this stage throughout the remainder of its writing. It may bounce back to this slot if the edits necessary are significant.
- Editing: Once a draft is complete, it hangs out here while I wait for edits and put it through revisions. Once completed, even if it has yet to be published, the work moves into the completed slot.
- Completed: With nowhere else to go, completed pieces are dropped into this slot. I enjoy watching all my completed projects for the year pile up in this slot. It’s a good way to remind yourself how much you’ve accomplished.
Within these sections, I’ve used Notion’s interface to create brief overviews of each piece I can pop into and out of as I work. Here’s what’s included:
- Title: For obvious reasons, I include the working title.
- Type: For me, this is currently divided into novellas, articles, books, short stories, and creative nonfiction.
- Doc: This links out to the Google Doc where that piece of writing resides.
- Deadline: Not all my projects are given specific deadlines. If it has one, it goes in this field.
- Priority: This gets divided down into Low, Medium, and High.
- Outlet: This is my intended end result, whether that’s to include it on a personal site or pitch it to a publication. It keeps my intentions and focus targeted.
Other ways to use Notion for writing
Keeping a pipeline of where your work is in the writing process is only one way to use project management software as a writer. In fact, once you’ve built out a system for organizing your WIPs, I’d recommend including the following additional boards or pages.
Places to pitch
I’m constantly discovering new places I’d like to send my writing and I’m sure many other writers are the same. The only problem is, the name of the publication gets added to a scrap of paper then lost in a sea of other notes.
With a writing management system in place, you can add a tab for publications to pitch. Keep a running list of places to pitch with submission deadlines, editor email, style specifications, and links to the pieces you’d like to pitch to that outlet.
Query and submission tracking
A spreadsheet for query and submission tracking can be added to Notion to help you track progress, keep up with simultaneous submissions, and determine what pieces you haven’t yet pitched.
If you’re looking for a tool specifically for submissions without all the additional bells and whistles, try out Submittable’s submission tracker. This is a newer feature that allows users to not only auto track any submissions within Submittable (common for those submitting to literary journals) but also gives users the option to add ‘universal submissions’.
Wikis are great for client content management or structuring your own website’s content guidelines. Within a Wiki, you can hold multiple documents and fact sheets. These may range from style guidelines to content templates.
If you’re a novelist, you may choose to create series bibles in place of wikis to house all those important tidbits of information you don’t want to forget.
Content audits are a content strategy technique for people working with large sets of content. Having an easy to manipulate spreadsheet with the ability to break out into additional pages for housing briefs, templates, and drafts makes managing larger projects more manageable.
Notion a no-go? Try these alternatives
Maybe you’ve seen Notion’s interface and just don’t jive with it. Everyone is looking for specific tweaks when it comes to managing their writing process. That’s probably why very few people offer up walk-throughs when it comes to organizing writing — none of us have the perfect solution.
Let’s take a peek at a few alternatives to Notion for writing pipeline management.
Cost: Free for individuals, students, and freelancers with limited capabilities.
My experience: I used Asana briefly as a freelancer for a content agency and found it be useful for collaboration. It was easy to keep up with what others were doing and track deadlines. While good for managing freelance projects, I can’t say fit it is for managing personal writing projects.
Highlight: Their timeline feature would be extra handy for mapping out bigger projects with overlapping and dependent task flows.
Cost: The cheapest option is $8 per user, per month (free trials are available).
My experience: I used Monday as a contractor for a marketing agency and, once again, found it to be useful for collaborative purposes. It is easy to drag and drop different projects and the boards are incredibly customizable. However, the boards are all in table layouts which may not work well for all needs.
Highlight: The built-in analytics board could have interesting uses for data-driven writers.
Cost: Free with limited capabilities.
My experience: I’ve used Airtable for everything from group projects in college to idea capture. Airtable is pretty flexible, making it easily adaptable to your needs. My only major gripe was the interface is just not aesthetically and functionally pleasing to my preferences and needs. But, that’s a personal preference. I know plenty of creatives who love it and use it for everything.
Highlight: The vast library of templates covers pretty much every use case, allowing people to start with a solid building block instead of a blank canvas.
Cost: Free with limited capabilities.
My experience: Trello is a spruced up KanBan board system, more or less. I used it for social media planning while working for a startup a few years back. I found it easy to work with and maneuver, even for those who are less technologically adept. Personally, the limited board options make this a no-go for my organizational needs. But, for someone who wants a simple way to track their projects, this could be the perfect solution.
Highlight: Trello has a number of ‘power-ups’ and integrations to improve your workflow processes.
There are also a few additional software options made specifically for writers. One of the more popular ones is Campfire. At this time I do not have any first-hand experience and so I can’t recommend or warn against it. However, the only free option is a 10-day free trial. After that, you’re looking at a one-time payment of either $49.99 or $74.98 depending on the software package you pick.
No matter what you find works for you in the end, I guarantee having some sort of project management system will help you stay on track. After you have adjusted to your writing pipeline setup, you’ll be balancing multiple projects with ease, cutting through the mental tax of disorganization, and taking more time to do what you do best — write.