Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Managing a Writing Project

James and I are getting a significant number of contributors writing for our book, which means I’ve got a significant amount of workflow to handle all the overhead involved in that.  I’ve got a pretty good workflow down, based partially on GTD and partially on McGhee’s book (the two are pretty dang similar).

First off, we’re tracking contents of each chapter via To-Do lists on our Basecamp site—and Basecamp been friggin invaluable as a tracking/collaboration tool.  Each chapter’s To-Do list has deadlines for contributor submissions, and chapter delivery deadlines are tracked via Milestones.  We’ve got a short time between contributor deadlines and chapter delivery, basically just enough time to finish our own writing and get everything edited up.

I use a template for initially contacting contributors.  I’ll note on the chapter’s to-do when I’ve sent out the solicitation e-mail so I know when it’s time to get myself or James writing the article if the contributor doesn’t reply.  I could put a deadline for receiving a reply on the to-do list as well as creating an Outlook appointment, but have found that a visual check of the To-Do list has worked fine so far.

If I get a positive reply back from contributors I’ll forward them another templated e-mail with the writing templates, style guides, example articles, and some contractual gunk in it.  I let contributors know I’ll check in with them a few days before their deadline (noted in the first template and the second mail too) for a status update.  I create an Outlook appointment for that status check and move the contributor’s accepting e-mail into that appointment — cleaning up my Inbox and getting the right info into the appointment all in one swell foop.  We also created a general Basecamp user for contributors which lets us quickly see who’s writing specific articles, a general contributor, me, James, or Ben Carey, who has been doing killer work both as a focus-group-of-one as well as writing some seriously golden content.

When first draft articles are complete (from contributors, James, or myself) they get checked into a Subversion repository.  I’ll update the Basecamp To-Do list, noting the article’s arrived and is ready for review—and assign myself as the person responsible since I’m first in line for reviews. (Except for stuff I write, natch.)

If at all possible, I try to give the article a once-over right upon reception.  This lets me make sure the general content and style of the article is on track.  I learned that lesson the hard way, having left a couple early-arrivers until much later, only to find some serious errors.  Upon reception of the article I also make an appointment for the “real” review.   This keeps me focused on what’s in the pipeline and helps me keep my nose to the grindstone instead of heading out to the garden to chase my kids around the yard.

At this point we’re moving along pretty well.  James and I have a good flow for reviewing and editing articles, after which we consolidate the articles into one chapter and hand that off to the folks at O’Reilly.

Sure, there have been plenty of hitches, but it’s going relatively smoothly, and the workflow lets me get writing and management done while still doing the Mr. Mom thing of ferrying kids around to preschool/school/piano lessons. (Not to mention finally finishing the new flooring in the office.)

Now Playing: Molly Hatchet—Molly Hatchet


Daniel said...

I find Unfuddle much better for writing projects, because it has SVN built in, as well as issue tracking. It feels a lot like Basecamp, but you're not stuck with To-Do's where issue tickets or changesets make more sense. Plus it's a few dollars cheaper.

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