Trello is an excellent tool for project tracking, whether individually or with a team, but the beauty of it is really in its simple customization. You can set it up to do some pretty cool stuff and I’ve used it in some unique ways to help me organize and keep track of my writing work.

If you’ve never heard of Trello, let me start with what it is: a cloud-based collaboration tool. You can sign up for free (yay!) and keep track of lists in a visual way. Visual is big for me. When I’m stuck on a writing project, I often doodle about it or jot down brainstorming ideas because giving myself a visual gets my neurons snapping again. Think of it as a virtual board of notecards. You can organize the cards into columns, or statuses, and you can include lots of information on the cards, such as comments, file attachments, checklists, labels, and due dates. Yes, it sounds like a lot, but if you take the time to sit down and tweak things one afternoon, you can set up a board that perfectly suits your needs.

Maybe you can try one of my five unique Trello boards to get you started:

  1. Tracking submissions
  2. Brainstorming board
  3. Research board
  4. Editorial calendar
  5. Book launch planner

Trello board basics

A Trello board consists of columns and cards. Use the columns to organize your cards into groups. Here’s a very basic board I used to keep track of articles I worked on for a freelance technical writing project I did where I was updating knowledgebase articles.

I entered all of my work as cards in the first column, “Articles to-do”, then as I worked on each one, I moved it to “Articles in-progress,” then, “Articles submitted for approval,” and finally, a submitted and reported status. This way, I knew for sure I had followed through to the end of what was expected of me for each article.

Each card can have more detail than simply the title. This board was a simple, to-do list so I didn’t need to add more, but you can include due dates, attachments, detailed descriptions, checklists, and more. In some of my boards below, I’ll show you ways I’ve used those, along with some screenshots, of course. Because visual!

If you want more of a demo on how to use the app, hop on over to YouTube and search for a tutorial. There’s a bunch over there.

Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty details of each one. Or, feel free to scroll down to the one you want to check out the most!

Tracking submissions

How do you keep track of your writing you’ve submitting to magazines, websites, and contests?

Many websites now use Submittable for accepting submissions. You can log in to your Submittable account and see what you’ve submitted and its status (I have two in there with a big ol’ REJECTED, ouch!). But, how do you keep track of POSSIBLE submissions and what about drafts you’re working on? And what about submissions that weren’t through Submittable? Here’s what my tracking submissions board looks like.


Looks quite different, doesn’t it? These are my columns: Submission Possibilities; Draft in progress; Need to edit; Submitted; Rejected/Accepted; Post on personal blog.

Isn’t it cool how these cards have pictures tied to them? This comes from the details on the cards, so here’s one of them, opened up:

So much great information! First, there’s the description, which I grabbed from their site, giving me the initial details of what they’re looking for in submissions. Then, I’ve added attachments. If I click on “Submission guidelines”, it takes me to their guidelines on their site. The second attachment is what gives the card a cover image: the jpg. See how it has “Remove Cover” under it? I will go to their website and right-click on their logo, copy the image URL, and add it as an Attachment to the card. Then, as long as it’s the right format, Trello will automatically add it as a card image. Pretty. Also on this card is a checklist. I used it to list out ideas that I could work on to create a submission.

One thing that I haven’t put on this card, but is on other cards is a due date. The nice thing about using that is I am able to switch to a calendar view in Trello and see if I have certain submissions that are required by a certain date and work on those before it’s past! To do that, you enable the free calendar “power-up” (you can have one power-up per board for free accounts). A calendar link is added to the top right of my board and when I click on it, it displays like my screenshot below. To add it, go to Menu > Power Ups > Enable Calendar.

Awesome. I have some work to do before Saturday!

Finally, a note on my very last column: “Post on personal blog.” If I have submissions that have been rejected and I don’t think I can rework them to submit elsewhere, then I post them on my blog and add a link on. At least it’s published somewhere, right?!

Brainstorming board

I create social media content for some small businesses and coming up with fresh stuff every month gets tough! Especially because good, image posts are what the algorithms pick up more than links. I have a Trello board to brainstorm ideas for captions to write to go along with images from a stock images library I use. In my board below, the columns are each small business I create content for, which is why I’ve smudged them out. I am their ghostwriter so I don’t get a byline, but that’s cool. I also have cards in there to remind me of certain keywords to remember. These I’ll often search through Twitter hashtags to update (although they are currently very generic ones for this screenshot, sorry!).

How can you create a brainstorm board? For each idea, create a card. Jot down notes on it. Attach files or images (similar to pinning on pinterest, right?). You can create columns to organize the cards in whatever way works best for you. You could also color-code them based on which ones you like the most (green), are okay (yellow), and won’t work (red).

Research board

A writer told me something once that has stuck with me over the years. In not-her-exact-words, she said, “I wonder what Google thinks of my search history?”

When researching, especially for fiction, what do you ask Google? “How do I kill someone with an ice pick?” Go check your Google Activity. See what it says.

You could set up a Trello board to keep track of your research. It would have been great to have this when I was in college and had this grandiose idea that I would write a Civil War historical fiction. Guys, I read so many books about that era and I even found books that gave me specific things like the dialect they used at the time and what the culture was like. For this book, I can imagine that I would have create a column for each character. Each character would have cards that had details like their physical description, specific quirks, phrases they used often, where they lived, if they died, and so on. I’d have a column for each location.

Maybe, with Trello at my fingertips now, I can start over again on that book. I wrote about 50 pages, typed, but then when my friends living next door read it out loud, I threw it all away. Oh well!

Editorial Calendar

This one I haven’t personally done because I’m super old school and instead, have a calendar hanging on the wall above my computer, see?

However, I read about creating one on Trello over on HubSpot.com. Here’s a summary and you can click on over to their post for more details:

  1. It’s purpose is to keep track of which blog posts you plan to publish when.
  2. Big sites use Trello to do this: HubSpot, Mashable, ReadWrite, The Changelog. (Not me, though!)
  3. You can use the columns to keep track of a post’s progress (Ideas, researching, on hold, writing, editing, graphics, published). Each card is a single blog post.
  4. You can use the columns to organize posts based on type. Assign due dates and use the Calendar feature to see your timeline.

There you go. That’s the basic gist of it.

Book launch planner

One day, I’d love it if I NEEDED this board. Unfortunately, that day has not come yet, but did anyone here read The Secret? Okay. I admit: I never did, but I HEARD that part of “the secret” was to live as though you’re expecting things to happen that you want to happen. An example a friend used to explain this to me (the friend had read it) was your closet. If you’re single and don’t want to be, then does your closet tell the universe that there’s room in your life for somebody else? If it’s crammed full, then there’s no room. I should have asked my friend to show me what HER closet currently looked like. Hey, my closet as a single woman was totally full, but it was organized! So at least I had that going for me. (When I married, my husband used the closet in the OTHER room… until we had our first kiddo.)

Well, anyway, end of tangent and back to the point of this section: the Trello board for promoting a book launch.

This idea also came from the above-mentioned HubSpot.com post.  I melded it with a post from Writer’s Digest about how to have a successful book launch and came up with these ideas for a future, book-launch-planner Trello board. Maybe I should make it tomorrow and I’ll be informing the universe that I’m ready for an agent to knock on my door and ask about my incredible memoir. (Don’t tell the universe I haven’t finished writing it!)

  1. Create a column for venues. Attach pictures. Color code it based on which ones you like the most. Put down details like contact information, location, parking, size, etc.
  2. Create a column for conflicting dates. Enter in a personal vacation by creating a card with a due date of the day you’re gone. That way, when you use the calendar feature, you can see that you aren’t scheduling conflicting events.
  3. Create a column for food. Which venues can you provide it? Where will you get it from? Cost?
  4. Create a column for advertising. Cards should include graphics design, flyers, social media, media alerts, etc.
  5. Create a column for your spiel. For the actual events, what are you going to say? Write some of your favorite quotes from the books down on cards.
  6. Create a column for shopping. Besides food, you might need to buy other things, like enough copies of your book (I dunno, do publishers give you some?), pens for signing, bookmarks with your book info on it, etc.
  7. Create a column for things to write when you’re signing. Write down short phrases on cards… things that might relate to your book / character / genres, etc.
  8. Create a column for thank you cards. Make someone’s day by sending them something in the mail that they can hold in their hand! People don’t do that so well anymore. Keep track of who you can send cards to and why by creating a virtual card with the details.
  9. Color code the cards so you have a visual way of seeing when they need to happen. “Pre-launch” could be orange; “Launch Day” could be blue; and “Post-Launch could be green.

And there you have it. My unique ways to use Trello to track your writing craft.

It’s a rather particular industry, this word-crafting world I’m in. I’m creative, but I have to keep track of so much if I want to do well and make good money from it. The stereotype that right-brain people can’t be organized is exactly that: a stereotype.