Super practical advice sought: I am curious how you stay organized as a freelancer. My problem right now is I have a ton of ideas and often find myself overwhelmed as to how to prioritize researching, reporting, finding a market and pitching... I have notebooks and a word documents - I've tried spreadsheets and sticky notes... and I want to pursue more stories than I really have time to do well (I'm not a full-time freelancer yet).
Organizational systems are very personal but I am curious what method works for you - not just how you stay on top of deadlines, follow ups, clippings/research, etc. but also how you "triage" - determine which ideas to nurture and which to shelve for the time being.
As you noted, organizational systems are very personal - what works for one gal won't fly for another - but, as I've said here in the past, the only thing that keeps me organized is heavy-duty list-making. I write down every last thing, from errands to phone calls to story deadlines, and cross them off as I go. There's little more fulfilling than slashing through a to-do, and I seriously get a rush from it. In fact, I've been really delinquent this week with my list-making - I'm moving into a new office and literally just haven't taken out my pad of paper - and I feel really scattered as a result. And really unproductive.
As far as story triage, this is something that I really had to learn on the job. Sort of like a med student who gets better with practice. When I started out, I can't even tell you how many story ideas I probably beat to death - researching endlessly, pitching endlessly, convinced that they'd make a fab feature in BIG NAME magazine. As the years went on, I simply got a better sense of what editors were looking for, and I'm really not sure that you can figure this out via anything other than experience.
I guess one key is to go beyond the obvious. Editors have seen EVERY idea under the sun. They really don't want another "10 great ways to lose weight" idea. Yes, the want to publish an article on losing weight, but they want to hear about surprising angles and tips. And if you send them the same-old, same-old, you'll be wasting both your time and hers.
Another key is to poke around and see how much research there is to back up your idea, and how many tangents you can tie into it. What I mean by this is that often times, writers might envision their story idea as a feature but there just isn't enough interesting info or anything new to say on the subject. So if you're going to push for a big story, make sure that it is, indeed, a big story.
Of course, if there's a subject that really is near and dear to your heart, then keep at it. I've heard of writers landing stories or essays after 100 pitches. Would I pitch something 100 times? Probably not. I'd probably hit all of the magazines for which I think the story is a good idea, and if none of them bite, I'd put it on the backburner until a new market pops up or the timing is better for the story. (For example, if I'm pitching a breast cancer story, I might revisit it to hit magazine's breast cancer month issues.) This brings up my final point: make sure that you're pitching the right outlets! You'd be amazed at how many writers pitch beauty stories to a magazine that really doesn't cover beauty or a story on STDs to a magazine aimed at married moms. (Not to say that married moms aren't interested in STDs, but the editors aren't likely to bite because it's not just a subject that is universally interesting to their audience.)
So...how do you deal with story triage? When do you move on from an idea?