When it comes to writing, I find I work best when I’m organized. I know most creative types thrive on chaos and clutter, but typically, even these personalities like some order to their lives occasionally. In addressing issues of organization, I’d like to zero in on time, space, and materials.
• I’ve talked about time management in earlier posts, so here I’ll simply reiterate that the best way to organize your time is to block off chunks of it on a daily and weekly basis. Within these chunks you should have family time, time allotted to specific writing projects (along with how much time you plan to devote to each), time for fitness, time for educating yourself on industry matters and your craft, and so forth.
As much as you probably want to just “go with the flow,” having a schedule will really help keep you on track so you don’t end up wasting your time. And…remember to build in some margin for those days when nothing seems to go your way!
• Another key area for organization is your work space. It’s critical to have some sort of dedicated space for writing. This doesn’t mean you have to have an office with a door. But you do need a stationary location so you won’t have to continually move your work from place to place. Make sure this space is as conducive to writing as possible–good lighting, close to materials and tools you need, and quiet (if you need quiet).
• Within your work space, you’ll need to properly organize your materials. I recommend a file cabinet, plenty of manila folders, and accordion files or large, expandable envelopes. Everyone will organize their work differently, but I can tell you what’s been effective for me. I keep manila folders for each project I’m working on, or if there’s one project that is particularly large (this would apply to novels or large nonfiction works) I will use accordion-style folders to organize the work into smaller chunks, yet still keep it all together.
It helps me immensely to have everything at my fingertips when I need it so I don’t have to waste time trying to find things. With everything in different folders, I just pull the folder I need from the file cabinet, and all my work for that one project is all together. Along these lines, it’s helpful to keep whatever research materials or resources you need in one place. I have my writing books organized by frequency of use, so the ones I most often refer to are always close at hand.
Aside from organizing your writing projects, you’ll also need a good system for keeping track of clients and publishers. I recommend using both an electronic spreadsheet as well as hard copy backups to track your submissions, contracts, queries, invoices sent, and payments. This is information you definitely do not want to lose.
Another tip for keeping materials organized is to set up some type of inbox or bin for papers you don’t want to deal with immediately. If you keep all these together in one place, none will get lost. Then it’s just a matter of occasionally going through your bin to file them or respond to them.
Speaking of going through papers…it’s so important to schedule regular times to organize and clear out your work space and files. Get in the habit of regularly re-prioritizing projects, sorting through your industry magazines and newsletters, and cleaning up your emails and electronic files. It’s very hard to get caught up on this once you fall behind. Then the task becomes so monumental, you never want to start. Ask me how I know!
Hopefully, this will help you get a jump start on organizing as we head into a new year. I’d love to hear about any tips or methods you have for staying organized!
Next time, I’ll look at how to juggle part-time writing with a full-time job.