The writer at his desk is surrounded by crumpled failed drafts, stacks of newspapers and books. He is disheveled, eccentric, misanthropic. In all honesty, I find the image quite noble. Growing up, I wanted to be that person. I wanted the intense focus; the seclusive nature- the endless quiet, save birds and music. I wanted the frustrations and the breakthroughs, the ring of coffee on a manuscript.
I’m starting to suspect that, in practice, being a disheveled writer kind of sucks. You see, I was always searching for something. In the early days, I was writing on loose pieces of paper and random notebooks. Bad idea. Our lives are made up simply of time, and I’d rather not squander it. I’m already using my squandering time on locating where I set my phone down.
Then there was my writing journal. It was color-coded, sticky-noted and highlighted. It was largely a failed tactic. There were so many sticks of paper with ‘blog post idea’ and ‘writing class’ or ‘research this’ sticking out of it. It felt even more cluttered. And to top it off, I stopped reading the sticky notes altogether. They just got in the way.
I only mean to say that I have experience with failure. I understand. But that failure of organizing my writing got me to try other methods that were more successful. I’m going to share them with you. Whether you’re being tormented by disorganization or looking to perfect your system, whether you are more technology-based or prefer pen and paper, I’m hear to offer some guidance.
USING TECHNOLOGY TO ORGANIZE YOUR WRITING
1. Dedicate a day. Take a day off from everything if possible and dedicate it to organizing your writing. That’s not to say that this process is a one-day event. No, it will take longer than that. But in the end, you’ll experience a peace of mind like you haven’t felt since that summer in Kensington. The reason I prefer one full day is because you’ll get into a work flow and the process will be much smoother than if you start and stop. If you can’t drop everything, drop reading and writing blog posts for a day or take a day off work. If you can’t do that, then set aside increments of time everyday to dedicate to organizing your writing and applying these strategies. For instance, stay at home moms and dads, when the kid takes a nap, don’t do the dishes or watch tv or nap too. Dedicate that time to getting yourself organized. No excuses.
2. Write all of your drafts on a computer. Ah, damn. Yes, this one is probably the most difficult to stick to. Now, though, everything else I advise will sound that much easier. If messy systems have become a huge problem for you, then this might be your best bet. Some of you already do this, and you’re still caught in a hell of your own making. You’ve discovered a technological truth: You can still be disorganized online. We no longer live in the days when a writer sent their handwritten manuscript to their editor to try and decipher. Life demands more of us now, but it also gives us a lot more.
3. Give everything a name. File folders and documents, give them a name right away. Don’t leave anything untitled. You can always find a short description for a piece of writing. Avoid general names like ‘Writing Tips’. You’ll likely have more of these in the future, so be prepared. Try instead, something like, ‘Writing Tips: Messy’. It sucks to spend more time searching for something than is necessary. You don’t want to have to go rereading everything just to figure out which document is which.
4. Make file names specific. Sometimes when we’re being effective organizers, we end up with folders that are very deep. This is when having specific file names becomes especially important. Here’s an example. I want to write a blog post about how I see clearly who all of my followers are. Folders may get imbedded this way:
Blog Folder ⇲
Blog Posts (Folder) ⇲
Blogging Tips (Folder) ⇲
How To See Your Followers (Folder)⇲
Blog Tip: See Your Followers 1 (Document)
Why is this effective?
- You’ll likely remember a tip when searching for something because the titles tend to be more straightforward.
- The word “See” connects to a folder with that word in it.
- Try to have at least 3 places where the names and folders connect somehow. Here it is blog tip, see and followers.
- If you’ll have multiple files with similar descriptions, name them the same thing but tag numbers to the end of them.
5. Have a place for everything. We joke that everyone has a junk drawer in their house, but if we’re going to be truly honest, most people have multiple junk drawers throughout the house. One in a bedroom dresser, another in a coffee table drawer. Some people have a junk room. Others have garages that have never known the feeling of a car inside of them. So sad. My point? That miscellaneous folder that you think you’re getting away with is a monster threatening your whole system. It will spread. Slowly, you’ll lose the ability to decide where something should go, so you’ll start sticking things in the miscellaneous folder
reflexively, and dumbly, every time you’re running late for something or feeling lazy. It’s a trap. Give everything a home. If that means creating layers of folders ad nauseum, then do it. Start with where your stuff accumulates most, maybe it’s your desktop, a random folder, or a folder within a folder. Then move on to other areas.
An area that I would recommend focusing on is in the first screenshot. Quiet Waters and Las Olas are both in Fort Lauderdale. So if my travel folder is organized by location, these should both be in a folder titled Fort Lauderdale. These little things start to add up for better or for worst. Choose well.
6. Capitalize the Names of All Folders and Documents As If They Were Book Titles. Capitalizing all first letters helps you to scan for essential words faster when scrolling through files in search of something.
7. Use Google Docs. I will reveal that I’ve only started using Google Docs a few weeks ago. At first I just used it as a word document, but then I started to understand the magic that it is, and now I’m excited. The thing that captured my heart the most about Docs is the ability to change folder colors. Really? Is Google the only one that thought of this? I hate those yellow folders that my computer insists on making me use. In an age such as ours, being able to choose a folder color should not feel like a luxury, but it is. Go get some. I’m sure we’ll laugh at this years from now. In addition to color, it allows us to easily create filing systems, import other files (like the screenshots I included above) and share documents quite efficiently. They have a WordPress extension that allows you to send any documents directly to your blog’s draft folder, formatting intact. It’s great for collaboration. If you’re a freelancer, if you go back and forth with your editor, or if you collaborate in the blogosphere, this is a great tool to cut time sending documents. You can have multiple people working on editing a document- with your permission, of course. And because it’s Google, you can access your files from just about anywhere. I highly recommend it.
8. Open a new document. When you’re writing one piece and an idea pops up for another, it is very convenient to jot the new idea down in your journal (more on that in #11) but the best thing to do is to open, or already have opened, a new blank document to jot down the new idea. Google Docs makes this super easy by allowing me to save the title of a document right away. So when I thought of this post, I simply opened a new document and typed ‘Tips For the Messy Writer’ into the title box. It saves automatically and allows me to get right back to what I’m working on.
9. Learn to type. I never learned to type without looking at the keys. They tried to teach me, but it didn’t take; I wasn’t interested. If only I knew then how technology would transform our lives, maybe I would’ve paid attention. Anyway, as a result of my laziness, I hand write things way faster than I can type them. This becomes a pain because my brain moves very quickly when I’m writing. If I try to use a computer, I will lose half of my thoughts before I can get them down. Believe me, I’ve tried. This translates to double the work. I write and then I type it up. Moral: Practice increasing your typing speed.
10. Use Speech-to-Text. Most phones have a speech-to-text feature that allows you to speak into your device while the device transcribes your speech into text. I recommend the Google Keep app. From there you can send whatever you save to yourself through Google Drive, Messanger, WordPress, Email, even Twitter. I find this method especially helpful when I’m sitting in my car and rather not be face down typing into my phone or journal. Sometimes when I’m really tired, I’ll lay in bed and mouth the words to a fresh idea that’s inconveniently struck me. It’s also an efficient way to make the most of your time grocery shopping. The point is, you’ll be less likely to jot things down on a random piece of paper that you’ll maybe find 3 months from now (if you don’t accidentally throw it away). Or worse, when you do find it, you’ll have no clue what “And then the waves of violet pierced her floral hip” was supposed to even mean. Keep things together, they’ll make more sense.
Organization Tips For Those Who Write In Journals
I prefer journals for my first and even second and third drafts. If I could do everything by hand and never type up my work, that would be great. Never mind that. I’d definitely miss spellchecker. I just love the physical act of writing. It feels good to my body. And with notifications going off on my computer, it’s good for me to distance or disconnect myself from technology. So for those of you who must write also, here are some strategies to help you stay organized as a journal writer.
11. Keep your journal next to the computer. I know that you’re shocked to find the word computer in this section, but here’s a fact. If you are to share your writing with the world, you will have to eventually get it into digital form. So try your best to write your drafts on the computer, but keep your notebook next to you so that you can be ready to record new ideas that pop up, additions you’d like to add to the text, things you want to research. I understand that it can be difficult. I have the intention of writing this post primarily on computer, but I’ve found myself back in my journal 6 times at least. In any conversation, our minds stray. But because we want to engage in the conversation, we bring our minds back. That’s what this is like. Type on the computer, jot down the extras on paper, keep coming back to the screen.
12. Purchase a real journal. If you’ve been writing in regular old notebooks like the ones you used in school, shame on you. Go out and buy yourself a beautiful notebook. And use it! Keeping a journal that is distinct will help your memory in recalling which place you wrote a certain piece. Ah, it was around summertime that I wrote that piece.. I was using the teal notebook then. You get the idea.
13. Write outlines. Often when I’m in the middle of writing something, the idea for another piece will come to mind. This sometimes happens 3 and 4 times. And before I know it, I’m halfway through a 4th piece before I realize I’ve got 3 incomplete pieces still waiting for me to come back. Part of the problem is I am scared to forget and scared that my muse will run off due to my lack of attention. So when I get an idea, I try to write the whole thing out, making revisions and all. This is a terrible practice. A better writing strategy would be to write outlines of the new ideas that come to mind. The good old, who, what, when, where, why and how. Then try to get back to your original piece as soon as you can.
14. Take things page by page. Some people just open their notebooks to any page and start writing. The idea of this makes me shiver. Please use one page after another. If you think that a writing piece is going to be lengthy then skip a page for good measure. If you have to come back to it at another time, you’ll have left yourself a little wiggle room and won’t have to continue the story 5 pages later because other ideas filled those pages in the interval.
15. Use the backs of your pages. This is something that I struggle with. I know how terrible it is for the planet to waste paper, yet it’s still a challenge. I don’t like the backs of paper. I don’t like to have writing show through when I’m writing. I like the sheet to look as crisp and clean as possible. This is bad for our environment and our organization. We purchase more notebooks when we don’t use the backs of the paper, and the more notebooks we have with random stories, essays, etc. the more chance we have of misplacing a piece of writing.
16. Have different journals for different categories of writing. This is easier if you mainly write from home. Instead of using one writing journal at a time and having all your writing intermingle, you could keep one journal for travel writing, another for essays, yet another for short stories. This cuts back on a lot of the searching for a writing piece. It also means that you’ll probably buy less journals over time as they’ll take longer to fill.
17. Separate your journal into different sections. This is a better option if you’d like access to all of your writing on the go. Create sections in your writing journal by simply taping along the edge of a page; it becomes an automatic separator. An even simpler version? Use sticky notes as dividers. Just don’t go overboard. Remember my fate. 3 sections is good enough.
19. Be seriously old school and pay someone. I say that this is old school because it’s been around since the dawn of money. Slip someone some cash and pay them to type and organize all of your writing. Time is money. If you feel that you have the means to spend the money and that you’ll make more positive use of the time freed up to you, then go ahead and pay. That doesn’t mean to be frivolous. You want someone trustworthy. Also, dirt cheap prices often come with dirt cheap quality. Once your writing is all typed up, take the wheel and continue implementing all of these strategies. It’s always best to be self-sufficient, right?
20. Make organizing fun. You may think of getting your life organized in two ways. The first, a game of cooperation, a “me and Organization working together to improve my life” type of game. The second approach is a game of challenge, a “It’s me against you, Mr. Disorganization, and I will win” sort of battle. Or maybe you’d like something in between. Either way, once you start applying these tips and see how well they work for you, your mind will start looking for and finding new ways to become more organized. I will never be perfect, but I can be better. Stay the course!
So tell me, what type of a writer are you? Do you struggle with disorganization? Do you have any tips that help you stay organized? I’d love to hear your comments. And I’d love to know if you implement any or all of these strategies.