Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tips to Get Organized and Write More


It’s a new year, and like many writers you may have set goals for yourself. Maybe you’re planning to finish the novel you’ve been working on for the past three years. You might have committed to sending out two queries a week. Or perhaps you’ve decided to enter your first writing contest.

But how can you accomplish any goal if your work area is as disheveled as Dorothy’s house after the tornado in The Wizard of Oz?

My workspace used to be the catchall for unopened mail, kid’s toys, and reference books. If company stopped by, I would hide my pile of junk in a pullout drawer which should have held my keyboard. After months of scrambling around in chaos, I decided if I wanted to be a serious writer I had to get organized. Here are a few tips to help you clear away the clutter, get organized, and have more productive days of writing.

Uncovering Your Desk

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost an important piece of paper on my desk and wasted valuable time looking for it in a pile of research, unanswered mail, and letters. I had enough surface area on my writing desk if I cleared away all the unnecessary clutter, so I looked for ways to clean off my desk.

I bought a filing cabinet and set up a filing system with research and current projects in the top drawer, and things I use less often in the bottom drawer. Anything I didn’t need on a regular basis was put in a cardboard box and stacked in the basement.

In her book The Home Office Solution author Alice Bredin suggests making a reading file which contains articles from magazines, newspapers, and trade journals you’ve been meaning to read. She says, “When you receive new material, quickly skim the table of contents and tear out or clip any articles that seem interesting or pertinent.” The articles are organized in such a way that you will be able to take them with you and actually read them, instead of leaving them piled up on your desk.

Another good way to keep your desk free of clutter is to make sure every piece of paper has a home. Invest in a set of letter-sized stacking trays. How you use them is up to you, but I have them marked in a way I’ve found makes it easy for me to accomplish my writing goals.

The top tray holds any query letters that need to be mailed. I always review letters in the morning when my mind is fresh, put everything in an envelope, seal it and put it in a pile of outgoing mail that I keep in a bin on my filing cabinet. The next tray holds all my research for projects I’m working on, and the last tray is for what needs to be filed.

Remember that drawer in my desk that I used to conceal my junk pile when company stopped by; well, scattered within that drawer were pens, pencils, stamps, post-it notes, and every other office supply I could use. I purchased a set of bookends with small drawers on eBay for under $10. Most of my office supplies fit there, and my reference books are now neatly placed behind my laptop on my desk. The few remaining office supplies are stashed in an old kitchen utensil tray inside the desk drawer.

Once your desk is clean, what else can you do to get organized and write more?

Creating To-do Lists

It’s ironic I am imparting advice when I have spent most of my adult life avoiding them. Lists keep you on track and provide a sense of accomplishment when you cross an item off your list. Compile a single list of unfinished tasks. Whether you create a paper to-do list or an electronic one, take time at the end of each day to review your list, cross off the tasks you’ve completed, and prioritize it for the following day so you can focus your work.

Your desk is clean, you’ve created a to-do list, but how do you keep track of the comings and goings of all those queries and follow up letters?

Tracking Submissions

When I first sent out submissions, I had this ludicrous idea I could remember the important details of each submission in my head. Well that idea lasted about three weeks before I figured I had to find some way to track the queries I sent out to which editors.

“A record of submissions can be something as simple as a notebook whose sheets you have divided into columns,” says author Mary Rosenblum, who is also the Web Editor for Long Ridge Writers Group. Keep this notebook handy so that you can jot down the details of every submission before you mail it out.

Once you’ve uncovered your desk, created a to-do list, and found the best way for you to track your submissions, it’s important for you stay organized. Open and respond to your mail immediately. Take a day every two weeks and put away the paperwork in your filing tray. Maintain your to-do list and use it to focus your work on a daily basis. Know what queries you have out there and who you need to follow up with.

Getting organized will help you be a more productive writer.

1 comment:

V.R. Leavitt said...

Great post! I am endeavoring to do all of these things this year. I just rearranged and organized my desk last week. Even post a note on it that says "I am not a dump zone." I'm doing well so far, now if I can just get the 8 year old on board, I'll be good to go. :-)