Monday, February 16, 2015

How to Organize Your Writing Life

I'm happy to welcome Jan Christensen back to the Tiki Hut. Jan, as some of you may recall, is my critique partner. Besides being the author of a gazillion and one short stories, Jan is also the author of three separate novel series--Valleyview, Paula Mitchell, P.I., and Tina Tales--each currently with two books. The third Tina book is about professional organizer Tina Shaw and is titled CLUTTERED ATTIC SECRETS, which will be released this spring.

I mentioned specifically the Tina book because Jan's post today is about organizing the business of our writing lives. I've learned to do some of these things. Others I'm either working on or have shoved into my Maybe One Day folder.

I may be hopeless in some areas, but Jan keeps trying :)


HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR WRITING LIFE
By Jan Christensen

Want to streamline your writing life? Want to be able to find the papers and files strewn here, there and everywhere?

There are two ways to begin to handle a cluttered work space. You can set aside a large chunk of time to get going, or if you know you won't want to work that long, try for about twenty-minutes every day until you're finished.

First, look around the area where you work. Is it a mess? Many people claim that creative people thrive in a mess. Frankly, I don't think anyone actually thrives in chaos. I think instead, they believe it will be too hard to get it cleaned up and keep it neat and tidy.

But it’s really not that difficult. Let’s start with the cleaning up. You need a box and a trash bag. Label the box “donate.” Look around the area and quickly throw anything away that is actual trash into the bag. Then look for anything else you never use, know you'll never use, and/or downright dislike. Decide whether to donate or trash it. Whether you realize it or not, these items are a distraction to you when you're working.

Take out the trash, and put the donate box in your car. The next time you’re out, drop it off so you won't be tempted to retrieve something later.

Get two more boxes, or three if you have a lot of paper to sort. Then pick up each object still standing. Do you need and want to keep it nearby? Put it in a box labeled “Keep.” Do you doubt you’ll ever use it again, but are not sure? Stick it in the other box which you label with a date six months from now. Keep a running list of the objects you put in that box as you go. If you have stacks and stacks of disorganized paper, place them in the third box, labeled “Paper.”

When you're finished, seal up the box with the date on it, and hide it away somewhere. Put the list in a place you'll be able to find easily if you really, really need to retrieve something from that box before the six months are up. If you haven't gone near it in six month or only retrieved one or two items, donate it or throw it away without opening it.

Place the other objects you’re keeping around the area again and get rid of the box. Now you’re ready to tackle all that paper.

Have a large, clear space to make piles. Probably you have the beginnings of books or short stories—pile them up together. Put articles, if you keep paper copies of those you've written, in another stack. Maybe you have articles written by other people about marketing you've clipped or printed out. Separate pile. You probably have collected business cards and pieces of paper with contact information on them. Set them aside to work on another time. What else have you been collecting? Household items like recipes, bills, coupons, receipts? Separate pile for all of this. Don’t try to sort inside the piles until you've finished with all the paper. The reason for this is because you need to know what type of things are in there so you can divide them up reasonably.

When done, pat yourself on the back. Now pick a pile. Use file folders for the short stories, and notebooks or manuscript boxes for the novels. Then decide where to keep them. If possible, I recommend as many file drawers as you need just for your writing, keeping them separate from your household files.

Do the same for the marketing pile. I use a big three-ring binder for all the marketing information I've gathered. Tabs separate articles about Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Blogging, Kindle, and on and on. Now you'll be able to find just what you're looking for. And know just where to put the next item you decide to keep.

Do the same for any other categories, figuring out whether to use file folders or notebooks—whatever you think will work for you, or, as I do, use a combination of both.

Every day before you leave your work area, clean it up. Have an in box set up to place current projects in, but file and put away everything else you've pulled out for the day. This should take no more than five or ten minutes.

If you use your workspace for home office chores, set aside some time every day to handle the mail and other things you need to do like getting birthday cards and bill payments ready to mail, filing away receipts, and anything else. When you come back for your next work session, you will be able to start right in without pause, without distractions. It’s a good feeling.



Someone screams inside the old, neglected Victorian house next door, and Tina Shaw runs to find out what’s wrong. A woman bursts out the door saying her aunt is dead. Murdered. Tina notices that the hallway is piled high with cartons. Later when the woman begs her to help clean up the house, Tina hesitates. She’s just begun a career as a professional organizer, though, and her hands itch to start on a new job. As Tina sifts through the clutter, she finds clues the murdered woman left behind. She learns the woman was rich, and all her relatives are suspects. But when the will is read, Tina and her family also become suspects. After her mother is arrested, Tina begins investigating in earnest with the help of her boyfriend, Hank (the Hunk). Will she find out who the killer is before her own life is put in danger? Second in the Tina Tales series.


Goodreads:
Amazon author page:



85 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Smart advice. Hopefully someone listens. I can't stand clutter. My desk is usually clear.
And very clever how it tied in with her book!

Hart Johnson said...

And see, I can't really work if things are too orderly. But it DOES build up... my trouble is the shredding--the stuff I can't recycle but want to get rid of. THAT stuff builds up.

Jemi Fraser said...

I just want a desk! And a room for it!!! One of these days :)

Southpaw HR Sinclair said...

I prefer the clean, organized space, but reading Hart's comment reminder me of so many people that needed the clutter.

Jan Christensen said...

Thanks, Alex. I really suspect that people who are the best organized get the most done. Writing-wise and otherwise.

Leandra Wallace said...

Clutter drives me crazy. I write better if the house isn't exploding around me. =)

Jan Christensen said...

Hart, I've heard other people claim they thrive in clutter. As long as you're getting a lot done, you're fine. As for the shredding, the trick is to decide right when that piece of paper is in your hand to shred it, then do it without putting it down. Of course, this supposes the shredder is handy.

Jan Christensen said...

Jemi, I hope you get a desk soon. Good luck!

Jan Christensen said...

HR Sinclair--I've heard that so many times. You may realize by now that I don't quite believe it. But I could be wrong. I've been wrong before. I've seen people get frantic trying to find something because of clutter. Wasting time hunting for that one piece of paper in a huge pile. And if the clutter includes things that needs tending to, like a bill to pay, having it out there can be a big distraction. My take, anyway.

A Beer For The Shower said...

This was all fantastic, and it's true, I can't thrive in chaos or clutter. I need things to be clean and organized, and even if it's a huge pain, it's still worth the effort once it's done for all of that sweet, sweet creativity.

Jan Christensen said...

Leandra and Beer (LOL) thank you for your support. My robo will call you later for donations to my campaign.

Stephen Tremp said...

Use it or lose it. That's my motto. If something collects dust, off it goes to Goodwill.

cleemckenzie said...

I agree that tidying up my writing space is essential. My problem is that once I tidy it up, I can't find the paper I need or remember which file I created to make things more organized.

However, I've lugged a bunch of non-writing stuff away this past year, and realize I don't need it.

Jan Christensen said...

Stephen, that's great. Not many people can be that ruthless.

Jan Christensen said...

Clee, have a small notepad handy while you're putting stuff away and jot down where you put things. Once you realize you can remember something without looking at your notes, you can cross that item off. Just keep a running list on one or two pages. Hope this hint helps.

Caryn Caldwell said...

This is great advice! Of course, my work space is currently cluttered by a big, gray cat who thinks I should be petting him instead of typing this comment. He won't be getting donated, no matter how much fur he gets in my face during his attention-seeking. :-)

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Great advice, and the book looks good too! I have to organize before starting a new project, really before writing a single page.

Clarissa Draper said...

I can't write with clutter. I have to have a clear desk to write. Even a clear desktop screen. Great advice.

Carol Kilgore said...

Aren't we all a strange lot? I'm a no clutter writer. Like Leandra said, I can't have the house exploding around me either. I need clutter free space in order to gather the story clutter in my mind and get it to make sense on the page.

Hart - My shredding builds up, too. Especially when I'm working on something that I need to print out (often more than once). I try to do it at the end of the day. Failing that, on the weekend. Sometimes I don't even make that, and it keeps growing. Sigh.

Liza said...

I have a lot of piles, because I have very little space. But I could do to put a few of these tips into practice. Your story sounds awesome!

Medeia Sharif said...

I'm pleased to meet Jen and will check out her Amazon page.

I hate clutter, but it's always there. During the summer, when I have time off, I throw a bunch of it out, but never enough it seems, or I buy new stuff. My writing space isn't too bad. I find what needs to be found.

Jay Noel said...

I go through phases...from utterly clean to a total disaster. And everything in between.

Right now, I'm in a happy middle.

Jan Christensen said...

Caryn, I have little help to offer when it comes to pets and kids cluttering up the workplace. LOL But I do admit, they're worth all the touble.

Jan Christensen said...

Thanks, Karen and Carissa for stopping by and commenting.

Jan Christensen said...

Carol and I are so different in many areas, but we agree about being distracted when trying to work. The mind takes any excuse to make us lose focus. For most people, the mind will try to focus on the clutter instead of what you really want to concentrate on. There are exceptions, of course, even famous ones. For those of us who like to keep it at bay, there's lots of good advice out there on how to do that. And I stole a lot of it for this article.

Jan Christensen said...

Thanks, Lisa and Medeia for your nice comments. Pleased to "meet" you.

Jan Christensen said...

Jay, I'd go nuts. LOL But you seem to be sane. So all's okay.

dolorah said...

I'm not THAT messy, but sometimes I have to put in a few hours to organize. And throw things away. Taking out trash is the hardest.

Jan Christensen said...

Dolorah, lots of people are exactly the same as you. If you're comfortable with the way things are, that's okay.

Lynda R Young said...

I have a mostly tidy desk. It has everything I need (except maybe a bar fridge). Occasionally it needs a clean up but I try not to let it get to crazy chaotic stage.

Christine Rains said...

Excellent advice! I usually keep my desk tidy or else I get the itch to procrastinate with cleaning. :)

Helena said...

Very smart advice, and I like the organizer/hoarder theme of your novel. My own home is pretty much fine EXCEPT for my office. The papers and files spread like a disease from there to other rooms. I purge and file and organize regularly, but within a day or two the mess begins to grow again. Like fungus.

Denise Covey said...

Great advice! I can't work in a mess so I agree utterly. Thanks for the practical advice. :-)

Lady Lilith said...

Nice job. Sounds like great advice.

Jan Christensen said...

Lynda--I could use a bar fridge and a nearby bathroom, although getting up to use the bathroom and get some food is often the only exercise I get all day.

Jan Christensen said...

Christine, that's another problem with clutter I didn't mention. I said it could be distracting, but as you say, it can also lead to procrastination. Thanks for commenting.

Jan Christensen said...

Helena, thanks. I've almost gone paperless with my writing, only printing out pages for a final edit for my short stories, and maybe two final edits for novels. It took a while to get used to doing it that way, but it really has saved me a lot of time in the long run. I recommend it.

Jan Christensen said...

Denise and Lady Lilith, thanks so much for your comments.

Melissa said...

This reminds me of a book I read, Clutter's Last Stand. LOL You've inspired me to clean off my desk, Jan. :)

Robin said...

Nearly all of my clutter is paper. Paper paper paper. I really need to go through and just sort it already. The bills already have a filing system (they just require filing). It's one thing I hate doing. Don't know why.

VR Barkowski said...

When I worked in the real world, my desk was absolute chaos during the day, but I couldn't leave at night without having everything neat, tidy, and organized for when I arrived the next morning. I never left work without a pristine desk. These days, my desk is so tiny, I barely have room for a post-it, let alone a mess. I don't like clutter. In fact clean surfaces give me a tiny thrill. :)

Jan Christensen said...

Melissa, I own that book--Clutter's Last Stand. Glad I inspired you.

Jan Christensen said...

Robin, I suggest setting up another filing system for the rest of that paper, just as you have for the bills. Makes life a lot easier.

Jan Christensen said...

VR, yes! When I walk by my desk and it has nothing on it I need to handle, there's that tiny thrill. Take them where I can get them. LOL

Michelle Wallace said...

I'm more-or-less organised.
When I was younger, I had a rigid filing system for household bills/accounts/receipts. As of late, I'm not as structured as I used to be...
The one place that always collects clutter, is my handbag. I always have envelopes and papers stuffed in my bag...

Emily R. King said...

So many good tips, Jan! I look forward to the release of BURIED UNDER CLUTTER this spring!

Jan Christensen said...

Michelle--oh, those handbags. I clean my out when I do the daily mail. It's a good feeling to have both things done every day.

Jan Christensen said...

Emily, you can get BURIED UNDER CUTTER right now! The third book in the series, CLUTTERED ATTIC SECRETS, should be out this spring. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Bish Denham said...

These are excellent ideas! Some of them I can surely use. Of late, almost every day I find one thing to throw out or donate and that has been helping.

The ideas for sorting through all the paper... that's the one I can really use!

Thanks.

Shelley Munro said...

I love the idea of tackling the chore a little each day. Mostly, it's the impossibility of the chore that stops me from starting. Small increments aren't as scary!

Jan Christensen said...

Bish, so glad you found something helpful in the post. Coincidentally, just a day or so ago, I read about the idea of getting rid of one or two things a day. Another trick is for every non-food item you bring into you house, get rid of one or two others. Good luck with the paper.

Jan Christensen said...

Shelley--yes! 10, 15, 20 minutes a day devoted to a long-term goal can get the job done, often in less time than you think it will take, and a lot less painfully. Hope this works well for you.

Empty Nest Insider said...

Great advice on de-cluttering! I agree that it's best to conquer one small area at a time. Thanks Jan and Carol!

Julie

Lexa Cain said...

Thanks to Jan for the tips! All my writing/research is digital, so no piles. My hubby's spaces sure could use a clean-out though. He's a packrat. Refuses to throw anything out. *sigh*

Southpaw HR Sinclair said...

Jan "I've heard that so many times. You may realize by now that I don't quite believe it."

You know I don't think I do either. ;)

TBM said...

A marketing binder. Now there's a brilliant idea! Great ideas all around.

Loni Townsend said...

Ha, I first need to find a place that my 4yo daughter isn't going to take over. And if only I could apply the same declutter principles to my mind. Someday...

Jan Christensen said...

Empty Nest Insider--thanks fcr your comment.

Jan Christensen said...

Lexa, if anyone knows how to get someone you live with to declutter, let me know. We won't talk about the garage--my husband's clutter spot. At least he's fairly neat inside the house, but not as neat as I am.

Jan Christensen said...

Southpaw, I know the frustration I feel when I can't find something (which is rare). And I've seen it in other people (those who clutter experience it often). Conquering clutter helps more than anything in preventing that irritability and frustration.

Jan Christensen said...

TBM - Thanks. It's great to have a place to put things that are connected in a binder--easier to handle than a bunch of files when you need the information.

Jan Christensen said...

Loni, all bets are off when there are very young children involved. LOL But it's smart to start teaching them when young to put stuff away. Maybe explain that you and she need to be neat so you can find what you want later. As for our minds--creative people are going to have more ideas bouncing around, so consider that a good thing. Might help to use index cards to "capture" all those ideas as they occur to you. There's a whole system for doing that, but it's a post for another time.

Crystal Collier said...

I had a job with my sister when we were teens, cleaning people's houses. I remember this one was bad. Two school teachers who never had enough time to pick up after the kids. When we started working for them, they had an area in the basement they told us not to worry about. It was a disaster, and it was going to stay a disaster. That didn't sit well with us. One week we cleaned a little. The next week a little more. By two months in, we had it all in order. It really is a patience game, eh? How do you eat an elephant?

Jan Christensen said...

Great story, Crystal. BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamont points out this lesson so well, and has the added bonus of being geared to writers. I highly recommend it. For example, very few people can write a novel in a day, but write a few hundred words every day, and it will get done. Thanks for commenting.

Arlee Bird said...

Good advice that I need to heed more diligently. Things around me usually look to be a mess, but I usually know where what I need can be found. It's probably my garage and certain closets that need attention again.

Arlee Bird
A to Z Challenge Co-host
Tossing It Out

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I solved my problem of having a messy desk by getting... a bigger desk! Just kidding. (Kinda.) I'm actually fairly well-organized, but if I don't keep up with the clutter as I go, it could get out of hand real quick-like.

Jan Christensen said...

Arlee, as long as you can find things and the "mess" doesn't distract you, you're fine. I think most of us have an area that often gets out of hand. That's why junk drawers were invented. For those who find it distrating, I hope my hints will help.

Jan Christensen said...

Susan, I'm the same way. I have to handle things like my desk and the kitchen daily, or they will get out of hand.

Mark Noce said...

Sounds like some good advice. My writing life could always use some streamlining:)

Mark Noce said...

Sounds like some good advice. My writing life could always use some streamlining:)

Jan Christensen said...

Thanks, Mark, for coming by and commenting. Good luck with the streamlining.

Beth Ellyn Summer said...

great post from Jan! I call myself an "anti hoarder" ha, I hate clutter. The bad thing is I sometimes go too far and throw things out I kind of regret! But I just need a clean, organized space!

Janet, said...

Great advice, now if I could just follow it. I've been trying to de-clutter my house since the first of the year. The book sounds really good, too.

Jan Christensen said...

Beth Ellyn, I think a lot of clutter is caused by the fear of throwing out something we will need or want later. That's why the box labeled six months later is such a good idea. If you haven't needed or missed something in that time, the likelihood you'll ever need it is small. Another test--is it replaceable? Old letters, no. A lemon squeezer. Yes. Do keep those irreplaceable items!

Jan Christensen said...

Hi, Janet. I highly recommend just committing ten minutes a day to working on the clutter. Pick a time, and just do it then every day. Some days, you might get in the mood to work longer. Other days, you know you can stop in only ten minutes, and those minutes will add up to a clutter-free home or office, probably sooner than you expect.

LD Masterson said...

I've never been a "clean up every night" person but I have a reminder set in my calendar that pops up every other Monday to clean my desk. That seems to be the right time line for me to stay just ahead of unmanageable.

Jan Christensen said...

LD, as long as the clutter build-up doesn't bother you. At least you have a system to keep it somewhat under control. But if you continually have to spend time looking for things, maybe you should consider doing the clean-up more often.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

I wonder if I can apply some of these tips to organizing my house :)

Jan Christensen said...

Dear Optimistic Existentialist--I am highly optimistic that you can use these tips for your whole house, your garage, your attic, and your cellar. Even your car. Good luck!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Excellent tips, though you sound like my husband. He's been trying to train me for years. I'm still a mess!

Jan Christensen said...

LOL, Elizabeth. You gotta want to be neat. If it's not a big thing for you, then there's no way to train it into you that I know of.

Nas said...

Congratulations Jan! Great advice in this post and wow, it is your book title too!

Jan Christensen said...

Thanks, Nas. You made me smile.

Jan Christensen said...

Carol, thank you so much for having me here at the Tiki Hut. It's been a joy chattering with all the people who follow your blog. To say nothing of talking to that new cabana boy you hired. I hope to come back to visit soon.

Carol Kilgore said...

My pleasure, Jan. You're always welcome here. I'm sure the cabana boy feels the same way. Glad he was your type :)