Avoiding the Organizational Time Warp: A Writer’s Guide To Getting (And Staying) Organized

Let’s face itorganized: writers are creative types. And with our creativity comes the stigma that we’re helplessly, unavoidably disorganized.

I typically try to steer clear of stereotypes; I’m sure there are plenty of writers out there who are impressive organizational fiends (cough, Skye, cough). But for me and many writers I know, that’s not the case. In fact, many of us have learned to embrace our messiness as both cause and effect of our creativity: we’re messy because we’re creative, and we’re creative because we’re messy. It’s part of who we are. Some may even find it endearing!

However, we tend to run into a problem with this. Disorganization can often lead to confusion and wasted time, especially when your precious writing time is being spent getting re-organized again… and again… and again. How many times have you been elbow-deep in a project, only to have to stop your creative flow to go searching for a long-lost piece of research? How many hours have you spent organizing computer files to get all your writing categorized and accounted for? And, most threateningly to your productivity, how many times have you put off working on your project indefinitely and foregone it for yet another session of sorting papers and labeling documents?

I know I, personally, have postponed many a writing session in hopes of overhauling my entire filing cabinet, laptop, and external hard drive. Every time, I manage to convince myself that this will be The Big Overhaul that will leave my writing forever organized and allow my creative mind the freedom it needs, now that the obsessive-compulsive part of my brain is happy that all my writing, notes, and to-do lists are accounted for.

So how do you break this habit? I’m still learning, myself, but here are the steps I’ve been taking that seem to help:

  1. Download an organizational program like Evernote. The great thing about these tools is that they sync up to your desktop, laptop, and mobile device, as well as a general cloud that can be accessed on the web from any location. You can make notes and compile them into notebooks, store all kinds of research and information searchable by keyword, and create tasks and to-do lists that you can actively tick off as you complete them. My personal favorite tool in Evernote is the web clipper, which allows you to save web pages as documents with one click. This is an especially efficient and speedy way for authors to “clip” research articles, or for bloggers to save downloadable copies of their online content!
  2. Buy a small notebook and bring it everywhere. Yes, I mean everywhere. No exceptions. One of the reasons we get so disorganized is that, thanks to our sneaky unconscious minds always working in the background, we often have ideas on-the-go. If you’re anything like me, these ideas get fired off to your personal email inbox in random messages without subject titles and often get either lost or stored in a folder for another future organization project. This project usually doesn’t happen or isn’t extensive enough to include all your scattered notes-to-self, leaving a lot of gems overlooked at the bottom of your email food chain. But buying a small notebook to keep handy is great for keeping all your ideas in one place; while loading the Evernote app on your phone will also give you the capabilities of organizing your ideas anywhere, anytime, it’s handy to have a specifically designated writing notebook should any technical difficulties occur. Plus, sometimes it’s just exciting to write things down by hand in a fancy moleskine!
  3. Set time goals and limits. Ultimately, you’re going to have to do a bit of organizing—it’s inevitable. By setting aside a certain block of time every week—or even every day, if you must—to transfer and sort your notes and do any other literary housekeeping, you can ensure you routinely maintain your writing materials without going overboard and losing hours in spreadsheets and yellow file folders. If you have exactly one hour of free time per night, for example, try setting aside only 10 or 15 minutes of that time tops for organizing. Once those minutes are through, it’s time to write!

How do you stay organized? Do you often find yourself getting lost in these enticing organizational projects? Let us know in the comments below!

Sprint Watch! YA Buccaneers

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Calling all word sprinters! YA Buccaneers, a creative swashbuckling group of writer and word sprinters, is hosting a word sprint marathon beginning tomorrow morning!

When: Tuesday (9/16) and Thursday (9/18), 9am EDT/7am PDT/14:00 BST

Where: The YA Buccaneers twitter account and the #YABWordSprint hashtag

How: Follow the YA Buccaneers on Twitter and comment on their announcement post to let them know you’ll be taking part! Then log onto Twitter at the correct time and join in the fun with #YABWordSprint so other sprinters can find and encourage/compete with you.

Then, join the Sprint Shack exactly 12 hours later both Tuesday and Thursday for our weekly #TNightSprints to top off your writing and give your word counts an extra boost.

We hope to see you there!

Tackling Loneliness as a Writer

It’s no secret that writing can be a lonely careelonelyr. For those of us with day jobs, it takes away from our social lives on nights and weekends. For those who write full-time, many a day (and/or night!) is spent tapping away at the computer. Many may insist that loneliness comes part-and-parcel with writing and that it’s simply something we have to get used to for the love of the profession, but I disagree: even as a writer, there are ways to tackle loneliness.

Why might you want to do this? Sure, some of the greatest writers in history were loners who benefited from the copious amounts of alone time spent with their work. Many were, and are, notorious for getting up at the wee hours of the morning, writing through lunch, and returning to their solitary writing desk after the kids are cared for, only to join their partner in bed well after he or she has fallen asleep. Still others go to the extreme of stealing away to the woods to write in peace (we’re looking at you, J.D. Salinger). But if these tactics don’t work for you—and my guess is that for many people, they don’t—that’s okay.

Humans are pack animals. If you need human interaction, it doesn’t make you a bad writer. In fact, it can make you a better one! One of the best ways to create living, breathing characters is by interacting with and observing real people, so shutting yourself out from the world can actually do more harm than good to your craft. On top of that, loneliness can contribute to a number of awful mental disorders that are common amongst writers and creative types, such as depression and anxiety; for some, this can even lead to alcoholism and drug abuse. And while greats such as Hemingway may have glamorized this life, it’s not one you want. It’s not one that will make you a better writer.

So once you’re decided that you’d rather not shut the world out to work, what can you do? Here are 3 ways to combat loneliness as a writer and keep your spirits high while you tackle that work in progress:

  1. Write in public. It can be hard to tune out the world and hone in on your work with the clatter of café cups and the wailing of an ambulance in the distance (can you tell I live in New York City?), but if you can perfect that art, writing in public can greatly keep you from feeling too secluded when working. If you need something quieter, try a library or a park. Find a spot that works well for you and stick with it for a while—not only will you be surrounded by people, you’ll likely forge your own writing space that will allow you to work even more efficiently!
  2. Join a writing group. Whether you’re in the early stage of exploring your voice or writing your third bestseller, it’s always helpful to have a small group of beta readers to work with. Find two or three people who are around the same stage as you in their writing career and meet regularly to discuss each other’s work. This will give you the opportunity to both work on your craft and satisfy your social needs all at once, leaving neither to be sacrificed for the other.
  3. Get active on Twitter. When nothing other than a dark writing cave will do, consider introducing Twitter to your writing day. This shouldn’t become a distraction, of course, but using the social media platform to meet and network with other writers and industry professionals can have a number of benefits beyond socializing. To take it a step further, join us or any other participating writers for some word sprints, or host your own! The reason we’re such word sprinting fanatics to begin with is that they’re so productive and fun.

Does writing make you lonely? How do you combat loneliness when writing? Let us know!

Tuesday & Thursday #TNightSprints

Hey there word sprinters, and happy Thursday! We’re here to announce a new sprinting event taking place twice weekly on our very own Twitter account. Join us at @TheSprintShack every Tuesday and Thursday nights for some word sprinting goodness at the following times and use the hashtag #TNightSprints to report and compare word counts!

GMT: 2 a.m. – 3 a.m.
EST:
9 p.m. – 10 p.m.
PST: 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.

It can be tough to come home and write at the end of a long day, but that’s what the sprinting community is here for! Unwind from the day’s work with some good company, writing, and inspiration. Sprints will typically be led by Cristina throughout the hour with a 20 minute sprint at the top of the hour, a 10 minute break, and a 30 minute sprint to finish strong from :30 to :00.

For more information on word sprinting and how to join in, check out our FAQ page.

We hope to see you there!

How Long Should You Take To Write Your First Draft?

first draftAs avid word sprinters, we’re all about time-oriented goals. Give us 20 minutes on the clock and a swift kick in the pants, and we’re off to a good few hundred words of fresh writing on any given day. But when it comes to much more long-term goals—such as the first draft of a novel—time limits can be unclear. How long should we take to complete the first draft? How long do we want to take?

Of course, these are questions that only those of us without a publisher’s deadline have the luxury of asking. If you’ve been asked to submit a manuscript by a certain date, then by all means, be on time. Open-ended projects, however, allow for more flexibility on our parts.

The problem with leaving anything open-ended lies in a writer’s best skill and worst habit: procrastination. If you don’t have a hard deadline for your project, why rush it? Why not give it all the time in the world to be the best it can be? Our answer, and that of many accomplished writers, is this: give that project too long to simmer and it may just burn. The longer you take to complete a first draft, the more opportunities you have for other, exciting ideas to take hold and derail you, and the more likely you are to lose interest.

There are a plethora of other problems that can occur, of course. If you’re a discovery writer, for example, you could lose track of where you were going or forget an important detail you wanted to include. Those of us who outline could very well end up following the outline mechanically and disconnecting from the tone of the story. Both pantsers and planners run the risk of losing momentum. Ultimately, it’s best to get the story down while the idea is fresh, which is the sole idea behind writing challenges like NaNoWriMo.

In the Writing Excuses podcast 9.15, entitled “Becoming A Writer – Full Disclosure,” New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson describes interrupting a first draft as “absolutely miserable.” Stephen King recommends taking no longer than 3 months to complete a manuscript in his memoir and writing guide, On Writing. But while it’s always helpful to follow the advice of an accomplished author, writers at all stages in their careers have their own processes. I took to Twitter to see how some of you approach first drafts, and was genuinely surprised at how solid your timelines were:

If your tweet isn’t featured here, what about you? Do you set a deadline for your first drafts? Do they tend to just take hold and finish themselves within a certain period of time? Or do you wing it and hope for the best? Let us know!

What Fuels Your Writing?

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I have a couple “writing crutches” – things that make it easier to get into the writing mood and transform those mediocre words in my head into flowing, magical prose on paper.

Writers are notorious for having their crutches (or vices). More often than not, writers are creatures of habit. Our chair has be adjusted at a certain height, the wine has to be red, and the phone must be unplugged. Whatever your criteria may be, creating the atmosphere for writing is a science. Or, perhaps a kind of magic, where everything comes together just so and coaxes the words onto the paper (or computer screen).

Some writers like Faulker require nothing more than a glass of good whiskey. Yet other, more eccentric wordsmiths, have needed private hotel rooms in order to write their masterpieces (Angelou) or have found that they can only write in the nude (Hugo) to get their writing done.
I’ve got some of my favorite requirements for writing here for your perusal (and judgement). While much of what I list here is optional, I’d much rather write with these things than without…

For Inspiration: Pinterest, random words from dictionaries, art
For Focus: Music (instrumental)
For Motivation: Snacks, coffee, tea, wine

So there you have it. Those are the key ingredients to get me in the writing zone.

But we’re all different! So what about you? Tell me what fuels your writing. What are your requirements/crutches/vices that keep you writing? I’ll be pulling some of your answers for my next post!

Why Do You Write?

Can I ask you a personal question? Why do you write?

Each time I ask myself that, I have to pause. Not because I can’t think of a reason, but because there are too many. There are so many aspects to writing that I love, that make the process, from inkling to polished novel, something I get so much fulfilment from. When I stop to think, there are countless reasons for me to write–and yet, all too often, I forget about those reasons and lose the will to write. Unfortunately, I’m not alone.

When we’re stuck in the middle of a tough scene or wading through a particularly difficult edit, it’s easy to lose heart. We forget why we love to write so much, why we took up the hobby in the first place, and instead find reasons not to write. ‘I don’t feel like it.‘ ‘I’m too busy.‘ ‘I’d much rather watch funny cat videos on YouTube.‘ You know what I’m talking about.

The thing is, when we find reasons to avoid writing, we’re cheating ourselves. For the most part, we don’t have to write. No one’s forcing us to. We do it because, for whatever reason, we want to. And those reasons can be the biggest motivators of them all.

Try it yourself. Why do you write? Not too long ago, I asked this question myself on Twitter. These are some of the responses I got:

These are just a few of the many unique, inspiring reasons our Twitter friends have to write. If you’d like to see what other people love so much about writing, search for the #whyIwrite hashtag and send out a few tweets of your own!

Finally, here’s my challenge to you: each day, think of one reason you write. Put it in your journal, tell your friends and family, tweet about it, repeat it on a night before you go to sleep, sing it from the rooftops… However you do it, just remember why you write and why only you can write what you do. Remind yourself every day why you put pen to paper. Recall the first spark of inspiration that took your breath away. Write down why you write, share it with the world, and keep it in your heart.

It’s amazing how much more motivated you feel when you remember what drew you to writing in the first place.

~

Why do you write?