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, Faye, 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!


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