Friday, June 12, 2009

Organizing the Chaos

This week we've been talking about writing spaces, and I can practically see your eyes glazing over at yet another post. Next week we'll discuss something else--don't worry! But I'd be cheating you if I didn't mention the wee, miniscule problem most of us have in our office.

The Paper Deluge. The Information Avalanche. The Book Mountain. The Dust Tower. (Okay, I really don't care about the dust tower.)

You don't have this? You don't jot down facts on little slips of paper? You don't print off countless "informational" articles? You don't have seventeen books teetering like a deranged Jenga?

Well, thanks. You just made me cry.

I have all this and more. How do we organize all this writing related bounty without losing our minds? And how do we put it all away quickly, almost effortlessly?

Without any form of filing system, my office filled me with terror. Stacks of papers, none related, greeted me each day. I learned something vital: I simply cannot live without the file divider next to my desk. I've tried. It wasn't pretty.

Why are file dividers so important? Because you'll lose precious writing time if you can't easily find the information you need.

I constantly write down notes or things that pop into my brain. I print off informative blog posts. Writer's guidelines, important addresses, cool research facts--all need a place to go. If I didn't have my file divider, all of those papers would be in a big pile on my desk. My mind would be shifting to the clutter, instead of focusing on writing, and I'd lose time.

The system I use is not elaborate. It doesn't take long to set up and takes even less time to use. Materials needed? Two file dividers, a box of hanging file folders, a box of manila folders, and a pen. Why two dividers? One is for important files I need within arm's reach. The other is on the far side of the room and houses important, but not often looked at, documents.

The one next to my desk has a few basic files I throw everything into: Writing Guidelines (editor and agent stuff), Writing Articles, Punctuation/Grammar Notes, Story Ideas, and Web Stuff. I also have a thick folder for my current work in progress. The majority of papers I accumulate each day are filed here. And I file them every day. I refuse to have a stack of papers giving me the evil eye when I wake up.

This divider has other sections, too. It has ample room for both my files and a blog binder containing ideas and old posts. Next to them are my various journals--an idea journal, a blank journal, and two small notebooks in which I review every book I read. There's also a dictionary, thesaurus, and an ancient Strunk & White's Elements of Style.

The other file divider is where I keep writing receipts, editor responses, and other business documents.

What about the mountain of books? There's a small cubby where I lined up the other writing craft books. All of my favorite novels are in little cloth bins. My to-be-read pile...ahem, piles...are housed in baskets throughout the house.

Binders hold the magazine articles and pictures I rip out. I let the treasures accumulate for a month or two before filing them.

What do you need within reaching distance? How do you control the scraps of paper and notes? Do you have files and papers nearby that you don't use often?

Thanks for sharing your writing space with me this week! I've enjoyed learning how and where you write!

Enjoy your weekend!


  1. That was funny about the deranged Jenga. Actually, i think I might make you cry. But there's hardly anything like that on my desk and this is why. We don't have a working printer. Isnt' that ridiculous? So no pile of papers. But tons and tons of bookmarked internet pages on my comp. All my books get stacked helter-skelter on my bookshelf, right behind my comp.

  2. Jill, sorry for double commenting. But I have a question for you. I clicked on the link to the two articles about blogging and websites and noticed these go straight to a PDF file. Do you mind sharing with me how you linked to a PDF file on your blog? I'd really like to do that. My email is Thanks!!!

  3. Katie: I wish I could force myself to only comp things on the computer, but I'm pretty sure I'm a paper addict! I'll e-mail you right now!

  4. Aw, I just read that you wrote you love to hear from me. Oh, I guess that's to anyone who comments...sorry, in a goofy mood. Anyway, I keep an enormous basket of papers and even throw some books in there. These posts have really made me reconsider the way I'm organizing!

    Happy Friday!
    ~ Wendy

  5. You do sound organized!
    I started a folder for mag information and then threw away the rest of the magazine--was saving too many!
    And then I have files in my drawers. The scraps of papers get looked at and then tossed about a week later! I rarely use half of what I save so am trying to put it in a notebook or toss.

  6. By the way, I forgot to tell you that is just about the prettiest picture I've ever seen!
    ~ Wendy

  7. Wendy: A basket is ideal! That's why I have them to toss books into. I'm not a master organizer, but I do have a functional system in place. For me, it's all about easy and quick! (I love that picture too. So many talented photographers in this world...too bad I'm not one of them!)

    Terri: I hear you. Before I file anything, I make sure it's something I need. How many scraps of paper end in the trash? Too many to count!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Wow, you sound really organized! I used to be :( Lately my issue is with bookmarking everything and saying I'll get back to it later. Because I usually use my laptop, I don't have a set area to write and I'm not connected to a printer. So I just bookmark everything and then say I'll go through it later or print it out. Yeah, now I get the enormous task of actually following through once my revision is done.

  9. Cindy: Maybe some of those bookmarks will just have to disappear? Heh-heh!

    Have fun revising! I just spent two hours working on my first two pages. Unbelievable. My first chapter always gives me grief.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  10. I love your series, Jill.

    I'm one of those creative messy types, and the book Jenga stack was dead on. :D

    For now, I just need my computer. I store a lot of things on the computer, because I'm sure to misplace them otherwise. I do have a basket where I store my notes and story snippets that I'm not currently working on. That's been a big help, especially when I need to reference myself. :D

  11. The derranged Jenga made me laugh. I try to keep everything on my computer, because I can't work in clutter. Too easy to procrastinate organizing all my post-it pads into shape, color, and size.

    My problem is finding something on my computer when I need it. :)

  12. When I taught my desk was always covered in books and papers. I could always find what I need, but it was a mess. I think I live in organized chaos. But even I have to purge every once and awhile and have a neat, clean space, even if it only lasts for a few days:)

  13. You've touched on a huge problem I have. I'm mostly organized in life, but ideas that spring out at me aren't organized at all. Little slips of paper with a jotted down thought, phrase, idea are tucked all over the place, purse, car, desk, nightstand, kitchen counter. Oh, boy, I really need to get a system together.

  14. Danyelle: Thanks! I see you aren't the only one who keeps most information on the computer. That's really impressive! I think I'm addicted to paper!

    Erica: I'm sure you have a filing system in place on your computer, but with any type of system we still have to find that missing info! Too bad, huh?

    Kara: My house is organized chaos! The junk drawer? Shuddering right now.

    Eileen: You and I must be related. I write on old receipts, torn off papers, the backs of a doggy calendar, you name it!

    Thanks for stopping by!


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