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The Organized Writer: 8 Tips

writer tips for organizationMark Twain liked to write in bed.

I picture him there with his cigar ashes, his coffee, and his crumby sheets, and I know I couldn’t do that. I need a certain degree of order around me in order to be productive, and though I’m a seat-of-the-pantser in terms of plot, that doesn’t mean I’m without systems. If you’re a writer, too, you might find the following organizing tips helpful.

  1. Plan time to write. Many writers have a writing routine, like so many hours a day, or word counts. It doesn’t have to be rigid, though. I basically write every day as much as I can and don’t fret about it. For practical purposes, this means I don’t make any appointments before 3 in the afternoon, and I feel fine about ignoring house stuff all day because I’m working. When I’m up against deadlines, my writing hours expand into the night, and that’s just how it is.
  1. Save drafts. When I get to the end of a draft, I usually date it, number it, and put a copy in my folder for that novel. I’m not sure why this is important besides that it feels good. We may delude ourselves that posterity might one day be interested in our progress with a particular novel, but regardless, we need to claim our milestones, and each draft counts.
  1. Have a back-up system. I once heard a writer say, “If you don’t have three copies, you don’t have anything at all.” This may come as a shock, but sometimes computers fail. They get spilled on, even! I have my normal draft that I work on all day long, which I save as I go (Copy #1). Then, every night, I email a copy of my draft to myself as an attachment, knowing that this copy is accessible anywhere I can get my email (Copy #2). Then, once a month or so, I do I back up of my entire computer, which includes all my files (Copy #3). The most I can lose is one day’s work, which would be bad but not devastating.
  1. Desktop foldersSet up ancillary documents. Apart from your main draft, it’s helpful to have a Notes document with running brainstorm ideas and questions. In an Outline document, you may focus on chapter-by-chapter structure. The Characters document keeps track of names, physical features, ages, and pertinent details. The Timeline document is helpful for lining up dates, days of the week, and years, especially if backstory history is mentioned and you need to recall when people were born, died, retired, had kids, or survived a disaster. Incidentally, you can find calendars online that tell how the days of the week fall in, say, the year 2067. The Cuts file is handy for moving chunks out of a draft that you might want to reuse, and here, too, it can be useful to date the cuts when you move them, or keep the most recent on top, as I do.
  1. Draw the maps. If your characters move around a complex landscape, it will be handy to sketch out a map. I tend to do one after I have a fairly evolved draft, and then I can refer back to it as I revise the manuscript. Correspondingly, I can adjust the map as needed. By the time my editor asks me for a map to send to the artist who will make the actual illustration for my novel, I can draw up and label a clearer version from my sketch.
  1. Print off your editor’s notes. When I receive an editorial letter via email, I print it off and staple it together so I can have it at hand and jot notes in the margins. It goes in a clipboard with my map sketches and with notes I take during out phone conversations, so I can refer back to what we discussed.
  1. Update your calendar. Keeping organized in time can help you stay on top of progress. Note deadlines for drafts and dates of key conversations with your editor and agent. Knowing when you sent in a draft can help you stay realistic about when you can reasonably expect a response from a busy editor. Note when estimated taxes are due because those pesky dates can really creep up on you. Around the release of a book, schedule blog interviews, guest posts, school, bookstore and library visits, and travel plans for book festivals or conventions.
  1. Label a receipts envelope. Early in the year, label a writing receipts envelop for your purse, wallet, kitchen desk, or wherever you’re likely to truly use it, and collect writing related receipts in it for tax purposes. You’ll be grateful later that everything is in one place.

There you go! If you’re already doing many of these things, you’re probably more organized than you realized. If you have other suggestions, I’d be glad to hear about them.

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