How organized are you?
For a lot of writers, the honest answer is … not organized enough. They can’t find vital notes, they struggle to make the time to write, and they miss deadlines. Their lack of organization harms their writing life.
Some writers worry that getting organized means the death of creativity. They picture color-coded spreadsheets, rigid schedules, or a dismayingly bland desk.
But the truth is, getting organized could be the best thing you do for your creativity and writing in general. I’ll show you why, and I’ll also share seven ways to organize your writing life.
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”– Gustave Flaubert
If you’re disorganized, it’s really hard to be creative. If it takes you 30 minutes to hunt the house for those vital scraps of paper that you outlined your novel on, you’re missing out on writing time. Plus, once you’ve finally found your notes, you might be so frustrated you don’t even want to write at all.
The truth is, you can’t reach your full potential as a writer if you’re constantly in a whirl of chaos.
You won’t create your best work if you keep losing your notes, or if you frequently need to break off from writing to sort out something urgent that you’d completely forgotten about.
One of the best ways to produce better creative work is to write consistently, and that’s tough to do without at least a bit of pre-planning and organization.
Is there such a thing as being too organized?
You might be surprised to hear it, but the answer is yes. If you’re spending more time organizing your writing than actually writing, stop.
Being too organized might look like:
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how organized you want to be. You might be comfortable with different levels of organization in different areas of your writing life. For instance, you might keep careful track of all your client deadlines and requirements, but be much more relaxed about sticking to your schedule for writing your blog.
Here are some practical, simple, and quick ways to get more organized with your writing.
However, one disadvantage to keeping notes on paper is that it’s very easy to mislay them. Perhaps you tend to use whichever notebook comes to hand, so your character sketches for your novel are crammed into the back of your blog post ideas book—with your chapter outlines in another notebook entirely.
The easiest solution I’ve found is to have one notebook for each big project. If you have a lot of small, related projects, like short stories, keep them in a single notebook.
Pre-2020, I loved to write in coffee shops and in our local library. I’m in the UK, where we’re currently in our third Covid-19 lockdown, so almost everything I’ve written for the last 12 months has been completed within the four walls of my house.
Even so, I’ve found it helpful to have my writing gear in a bag when I’ve got a writing session planned. Then, I can grab it and write from wherever is most convenient. My bag holds my laptop, planner, notebook, pens, earphones, and so on, and having it all in one place makes it much easier to just sit down and write.
Do you have lots of different lists of things to do? Perhaps you’ve got a bunch of emails in your inbox that are doubling up as to-do items, along with an app on your phone, a list in a Google document, and a few post-it notes stuck to your monitor.
For me, the easiest way to collate things into one place is to use a physical paper planner. I also use the Nozbe app on my computer to keep a brain-dump of tasks that I want to get around to at some point, but that aren’t time-sensitive.
Your ideal system might look quite different from mine: What matters is that you keep your to-do lists to a minimum. One to-do list app and (if you use a planner) one physical planner or notebook is enough.
When it comes to apps, experiment to find something you like, but don’t spend ages setting up then switching between lots of different apps. Pick one that’s good enough, and commit to using it for at least a few months.
If you’re struggling to organize your writing into your day or week, try picking specific days or times for different types of writing.
For instance, you might block out writing time on weekdays for freelance work, and during weekends and evenings for your novel. That way, you don’t find you’re suddenly panicking about a deadline because you spent three days straight on your novel, but equally, you don’t end up taking on so much client work that you don’t have time for your own projects.
If you’re sending out pitches to prospective clients or publications, you need some way of tracking these. A simple spreadsheet in Google Docs might work just fine. Record the date, name, and email address of the client or publication, and what you submitted.
You may also want to include other details, like a link to their website. That way, you won’t lose track of pieces—and you can re-use them.
For instance, if you’ve sent in a short story for a competition, you may want to send it somewhere else if it doesn’t get placed. Similarly, if you pitch an article and get no response even after following up, you could offer that idea to a different client.
Being organized is a continuum, of which neither end—being completely disorganized and being an organization freak—is productive. Some writers might simply prefer to be less organized than others. However, even if you like to stay on the “happily disorganized” side of things, it would be really important to keep track of deadlines.
Whether you’re a freelance writer working for multiple clients, or an author meeting a publisher’s deadlines, it’s really important not to lose track of who you need to get pieces to and when.
While writing the deadline itself in your diary or on your calendar can be helpful, you need to make sure you’re also looking ahead to give yourself enough time to comfortably hit the deadline. You might want to spend a couple minutes at the start of each week checking for upcoming deadlines and planning out your time accordingly.
Once you’ve gotten organized, it might seem like all the hard work is done. Your desk is tidy, your notebooks are labeled by project, and you have a to-do list on your phone.
It’s very easy for disorganization to creep back in, though. Maybe you leave your notebook in a different room than usual. Perhaps you pile some laundry on your desk while folding it. Maybe you scribble down some to-do items on paper while talking on your phone.
Put a routine in place, ideally at the end of each workday, to reset everything.
Clear off your desk. Put books and notebooks back on their shelf. Check off completed to-do items or add any new ones that have come up. This probably won’t take more than five minutes, but it could make a huge difference in how organized you are.
Getting organized doesn’t need to be some huge, time-consuming effort. Instead, take little steps toward being more organized in your writing life, and you’ll soon see that you’re making faster progress with your writing:
Being organized will help support your writing. It’ll give you the space, time, and clarity that you need to produce your best work—as well as the confidence to take on new projects.
Ali Luke has been freelancing and blogging since 2008. These days ,she juggles freelancing, blogging, novel-writing and two young children. As well as blogging for a number of large sites (ProBlogger, Daily Writing Tips and more), she writes about the art, craft and business of writing on her long-running blog Aliventures.com. If you'd like to spend more time writing, download her free ebook Time to Write: How to Fit More Writing Into Your Life, Right Now -- it's a short read, with ten practical tried-and-tested tips.