Ever come across a notebook filled with your handwriting but no memory of it? Or a book with sticky flags adorning its pages, but no idea of why you attached them? Me too. When it comes to tracking my free-writes, story drafts, my analytical papers, I have verged on, and crossed into, chaos for much of my writing life. But pursuing an MFA has made it very clear that my creative impulses are worthless, and my craft analysis superficial, unless I can find what I need, pronto.
I have organizational tendencies–my grocery lists are made according to the store layout. My books are alphabetized. I meet deadlines. I’m sure there’s a Deep Psychological Reason that I haven’t treated my creative writing with the same respect I do food, books and freelance assignments. But since I spend plenty of time in therapy already, so rather than muse about what that Reason might be, I’m going to share the quick-and-dirty organizational habit I have begun forming.
I’ve come up with three main components of my Effort at Organization.
- Deliberate intentions
- Direct interaction
- Daily integration
Deliberate Intentions: I spend 5-10 minutes each morning with my calendars. Two on the wall, a year-long, dry-erase one (available from Neuyear.net) and a weekly one (based on Jeffrey Davis’s Mind Rooms Guide). My third calendar is my online/phone calendar.
I review what I’d intended to do yesterday, figure out if I need to change today’s plan. Then I take a square of pretty paper and jot down rough time guesstimates for each activity and adjust if my total is more than the time I have available. Note: the process of setting up a year-long calendar will get another post. That’s a Big Process.
Direct Interaction: I scribble all over my books, my drafts, the feedback from my MFA supervisor. It’s the way I think. When I’m done, I put a big sticky note on the front cover of the book or the first page of the draft or the feedback sheets, and I jot down what I want to do next: type into ss draft ASAP. Type into “ideas file.” Ignore until after winter break. Re-read in June 2017. Submit to WHR by Nov. 30. These go into the Daily Integration pile.
Daily Integration: I allot time each day to tackle the accumulated direct interaction pieces. The pile of these isn’t so high that it’s wobbling, but I have yet to eliminate it entirely.
It has taken me YEARS to get here. And every single week, there’s at least one day where I completely, and I mean completely, fail. Maybe because the book I’m reading is so good I ignore everything else for the day (Like So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell. And The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder.)
I’m befriending failure; all that therapy has gotten me to the place where I can forgive myself, take a nap, or just go straight to bed and start again the next day.
I’d love to hear how you organize your writing life–and if you occasionally verge or cross into chaos, how do you extricate yourself? Share with us in the comments.