How to Be Organized

Copyright 2001 by Shirley Kawa-Jump

If you’re anything like me as a writer, you’re a mostly right-brained soul who has a few problems being organized and keeping track of all that STUFF. There are files and snippets of ideas and articles you want to read and advice you want to follow. Slips of paper with phone numbers, tiny business cards floating in every crevice, and marked-up drafts of work piled all over the place.

Trying to be productive-and organized-is like trying to cram Cinderella’s stepsister’s foot into the glass slipper. Not an easy task at all but…not impossible. Here are my tips for getting more organized:

WHAT TO SAVE: I tend to be a packrat – just ask my husband :). I save notes for seven years, archiving every 6 months and labeling the box well. I write 300 articles a year, so there’s a LOT of interviews and notes from those.

When I do an article, I put it in a marked file folder and file by publication (all my articles for Real Estate Executive are in one place, etc.). I have one file drawer for marketing work (divided by client), one for articles and one for fiction (divided by book). When I archive things, I leave them in the manila folders so I can find them easily in the box (you can buy archive boxes at office supply stores cheap).

HOW TO MAKE IT WORK FOR MORE WORK: One of the things I’ve started doing is keeping a folder in Outlook with all my article contacts. Not only do I put down why I talked to them, but I can link to an interview appointment, and also jot notes about them for future articles. It’s great for keeping track of who I talked to, when and then how to find them again later.

When I query, I put the title of the article I pitched, the publication I sent it to, the date, and editor’s name in an Excel spreadsheet. When I hear back, I mark it in a column and then highlight one color for acceptances and one for rejections. That helps me visually see how I’m doing track-record wise.

To keep track of what is being rejected, I put the title of the article in the corner of the SASE. That way, if I have multiple submissions at one place, I don’t get confused on what’s being rejected (esp. if it’s a form letter).

WHERE TO PUT IDEAS: I have an idea folder for each book and one for query ideas. I choose colored folders for these so they’re easy to find when I need them. I also keep journals with me all over the house and in the car so I can jot ideas in there. If it’s an idea for a current project, I’ll put a Post-it on the page so I can find it later.

I also put article ideas on Post-its and slap them all over my Writer’s Market. I keep them there after I query, so I can remember which area I thought an article would work for. Then if a magazine rejects it, I can go to the other markets in that section and resend to them.

WHAT ELSE TO SAVE: I save all my article contracts in one folder, filing new ones to the back. For reprints, I have a card file where I mark off the title of the article, when it’s available for reprint and who I’ve sent it to. That helps me keep track of what’s available when and by putting the “used” articles to the back of the stack, I keep flipping through new things that I can sell for reprints.

I keep all my rejection letters (not out of a masochistic tendency ) but for tax purposes. It proves to the IRS that yes, I did spend that much on postage in one year.:-)

I save all my receipts in a basket, which is admittedly, not the best system. I file them at the end of the year by category, enter them into QuickBooks, and vow to stay more on top of them throughout the next year. I’ve been doing this haphazard receipt system for 20+ years, but maybe there’s hope for me down the road ;-).

HOW TO KEEP TRACK OF IT: I have a tiered folder holder on my desk that holds current work, divided into colored folders (each client gets a color, then I have colors for other types of work). My current articles are in an “Articles Due” folder that I can take with me so I can make calls from the road. Once I’m done with a piece, it goes into a basket for future filing, which I do about once a month.

I also keep a running To Do list on a large lined Post-it note. That way, I can stick it on my computer and keep an eye on it when I am tempted to play Freecell instead ;-).

At the end of the day, I always try to clean up my desk. I make a prioritized stack of things for the next day, check my To Do list, and deal with any new mail or books that came in. I also rely heavily on Outlook to remind me when things are due, when to call people, etc. I print out my calendar (my Palm Pilot has a mind of its own when it comes to its batteries, so I don’t rely on it) and take it with me.

Being organized gives you more time, more productivity and thus, more success as a writer. It’s not an easy task, and certainly not a fun one, but it certainly helps you maintain a relatively ordered writing life!

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