Archives For Organization

Posts and articles about ways to organize your desk, your writing and your life to produce more of whatever you want from yourself.

There are so many writers out there telling us what we should/must do in order to be successful. I am grateful to everyone who is willing to share in order to help others find their way. But I am somewhat less grateful to those who couch their advice in terms of “should” and “must.”

I believe that all of us find our own best path when it comes to how we get things done. For some people, their best path is one that takes more time – seemingly wasting time to others who appear more efficient. For instance, some writers write multiple versions of scenes before they decide which direction they want to go. Other writers decide first and write one draft. Who has the best path? Sometimes the easiest way to understand this concept of finding your own path is to use something you don’t do well as an example.

I don’t cook very well. I have a few dishes that I can make pretty tasty every time – I just made John and Doug bacon-wrapped meatloaf for dinner – but mostly I despise cooking only a little more than I hate cleaning up. I would LOVE to be wealthy enough to have someone cook and clean for me every day for the rest of my life!

So when I do cook, if someone or something convinces me to try something new, I have found that I should double the prep time. One time, it took me 2 1/2 hours to prepare lasagna wraps out of the “easy” Betty Crocker cookbook. The prep time in the cookbook was 45 minutes.  John was pretty starving hungry by the time we ate that night.

Looking at something I don’t do well and rarely enjoy, it’s easier to see how to adjust other people’s “should’s” to work for me, easier than trying to apply it to something I do pretty well and enjoy, like writing. Following me so far?

Stephanie and I were on a writing retreat once where she did all the cooking and I did all the grocery shopping. I ate like a Queen that week! Steph laughed at me so many times when I gushed about how good her food was, and she kept insisting it was so easy. She eventually learned that cooking is not easy for me.

Now compare all the writing advice you’ve heard. I’d guess that over 90% of the advice you hear works for the person who said it. (I suspect that some people tell you what they believe to be the best way to do something even though they haven’t been able to be completely successful doing it that way.) But just because it works for someone, or lots of someones, doesn’t mean it will work for me or for you.

Take writing every day for example. I do believe that working consistently is the best way to build structure and habits and routines that will get you through the hard times when you don’t know what to write, or when life keeps you from writing as much as you used to. But I don’t believe every writer needs to write 5 or 6 or 7 days a week, rain or shine or Christmas or funeral, in order to be successful.

I’ve found that a menu system works better for me. I work every day, 4-7 days a week, but I don’t write every day. Some days I’ll write for 8 or 10 hours, other days I’ll do other “business of writing” work for the whole day. My brain works smoother and more fully when I do only one or two major tasks a day. I’ll spend an entire day doing a week’s worth or a month’s worth of accounting rather than take a few minutes every day. That’s the menu item I chose on that day. On another day, I’ll choose to write all my blogs for the next week or two. On a different day, I’ll spend most of the day researching, reading, and journaling to get my thoughts stirred up or organized.

So how do I know when I “should” write if I don’t have a specific schedule? Well, first let me say I’m curing myself of the “should’s.” But how do I know if I’m choosing what Stephanie calls creative procrastination or if I’m really procrastinating or being lazy? That’s a tough question. I don’t have the answer for me, let alone you. But I will say that asking yourself the question in the first place will often give you a gut feeling as to which one you’re in now.

Most of you know I’ve had a pretty tough year. Several funerals, several periods of unemployment, financial hardship, two moves, it’s been all I can do to keep from wallowing in self-pity let alone try to keep to a writing schedule. On the one hand, I have the feeling that I haven’t gotten much done this year. On the other hand, I wrote stories for two anthologies that will be out later this year, brainstormed a new series of books, worked on getting Little Miss Lovesick into print, and attended two writing retreats and a national conference. I’ve also been learning how to run a publishing company since I’m self-publishing my books.

Under the circumstances, I feel pretty good about what has been accomplished! I’m working on getting more of a schedule going, creating a printed menu of work for each month, and in general getting more done starting this week. But I’m still not going to force myself to write every day because that’s not how I work best.

What should you do this week? Begin by tossing the word “should” out the window. (I’m not saying you definitely “should” but I think you’ll find it helpful.) Then look back over your writing life and your regular life and look for patterns when you felt like you achieved the most and were happiest. That’s where you’re going to find the answers for you.

I need to find some time each week for silly fun, some time for TV and movies, some time for reading fiction and nonfiction, some time alone, and some time with other people. Some varying amount of each of these help me to get the most work done during the week.

Looking over your life, what do you think will work best for you?

Kathy Tyers is one of my (Stephanie) all-time favorite authors. When I learned about her latest book, I invited her to guest blog with us.

Editing Survival Tips
Author: Kathy Tyers & Jamie Upschulte

Amongst authors, editing is sometimes a dirty word. Many of us enjoy the brainstorming, the writing, and even the feedback from peers, but editing requires hard work that can quickly become meticulous and repetitious. Especially the last round of changes that’s requested by the person who means to publish your masterpiece!

How do you survive final edits without losing your sanity—especially when pressed up against a looming deadline? As we worked on Kathy’s upcoming release of Daystar with Marcher Lord Press, there were many things that made the process far easier and bearable. Among them:

Set a reasonable schedule
—The moment Kathy received her edits, she calculated how many chapters per day she had to complete to reach her deadline, while also allowing time for a final read through and polish. For this latest project, the daily budget was 2-3 chapters daily for 23 days, then 6-7 chapters each day for the last week’s final push, including two rounds of proofreading. It was a rigorous schedule to be sure—but because she had a schedule and knew what she was up against, she could clear her calendar and plan accordingly.

Take care of yourself
—Set up a work station where you will be able to sit comfortably for hours with short breaks. Better yet, set up several stations and rotate among them. This time around, the big discovery was sliding manuscript pages into a cookbook holder on the dining room table. And those “short breaks” are vital. They can save your back, neck, and sanity. Longer breaks are vital, too. In between saving the world and crafting character development, do some gardening. Take your dog for a walk. Or borrow your neighbor and his dog and take them both for a walk (provided you have permission.) You can do absolutely anything, but do something other than stare at your computer screen or galley proofs all day. Physical activity refreshes the mind, and it will renew your mental clarity for editing well.

Plan fun things
—Much as we want to be lean, mean editing machines, all work without play makes our once-loved stories tedious. After you’ve set your daily schedule (see step 1), fit in weekly times of leisure to refresh your spirit. Just like physical activity keeps your mind sharp (see step 2), social fun with friends or loved ones will recharge that other important battery—your heart. Kathy and I made time for a weekly viewing of a popular BBC television series, Downtown Abbey, to make our time together enjoyable as well as productive. Remember, readers are reading your work for an emotional experience as well—so make sure you’re keeping your heart recharged in order to give them the very best.

Avoid listening to musi
c—Music can be a wonderful part of the writing process. It can unclog the mind to get a rough draft up and running. However, when in the midst of editing, you need to ensure that your work is standing on its own emotional merit. The best novels are an experience, so make sure that the story itself is providing the experience—not that favorite Russian romantic composer—especially as you conclude your novel.

These are just a few of the methods that Kathy and I used when evaluating her latest novel, but I’m sure there are plenty of others. What other techniques have you used under deadline? What works for you? What doesn’t work?

(Kathy Tyers has published over ten novels with the general and Christian presses, and has been listed in the New York Times for her work on Star Wars: The Truce at Bakura, and Star Wars: Balance Point. Her upcoming release, Daystar, with Marcher Lord Press will be the final novel in her Firebird series.

Jamie Upschulte is a freelance literary assistant at Jamie Words and greatly enjoys helping authors bring their works to life.)

Whether you are writing for publication or for yourself, for a traditional publisher or blazing your own trail, routines will help smooth your way. Babies and small children love routines because there is a sense of security in knowing what will happen and when. Our brains work well when they know what kind of brainwork needs to be done, and doing it at the expected time, in the expected way. That doesn’t mean we should always stick to our routines because we might get stuck in a rut. It doesn’t mean that the pantser isn’t as productive as the plotter, or that the plotter isn’t as creative as the pantser. It’s a simple statement:

Routines add value.

I haven’t had very many consistent routines over the last few years, and particularly not in the last few months. Today is no exception – we’re moving into our new apartment today! Woo-hooo!! I’m very excited! But just when I was sort of getting caught up and thinking about what kinds of routines were really working for me as I tried to write in my friend’s guest room, I’m back to moving again. Tomorrow, the moving company will deliver all the stuff they took away in Sydney. (I’m very excited to wear some different clothes than those I packed in my suitcases in November!) I have to be careful not to spend too much time creating the perfect work and home environment, though. My husband’s contract is only for nine months. So while I need to unpack, I also need to focus on getting some working writing routines up and running as soon as possible.

You don’t have to choose difficult or time intensive routines in order to add value to your writing time. Little things like writing 300 words before you allow yourself to check email in the morning will go a long way. In fact, for some people, the little things are what add up to great changes. That’s what I think is going to happen with me over the next year. I’ll start with a couple small changes, and let it grow naturally. Kaizen, the art of continuous improvement, is behind many of the largest, most competitive businesses in the world today. Why not let it work for us?

Happy Easter! I hope this spring is a new beginning for you in some way that brings you joy!

If you are following this series, you’ve written down your Table of Contents and named all your source texts, files, mp3’s etc. It’s now time to start the actual work on our own personalized Book of Writing Routines.

I knew the “work” part would catch up to me. That’s why I’ve been putting off doing this for so long!

Oh, wait. We can avoid work one more week. Let’s decide how to tackle the beast first.

There are several ways to approach the work:

  1. shortest vs longest chapters first
  2. easiest vs more difficult chapters
  3. start at the beginning and work chapter by chapter, or start at the ending and go backwards
  4. skip around to whatever is most interesting to you at the time: either completing chapters, or touching on all the chapters a little bit at a time
  5. let the source material dictate the chapters you work on: for example, compile all your online files into their respective chapters, then move on to your notes, then to books, etc.
  6. start with the process you are currently working on and are therefore most in need of knowing what works for you, for example: editing or drafting
  7. start with the process you are the farthest away from using because then you can be more objective

All of the above—just pick one to get started. And if you have time, begin! Cut and paste. Photocopy. File in a binder. Gather your chapters together.

This might take a few weeks and as I blog about other stuff, I’ll put in reminders to keep working on the Book of Writing Routines. Then later, we can inch our way through smoothing out the content into cohesive chapters.

And, of course we should have an end goal in mind. I’m setting my goal to be done before summer vacation. How about you?

I am baby-stepping my way towards coming up with my very own personalized writing book. My Book of Writing Routines. This book will be made up off all the advice I’ve read over the years and boiled down to what I’ve used and found helpful.

Last week I just came up with a general table of contents. A list to guide my thoughts.

This week I’m making a list of all the sources I need to pull from for each chapter.

Step Two. Source Material

  1. Idea sparks: files on my desktop and laptop, box of ideas, notebook—the big spiral one, perhaps join Pinterest (?)
  2. Prewriting: Plot vs Character by Jeff Gerke, character traits-type books, Fiction is Folks by Robert Newton Peck, Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card, all things Donald Maass, Dictionary of First Names, Dictionary of Imaginary Places, review Author Crush notes
  3. Outlining: Storyfix by Larry Brooks
  4. Research: create a master list of databases, time period books, photo stocks, maps, comp books
  5. Drafting: check out my list at Best of NaNoWriMo Prep,
  6. Editing: Revision & Self-editing by James Scott Bell, The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel by Robert J. Ray, Deep Edits lectures by Margie Lawson
  7. Goal Setting: calendar, weekly goals, NaNoWriMo, writing down what I actually do and how long it takes (Writer’s Chore Chart)

Other places to check:

  • Books I’ve forgotten about (when I remember them!)
  • Notecards/slips of paper
  • mp3 lectures
  • Online lecture notes
  • Notebooks
  • Notes on past critiques
  • Files on my computer labeled craft, or character etc.

All these need to be gathered up and documented.

***Also: pay special attention to notes given in any critiques. What weakness have people pointed out to you that seem common to your writing and what is your plan to pay attention to those? Perhaps create a little sidebar in each chapter that lists those!***

A book of writing routines has been on my to-do list forever! Yes, I’ve got my writer’s notebook, which is the place I stash all sorts of things—sample first pages, critiques, business notes, lecture notes, etc. But what I’m talking about is a highly organized book with all my tried and true routines. Boiled down, baked, and served with a garnish! A how-to writing book personalized for me. One that is easy to look through and refresh my mind about how I work best.

Since one of the best ways to get something done is to blog about it…here we go. Maybe you’d like to work on a similar book for your writing routines.

Step one. Table of Contents.

Let’s ease into this big project. Ask yourself: What do I need in such a book?

For me, I want it to be a guide to help me through all the stages of writing. I only want to include the methods I have used that have worked for me. I also need to know what tools are missing from my writer’s toolbox so I can be actively looking for those.

Here are my chapters so far:

  1. Idea sparks: how I get them, where I save/store/feed them
  2. Prewriting: fleshing out plot and characters
  3. Outlining: taking all the ideas and organizing them into story format
  4. Research
  5. Drafting
  6. Editing
  7. Goal Setting: Daily/Weekly/Yearly habits that work

Let’s baby-step our way together and every week add a little more. Start with a basic TOC like this, and as the week goes on you can add subcategories as you think of them.