Monday, January 25, 2010

Shop Talk With Christina A.--Organization

By: Christina Adams

There are as many different types of writers as there are personalities. I am an organizer. I love organizing. I love lists. I love goals. And I love organizing my lists of goals. I have boxes, binders or folders for every scrap of paper I have written on and I have a whole shelf devoted to storing the binders and folders.

I enjoy organizing all my stories and ideas. There is a binder for finished stories I now think are silly or unpublishable, a binder for unfinished stories I don't intend to continue and a folder for every short story I have written. I also keep a binder devoted solely to my early stage ideas. When one of these ideas develop enough into a full fledged book idea I move it into a binder of its own, if an idea turns into a short story I move it into a folder. Or after staring at it for years without wanting to work on it, I move it to my unfinished story binder. There is a place for every stage of writing. This is my system, and it works well for me.

Now before you think my writing space is sparkling and sterile, you should know I have a habit of tossing all current papers into piles until a time--often once every six month or so period--where I can't take it anymore and purge my area of anything not bound or filed. After hearing about my binder obsession I am sure piles of loose, unconnected papers may be hard to imagine, but I like to think of it as my creative side expressing itself. Even if my piles are more organized than I would like to admit....

Every writer has their own method. Are you messy? Are you neat? What works best for you? I'd love to hear about it. Let's talk shop!

9 comments:

Carol said...

Once upon a time (is this a fairy tale? I must ask myself, for sometimes it feels so.) I organized much as you describe, a plan full of folders and binders, and a pile on the desk. Then my life fell apart. I stopped writing. Mostly. Except for letters. And journal entries. And now here. But your post got me looking at my own system.

If nothing else, it's time to refresh my organization, to clean out some of the detritus. My stuff is a mess. A neat, tidy, orderly looking mess that needs to be reorganized and refreshed. But how? What criteria puts a piece of paper on the keeper list?

Christina, you say, "There is a binder for finished stories I now think are silly or unpublishable, a binder for unfinished stories I don't intend to continue and a folder for every short story I have written." I have a lot of that kind of stuff, too. Why am I keeping them? I ask with all seriousness, what purpose do these still serve for you?

One thing I have learned: keep the published stuff list up to date. You'll forget.

Christina Adams said...

Carol, I have to admit I am a pack rat where it comes to my writing. I wrote a story once and threw it away and I regret it to this day. So now I keep everything in case I ever want to read it again. As to what purpose they still serve....

For me, a big thing is seeing how far I have come as a writer. If I ever feel like my writing is terrible I can always look back and think, 'My writing is not that bad any more.' I also keep my writing because I never know when I will want one of those old plots or when a sentence/description could be re-used. Even if the concept or the writing is bad the idea can still be inspiring and can take my mind in new directions I wouldn't have concidered without that aid.

On a different note, just because I think they are silly or unpublishable and would prefer never to show them to anyone, doesn't mean I think they are unfit for me. I am always amazed when my writing surprises me, when an old story has a twist I don't remember or a character who makes me laugh.

Lastly, everything you write is a product of who you were at a single point in your life. It carries memories and feelings and thoughts you will never have again. I keep my silly stuff because I want to remember who I have been and what I cared about.

I hope this helps in some way, unless you are really looking for an excuse to throw stuff away. : ) I have a question of my own. How do you keep your published stuff up to date? Do you have a system for keeping track of who you contact? I am looking for ways to improve mine.

Carol said...

Organization is such an important topic, in every sense, in the writing and publishing process.

Yes. Your reasoning seems quite thoughtful to me, and honest and true. Thank you for such a response. It feeds my spirit, gives me deeper insight into myself and my reasoning.

As for keeping track of what went out to whom, what version of which, when a response was made-- I used to simply have a notebook, with columns to check off, where I just wrote it out longhand, day by day, as the realmail came and went. Like grooming, it took a little time each day, and persistence, and then it stayed tidy and functional.

Now, if I were to try to be serious about publishing again, I might go to the community college for a class on spread sheets, because I believe that's really an effective answer. How many submissions are now sent email, multiplying the ability to submit, and also to get confused and lost in the shuffle.

As for keeping track of published work, I simply had a Word file where I, again, wrote down who, what, when, and where pieces of my writing had been accepted and then published. I had a list. I quit keeping it up ten years ago when I became physically incapacitated for a time. And I really might want to try to catch that up.

What about rights? Do you have a good, current source to check on who owns what rights, one that includes internet publishing?

Patricia said...

I've never found a system that works well for me. I'm very visual ... so out of sight, out of mind is something I struggle with. I have binders (which I like) for each project ... but when I fail to keep them up their value plumets. For awhile I had a huge (handmade) chart that circled my office walls to help me keep track of ideas, query letters, submissions, feebacks, etc. This worked well. I've also tried egg crates (which were easy to toss paper into). But I've never found one really good system. I love hearing how others tackle and solve this issue.

Christina Adams said...

It is amazing/scary how the publishing business has changed over the last five years. When I first started querying everything was through the mail, no editor wanted you to e-mail them and you were lucky if they had a website. Now I think it is much harder to keep track of who you sent what to. My system sounds similar to yours. I have a page for each story and I write down the company name and the person I contacted, along with the date of when I did it so I don't wait years. But I like your idea of a spead sheet. It would save some writing on my part. Thanks!

Publishing rights is one of the areas I knew more in too! It is hard to find anything current, especially about the web, but I think part of that is because the world is still figuring out what we can and can't do. The best online source I could find is:

http://bloodink.blogspot.com/2007/07/publishing-rights.html

From what I can tell, unless your contract says differently, First Rights are the norm. Even when you are publishing something on your blog, you are giving yourself First Rights and you keep the right to reprint whenever you want.

This is an area I will have to research in more detail. I'll let you know what I find.

Patricia said...

I dropped a request onto Twitter and prolific writer Devon responded: "Pat I have an article up at ...

http://thescruffydogreview.wordpress.com/

check it out and let me know what you think.

Carol said...

Yes. Interesting outline of how to there on Scruffy Dog. Devon Ellington has an organization method that sounds like it keeps up with the juggling. Publishing, money-earning writers need to be nimble these days, don't they? What did you think?

996 said...

As a man sows, so he shall reap. .........................................

Carol said...

996, would you be willing to expound a bit upon how you see organization as part of the sowing process, how our organization affects the outcome of our writing efforts? Is that what you are meaning to say, to begin with? I could use a little more clarification of your thoughts.