Organization is one of those weird things for me. Anyone who knows me personally, or has visited my house, knows I’m not super organized. I thrive on doing things in the moment, tackling projects as they show their inspirational little heads, and in that comes making messes. My studio, which I’m hoping I can move out of the house by the end of the year, is a mess. And I’m the first to admit it.
There are rolls of latex standing next to my table, stacks of papers and books on the table, along with scraps of latex, a pen caddy, mason jars with a few hundred pencil crayons, etc etc. Oh, and a mannequin torso. And there’s a dress form that stands just behind my chair, and two drawer units full of other scraps of latex and clothing patterns. It’s a mess.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s part of who I am. I’m a naturally creative person, and that means ‘seize the day’ is a pretty big part of my day. I’m not saying I never clean the space, but once it’s cleaned, it only stays that way for a day – if I’m lucky. I’m constantly clearing garbage and unwanted things from the area, and it gets no cleaner. I need a bigger space. But then, that might not help at all. It’s who I am.
As a creative person, my mind works best when I’m surrounded by things that inspire me, and I get more done when I’m jumping on those little inspiring things the second I have a chance. And in that way, I work better when I’m not interrupted in any way. And, unfortunately, that does mean stopping to clean up.
My writing desk (which I am ashamed to say rarely gets used – even now I’m sitting on my couch with my cat instead of at my desk) is the same deal. There are useful books for research, dictionaries, pens, all that stuff. No matter how often I clean it, or how hard I try, it’s never clean for long.
So how, then, can I keep anything organized?
In all of this mess, I generally have a pretty good idea of where to find things. Yes, sometimes I do lose things, and it takes cleaning everything up to find them. But I do have my ways, and they definitely help me keep organized enough to keep on top of this blog, the travel blog I’m working on with my friend, my latex business, and so on.
1. Lists. I write lists religiously. I’m not even joking, anytime inspiration strikes and it’s something that needs any sort of planning, I will scramble until I have a pen and a notebook in my hands. Sometimes the list is little more than single words jotted on the paper without any connection, and it’s like a game afterward to figure out what was going on in my head. Other times, I go into great depth for what I’m thinking.
I live by lists in a way. They are the easiest way for me to get what’s in my head out, so that not only is it there so I don’t forget about it, I can also stop dwelling on it. New story idea? Write a list. Write anything that comes to mind, but get it on paper or in a file on the computer so it’s not lost in the chaos that is my everyday life.
I do this for when I’m writing as well. When I’m stuck on a scene, that’s what I do (aside from cranking some appropriate tunes to get the juices flowing). Mind you, when it comes to writing, the list is always relevant to what I’m working on at the time. Either way, they help me stay organized. I have lists of plots and characters and scenes and anything you can think of in files on my computer so that it’s easy to go back and find something if I can’t remember or need more details and know they are there.
Lists I use a lot? Weekly to do list, daily to do list, list of blog posts I want to write, names I want to use for characters, settings I want to use, things I need to make, things I want to draw, blah blah blah. You get the point.
2. Agenda/Planner. This was something that was drilled into me in high school, and I’ve clung to it since. I keep a physical planner for writing down the aforementioned lists. I may not use it every day, but I do try to use it any day that I’m working on several projects so that I can check off what’s done and take note of what else there is to do. This isn’t something I let dictate my life, but I do use it as a guideline for what I’m doing for the week. This goes right along with the lists I use so often.
If there’s a certain thing I want to write, or a certain amount, it goes in the agenda. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t get checked off and is moved to the following day. Because, let’s face it, sometimes your day doesn’t go as planned, and you get no words down no matter how hard you try.
The planner is also good for writing down random ideas as they come to you, and I’ve found that if I had to grab just that or a plain notebook to go in my purse when I’m going somewhere for the day, the planner is probably the better bet because it’s good for taking notes as well as planning dates for things.
3. File folders and files. For my story planning, blog, anything to do with writing, I use the computer for most things. Most, not all. But I have file folders for my blog that are separate from the folders that hold all of the things for my novels, just as I have separate folders for my short stories than for other projects.
If I have to write a new list or some brainstorming for a project, I start a new file. If it’s something related to a project I’m already working on, it just goes in the folder with the relative files. If it’s new, it gets its own shiny new folder. Common sense, sure. At least I think so. But I’m a stickler when it comes to keeping my files organized because I have so many of them. I insist on having all of my files named and organized in this way so that they are easy to find. Otherwise, it would take me hours to find the files I’m looking for because I have hundreds. (No, I am not exaggerating. That mess of a room I call my work studio may not be organized, but you can bet your ass my computer is.)
4. Make a plan and stick to it. Mostly. I’m guilty of not sticking to plans I make, but I know this. I make my plans, at least the ones that only involve my own personal work, so that they can be left for a few extra days if need be. Bad habit? Maybe. Good practice, though. I know myself well enough to know that I hate sticking to a schedule, at least for long periods of time. I know how much I love procrastinating when there’s something I need to do.
With that said, I also know that some things need to be scheduled. As much as I hate living by a schedule, I love having one. I realize how much contradiction is in that sentence, trust me. What I mean is this: I like having my to do list for the week, and setting myself up to have things done for a certain time. I like having deadlines for myself. But I hate having to sit down and make myself work. It does help, though, having that plan.
In my eyes, a plan is very different from a schedule. A plan can be done whenever I want to work on it, whereas a schedule has dates and times and deadlines and all that fun stuff. I realize that it may sound flaky to plan things and do them as you please, but I’ve found that if I have a list of things I plan on doing, I get more done. And if things don’t get done, I get frustrated and work harder to make them happen. It’s a motivation tool for me more than anything.
5. Deadlines. This goes with the above. I try to set myself deadlines for anything important that NEEDS to be done. Anything else that I want to do can be put on the back burner until I’m done the big things, or until I need a break from those big things.
I have found in the last couple of years that deadlines are something I am very fond of. Not in the sense that I like having them so much. It’s more a love-hate type of relationship. I love the satisfaction of meeting the deadline, or beating it by a few days, but I hate having them.
My personal preference is to set myself as many deadlines as I can with the projects I need to finish so that I have some idea of how much work needs to be done and how fast. In a way, it’s a good planning tool for me. Example: If I know I have to finish the first draft of the second book in my series by July 31st, and it has a word count goal of about 90,000, then I can break down how much needs to be done every day or every week so i know if I’m on track to finishing it on time or not. It just helps me set realistic goals when I can actually break down the projects into a time frame rather than one huge thing.
Hopefully this will help you find your own way to stay organized. These are just the big ones for me, as I know there are a bunch of other smaller things I do regularly in order to keep things flowing in an orderly fashion.