Author of the WritersWeekly.com bestselling ebook, The Organized Writer: 30 Days to More Time, More Money and Less Frustration.
Does your filing system consist of random piles scattered throughout your home? Do you waste too much time looking for that lost idea or the missing interview notes? Do you have markets and guidelines in a stack on the edge of your desk, a few more bookmarked in your favorites and still others saved in Outlook?
One secret to becoming a more productive writer in 2005 is to get your filing system under control. A filing system is much more than just the filing cabinet in the corner of your office — it’s any piece of information you need to save for your writing and retrieve later. All this “stuff” may be on paper, in binders, on your computer or even on the Internet.
Start by making sure your filing system:
* Is designed for the work ahead. While it’s great to go back and organize all your manuscripts for the past 15 years, you’ll get much more from a system that helps with what you are working on today and will be working on tomorrow.
* Has the right kind of filing supplies and plenty of them. This includes a place to keep all your hot projects (I like a desktop file box) and filing drawers, cabinets, boxes or crates with room to grow.
* Is easy to access and easy to purge.
* Includes regular time for filing, purging and moving old files (and plenty of rewards when you do this)!
One of the most challenging parts of being a writer is keeping track of all of the information and resources you find and then need later. For freelance writers, this includes market listings and guidelines, your ideas, contact information at different magazines, experts’ contact info, sample magazine issues, interview notes, queries, correspondence with editors (both emails and snail mail), invoices and expenses, paid and unpaid articles, rights sold, Internet research, and I’m sure you can think of even more!
Add into the mix that some of your stuff may be on paper and some of it may be electronic, and finding anything seems nearly impossible.
The most important skill for an effective filing system is consistent naming which means each time you think of some “thing” you are trying to file or locate, you use the same name. So if you are trying to find the market listing for Child magazine, you know you put it in your “Parenting” guidelines folder because that’s where you always put them. Then when you are looking for new markets to query for your latest idea on potty training toddlers, you automatically look under “Parenting” and not “Toddlers.”
But, as one of my readers pointed out, consistent naming can seem impossible for many creative people, especially writers. One of your talents as a writer is your ability to see unusual relationships between items and make connections — connections that may change all the time and lead to different names for the same thing.
So what’s a disorganized writer supposed to do?
Either pick a system where the naming is already defined for you or pick an electronic, searchable system that doesn’t require naming.
I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all solution to getting organized. There are so many good ways to store and retrieve your stuff. The secret is to find the solution that best fits the way you name things and your working style. So here is a list of some of the many ways you can organize all that “stuff” adapted from my ebook, The Organized Writer: 30 Days to More Time, More Money and Less Frustration.
Pick the method that works for you and fits your budget. You will be amazed at how much more you can write when you can find your stuff quickly and easily.
1. Word Processor (cost $0 if you already have one). Put all your “stuff” in files and then learn to use the advanced searching features in Windows under Start > Search. For example, today I was looking for a file and I knew the month it was written, but I couldn’t recall the file name. So I did a search for all documents created in the last month and found the one I needed. You can also search for specific words within documents.
You can even use your word processor to create an index for your paper files. Create a table with three columns: what, where and keywords. Each time you file something, fill in a row. Then it’s easy to search (and find your files) using Edit > Find.
2. Google Desktop (cost $0). Do you like the Google search engine? How would you like your own personal search engine for your computer? Google has created the Google Desktop to search your files and folders, websites you surf, your Outlook email messages and even instant messenger chats on AOL. Get more info at http://desktop.google.com.
3. Manuscript Tracking Software (cost $0). You can also get some free Mac and Windows software programs here: http://www.sandbaggers.8m.com/samm.htm. These are older programs so you may want to be careful about installing them on new computer systems, but they do let you track expenses and income in addition to your submissions. You can also set alerts to remind you to follow up on a query.
4. Writer’s Database (freeware). This software lets you view your works, publishers and submissions, and it also has a find function for searching. Download the software at Ultima-Thule.
5. Master List (cost $0). Use a predefined sorting system where the categories and subcategories are already determined in a Master List (read more about how to use a Master List here. http://www.writersweekly.com/this_weeks_article/000549_12182002.html
6. WritersMarket.com ($29.99 per year; $3.99 per month). This site has an online membership version that lets you sort markets into folders from their database and add your own. You can also track your submissions. The information on their markets is automatically updated for you as the contact information and details change. Sign up at http://www.writersmarket.com.
7. The Paper Tiger software (free trial; $149.95). This software claims you can find anything in five seconds or less. Find out more at http://organizedwriter.com/papertiger.
8. The AskSam Database (free trial; $149.95). This all-in-one information organizer and freeform database includes predefined templates to help you get going quickly. Visit http://organizedwriter.com/asksam and click the Home button for more details.
9. Contact management software (cost varies). To help track your contacts and even your to do list, consider a contact management software like Microsoft Outlook, ACT! or Agendus.
10. If you prefer paper, use the forms in The Organized Writer: 30 Days to More Time, More Money and Less Frustration to track ideas, manuscripts, markets, submissions, income and expenses, contacts and more. One of my favorites is the Publication Analyzer which helps you assess a potential market and target your query.
So how do you decide which system is the best one for you?
Start by making a chart of the different items you need to file and retrieve, and ask yourself the following questions:
* What do I need to file?
* When does it come into my life?
* Where and how do I need to retrieve it?
* Will I use an electronic/computer-based solution or a paper-based solution?
My final suggestion is to shoot for consistent use which means you pick one method for each type of item you file and then always use that method even if you need a cheat sheet to help you remember your new system.
For example, I keep all my writing markets printed and in one file in my filing cabinet. Regardless of whether I find them when surfing the internet or reading magazines, I make sure I always print or copy them, and put them in the “Writing Guidelines” file. When I’m looking for new markets, there’s only one place to look, and I don’t waste a lot of time hunting for them.
With a little thought, you can put together a filing system that fits the way you work and saves you hours of searching time. Happy organizing!
Julie Hood is the author of the Booklocker.com and WritersWeekly.com bestselling ebook, The Organized Writer: 30 Days to More Time, More Money and Less Frustration. Download the free writer’s calendar and get more organizing advice when you sign up for the newsletter at: http://www.OrganizedWriter.com.