Oh yes, my desk is one of those cluttered monstrosities with stacks of books, a fish bowl for the beta, papers upon papers, post-its everywhere, and I am sure there has to be some buried treasure somewhere but Rytlock has yet to defeat Alduin.
More to the point, I am not the only one with sub-par organization skills and most of the time I make the claim that “I know exactly where everything is.” The truth is, I used to know where everything is, but I have certainly slept since then. Not to mention my cleaning habits tend to follow a trend that begins with a solid plan and ends with a tired “I don’t know what to do with this… ill just stick it here” attitude. I have heard it said that a messy workspace is the sign of a brilliant mind, but I still find that it is hard to think clearly when you are surrounded by unorganized clutter. It’s a terrible feeling when you cannot recall where you left something when you need it most. In the process of moving a year and a half ago I had to store my boxes in a storage for several months and though they had labels I still managed to misplace my data card reader for my camera. I spent the better part of the last year digging through a jam-packed closet, over and over, to find the damn thing. By random happenstance, I was putting a new flashlight in the second drawer of my nightstand and lo and behold, my card reader found me. Moral of the story, you will waste a lot of time looking for things if you do not have some semblance of organization.
Organization is important for writing too, because this is how you setup histories, timelines and determine sequencing for the entire novel or series. My personal writing endeavors brought me from one scribbled page of notes to a whole desk drawer full of ideas, themes and maps for the world I have created. There is an overwhelming amount of information to account for in a well-developed story and detail matters. Over time, the world I envisioned has changed dramatically, but each alteration has brought me one step closer to my goal and I make sure to document each change. I tend to have sporadic moments of inspiration that cannot be ignored, so I will write and think and write some more until I am satisfied with the direction, and after that is done I go back and take a closer look at how it all fits in the grand scheme of things. New ideas have caused me to alter and sometimes completely rewrite details to better suit the story, and as a visual person, I keep maps and reference charts to easily compare previous ideas to new ones for consistency purposes. It might seem easy- sure the characters are near and dear to my heart- but seriously try remembering the eye and hair color of every character in your story, their place of birth, current residence, family history, personal history, significant memories, current occupations and all of the details that connect them to other characters as well as where they fit the plot. That is a lot to keep track of, and it is one reason why organization is very important.
Though I fall into the line of shortcomings as far as this topic goes, I still believe there is some value to the advice I have yet to act upon. Here are a few tips to keeping organized:
- When you take something from a neat workbench, make sure you return it exactly how you found it. You will be thankful for spending those extra few seconds to put it away, rather than wasting minutes or more in an attempt to sift through a mess.
- Filing cabinets are wonderful. Label thoroughly and remember to return file folders when you are finished using them.
- If you cannot find a place to put something, you probably do not need it. Consider that it might be time to trash it, or find a new home for it.
- Keep writing utensils in a pen/pencil cup or drawer and limit the space you have for these because, if you are anything like me, you have more than you could use in five years and the ink is likely already dried up in some of them.
- When you have the urge to toss miscellaneous into a drawer, ask yourself if the item could possibly go somewhere else. If not, do you need it at your desk?
- A perfect DYI idea for camera and phone cords is a compact container with dividers (a suggestion I’ve seen is empty toilet paper rolls, or if you know a crafter you can have one made via other means).
Though this creates the image of spic and span, shiny workplace, I realize some clutter is unavoidable and ultimately the choices you make have to suit your preferences. I personally enjoy cork boards with clusters of notes or photos because it gives my space an atmosphere of personality and use. Post it notes are also a favorite of mine, I do not consider that clutter. The creature growing under a stack of papers to my right is another story.