Thursday, July 10, 2008

Writing Lessons: Organized Writing for the Terminally Disorganized

Okay, let’s get a few things straight, right in the beginning. First and foremost, I’m assuming you are looking at this page because you want to be published and professional. You’ve probably had ideas for stories or articles since adolescence you’ve kept hidden from the public like a secret vice. Go dig them out. You’ll be needing them shortly.

I’m also assuming a certain skill with MS Word and other word processing programs. If you are not a touch typist, don’t go and get a hair shirt, okay? Just go buy one of the Dummies or Idiot’s books for your particular software program and actually read it. My Idiot’s Guide of MS Office is still my best friend. While you are at the bookstore, go get a good dictionary and a thesaurus. (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?)

I’m also assuming you are willing to clean up and get organized. Yes, I’ll be asking you to spend some money. Your wallet won’t do more than squeak, unless you decide to spend more than I recommend is necessary. Think cheap, for now. You can get fancy later. Here’s a short shopping list. I’ll explain some of the weirder items later.

1. A shoe organizer. The kind that hangs on the back of the door, with pockets for shoes. Go as cheap as possible, but make sure it has at least ten pockets. This is for your tax deduction receipts. Ask your tax consultant for a list of the deductions you may claim.
2. At least one 3” ring binder, and eight dividers for each story you want to tell, plus one set for your educational materials.
3. Stickers- I myself use iridescent colored happy faces and stars. Use what trips your trigger, but keep the sizes reasonable. These must fit on your calendar.
4. Calendar. I use the large wipe-off wall calendars made by At-A-Glance. My schedule is flexible, so wipe-off is necessary. Just be aware that you will be writing on your calendar, and you must be able to read it in a hurry.
5. Bell timer
6. Printout of the plot cards (I'll make a scanned jpg of mine and put it in the next post.)
7. Binder clips in small, medium, and large. Optional for now, but you will need them when your manuscript is done.
8. Small labeling machine. I use the Brother P-Touch, but you can even go with the hand-held labeling gun if your budget won’t allow for more. A labeling machine will save you a lot of frustration. Don’t skip this.
9. A pack of colored sharpies and a pack of colored wipe-off markers. Try to use the primary and secondary colors, no matter how tempted you are to get all those cool colors. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple, and Black will do. Don't go overboard, here.

Motivation is perhaps the most difficult things a writer must do. Whether you’ve quit your day job and write full-time, or pound keyboard after a hard day at the office, it takes motivation to put your butt in the chair and type. BICHOK, some authors call it. Butt In Chair, Hands on Keyboard. It’s true. There are several methods, including gunpoint, to get you in the chair. Simply, it comes down to finding out what time of day you write best in, setting that bell timer, and typing for at least one hour a day, even if what comes out of your fingertips is the worst drivel you’ve ever seen. You got the idea down, and saved it from being lost in the ether of your dreams that never came true. You can turn it into pretty words later.

Congratulate yourself, and take one of the stickers. It may seem terribly childish, but giving yourself a sticker to put on today’s date on the calendar gives you a visual reminder of what you have accomplished. You’ll soon see you have a pattern develop of what days you work best on. For me, it is weekday mornings. The family has gone off on their own pursuits by 9 AM, and I’ve luxurious hours alone with my keyboard. Oh, and stick that calendar right where you can see it every day. When you see that calendar festooned with bright stickers, you can’t help but be cheered and motivated. I took it a step further, but you don’t have to do this. I mark The Black X’s of Shame on the days where I accomplish nothing. Weekends don’t count. For me, Guilt Works.

And now for that binder. Let me state up front that I’m one of those anal-retentive types with AADD (Adult Attention Deficit Disorder). If I don’t keep things this organized, I’ll go off on tangents. My favorite tangent is another story than the one I’m supposed to be working on! Therefore, I have my binders (and everything associated with one story) color coded. The binder, stickers, -literally everything!- must match. But that’s purely optional.

What’s not optional is good labeling. Unless your handwriting would impress the Queen, use a labeling machine. These handy devices are worth their weight in gold. Label everything! Every disk, every binder, and every binder divider. Here are the divider labels I use, however you are welcome to come up with your own.
1. Premise/Research
2. Characters
3. Plot
4. Chapters (these may be subdivided with more divider inserts, numbered according to chapters, but this is optional)
5. Synopsis
6. Promotions- Ideas come and go, but some will be specific to the story. Write down where you found those cool Egyptian pens, seven for $20. Another author wants to share a recipe promo with you, and there's a contest coming up you'd like to play in.

I’ll go into each one of the categories in another document, and what they are for.

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