Why It's Beneficial for Writers to Get Organized

When I was growing up, the visions of writers floating around in my mind were full of glorious chaos. They wrote notes on whatever paper/napkin/skin/piece of furniture was handy, had a pen in every room except the one they were in at the time, and were surrounded by precarious stacks of books.

As I got a little older and became a writer myself, I realized that … well … it’s not necessarily that far off from the truth. We’re a little more careful with our books, precious goods such as they are, but for many writers, chaos feels inextricably linked with creativity.

Words like “order” and “organization” fight against that romantic image of the scattered but brilliant writer, and so we burrow deeper into bedlam until suddenly, one day, we realize we’re spending more time trying to find that bit of research or that character idea or the most recent story draft than we are actually writing.

Is this realization always so sudden? I doubt it. The important thing, no matter how much time it takes, is recognizing that you need a change, and sometimes the best way to figure that out is by looking at everything you stand to gain.

Finding What You Need, When You Need It

No more do I embark on fruitless searches for crucial bits of information, wasting valuable writing time. Everything now has a home, somewhere I immediately know to look.

You know those moments when you could swear there are only five places something could be, but you’ve searched through all of them and, darn it all, it’s still nowhere to be found? What a nightmare!

It’s a lot harder for that to happen when you know that:

  • all of your research material lives in a folder in the top drawer of your filing cabinet,
  • every unexplored story idea gets written down in a bullet journal, and
  • the draft you promised to send to your beta reader lives in a folder on Google Drive

And so on!

Action Step: Assign a specific, consistent home for something in your World of Writing, like unexplored story ideas, and stick to it!

Less makework → more consistency → better storytelling!

Before I got organized, there were times when I would outline scenes in a story, only to find the outline I’d started a few days before; hammer out the dynamics between two characters, only to discover that I’d already done so (and in a much better fashion); or write a few thousand words on Draft version 2.5 when the one I should have been working on was version 3.

Usually this only elicited an exasperated sigh, but sometimes these unintentional overlaps created major inconsistencies that were a pain to sort out. Untangling them sometimes left holes that were difficult to stitch back together, and still feel like a raggedy lump to date. There are so many puzzles to decipher and tangles to unravel in writing a story as it is; I’d rather avoid the unnecessary, self-induced ones, thank you very much!

The process of sorting, purging, and organizing my writing was a hefty one, but not having to deal with nearly as many of those wee little mishaps has been worth it.

Action Step: Are you unnecessarily holding on to multiple versions of story drafts? Look through them, decide which one(s) need to be kept, and delete or recycle the rest.

Saving Time and Space

Getting everything organized (and tossing what you can along the way) means it’ll take far less space. This means you’ll:

  • use less of your computer’s hard drive;
  • take up less of those precious space limits in Dropbox, Google Drive, or other online storage spaces;
  • have less to tidy up and around in your physical space;
  • need less time to back up files to a USB drive; and
  • have less of a load to tote to your local coffee shop, a writing conference, or a writing retreat!

All of that “less” means more time and headspace freed up to write!

Action Step: Spend an hour looking through old writing notes and recycling/deleting/crossing out any that no longer interest you or that you’ve since made use of.

Peace of Mind and Elevated Powers of Concentration

The more you pare away the unnecessary and clarify what you truly want and need to keep, the less chaos will surround you. The less chaos surrounds you, the easier it’ll be to focus.

As writers, we don’t just write. We have families, friends, knit nights, movie dates, chores, and all sorts of other things that pull our attention away from writing. It’s rarely an easy thing to focus on our writing, especially not when we get caught up in self-doubt or one of the other nagging monsters that blocks our creativity.

The more we can do to help ourselves focus, the better. What better way to begin than by clearing away the writing detritus that no longer belongs in our lives?

Action Step: Gather all of the clutter in your immediate vicinity (making sure to keep with you anything actually relevant and important!) and sweep it into a basket, a box, or some other container, and then conveniently misplace it for a week. See how it feels to write when you’re not surrounded by chaos.

Here’s the truth of the matter: organization doesn’t swamp creativity, it encourages it. Being organized gives creativity room to flourish and grow, rather than allowing it to be hemmed in by mountains of physical and electronic clutter.

A little bit of chaos is okay (and the tipping point is different for everyone), but let’s throw more of the chaos our characters’ way, mm?

I’m not going to lie; organizing takes effort. That effort is worth it and then some, but sometimes it helps to start small. Start with just one of the action steps we talked about in today’s post and see how it goes!