When computers first came on the scene, manufacturers said they would lead to a paperless society. Obviously, they didn’t mean writers. Even though I’ve been using a computer for my work since 1989, to look at my files, you’d never know it. That’s because writing of any sort–except perhaps poetry–requires some degree of research. So to keep from going insane, I had to get organized.
At first, I used manila envelopes that I rescued from mailings. Into these I placed brochures, notes, etc. on various topics, then stacked them on their longer sides on shelves with the topic lettered on the at the bottom. After these filled several shelves, I switched to a filing cabinet. Now six filing cabinets later, I ran out of room. Sure, I periodically go through the material, but it still piles up.
Ordinary manila folders became the basis for my filing system. Every article I write–to date about 4,000–has a corresponding file folder containing an brief outline, research notes, and any other pertinent information about that topic. When writing a book, I use a separate file folder for each chapter, plus extra ones for appendices and the general concept and outline.
Each article and book chapter also has corresponding computer files–several for research, one for the rough draft, and successive additional ones for revisions and rewrites, each numbered in succeeding order.
In addition to all the writing files, I also have a well-organized library of several hundred books. Most of these I use for reference in researching my work. When I’m working on a book, I place all the books I’m using to research it on one nearby small table, making it easy to go back and find a specific reference.
My office also contains several stackable trays that I had planned to use for sorting current material. Unfortunately, other folders and such tend to clog them up, so I periodically have to clean them out.
It’s also a good idea to keep everything you use most often closest to your desk. This can be article folders, notes, a scheduling book, etc. And, yes, I also keep a calendar with automatic reminder alerts on my computer.
To organize my current writing project folders, I use two plastic former record album racks. The folders stack nicely into them, allowing me to finger through them to find what I want. To keep different types of writing projects separated, I use sheets of cardboard, cut higher than a file folder, then paste a large label with type of writing project across the top. These allow me to place folders between them, keeping everything organized. I have folders divisions for Assignments, Columns, Courses and Lectures, Web Site Updates, and Writing Out. As I finish a project, its folder gets filed in that last category. Every six months or so, I take all those folders and file them in the appropriate box or filing cabinet.
NOTE: I’ll discuss specifics about some of the organizational methods above in future blogs. Stay tuned.