Friday, July 31, 2015

On Your Way to Getting Organized - Part 2

Getting organized is a great way to increase productivity. If you’ve created a plan and an Organizing To-Do List, it’s time to get started.

By this time, you should have already begun to assess your file situation. Organizing your files can be a big job, especially if you haven’t done that from the beginning. You’ll want to do a little at a time. Don’t try to completely reorganize your filing system in one fell swoop. It’s best to start by listing the major categories under which you’ll fill your work and notes. If you write fiction, you’ll probably only have two categories—short fiction and novels—plus any other genres you work with. In this system, you’ll want to create a separate subcategory for each book you write since books tend to accumulate a large volume of notes.

If you write non-fiction, then your filing system will be more complex since most non-fiction writers work in several subject categories. You’ll not only have the subject categories, but also article and book categories. And as with fiction, each book will become its own subcategory under books. You may also have research materials—notes, clippings, booklets, etc.—to file.
Creating a filing plan is essential.

Since you’ll be working on our files for some time, let’s turn to organizing your overall office space. As to where to start, you have two choices—begin with the space that will be the easiest to organize or start with the hardest and most frustrating, better known as the “hot spot.” If you choose the latter, you may find it tough going for a while, but once you figure out the solution to the “hot spot,” you’ll find it much easier to continue.

While it’s best to organize things right in your office, you may want to designate a recycling area in which you can immediately put anything that needs to be recycled. This includes paper and cardboard, magazines, old books, plastic and glass, etc. Be sure to gather some sturdy boxes in which you can place these items so you won’t have to repack them later.

Before you begin organizing your office, you should gather containers in which to store like items. Check office supply stores, dollar stores, and discount stores for various types of containers. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, so you won’t have any problem finding just the ones you need. Look at the items you have now and figure out what types of containers you’ll need—trays, crates, baskets, drawers, etc. Match the container to the item that will be stored in it. Measure the item(s) and storage space first, then search for the container to fit that space.  Or start with the container, say plastic crates, and build shelves to hold them.

While filing cabinets may seem the logical way to store your files, you’ll never have enough filing cabinet space to hold all your files. Use filing cabinets for only your active files. All others can be stored in filing boxes in your attic or basement or another room.

As a writer, you’ll most likely have a collection of reference books, as well as books you’ve read or are planning to read. Book storage can take up a lot of space. Unlike non-writers who give away or trade books they’ve read as soon as they’re finished, you may want to hold on to more than a few as references or to read again for technique. The number of books to store adds up fast. You can never have too many bookshelves in your office. One small three-shelf unit won’t do. You’ll need floor-to-ceiling units with shelves of various heights to hold all the books in your collection. Plan these out carefully for the most efficiency.

And create a system to organize your books. The Dewey system works for libraries and a modified version can work well for your book collection. In any event, group your books by subject and in alphabetical order. And when you use a book, put it back in its original place. At some point, you may want to create database of your books—first, to help you know if you have a particular book and second, to make it easier to find it.

Next week, I’ll show you how to put everything in its P-L-A-C-E, an acronym for a five-step process to help you unclutter your office, the first step to true organization.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Organizing for Success

You’re in the midst of a project and you need some information that you know you have in a file from a previous article. But try as you might, you just can’t put your hands on that file. After an hour or more looking for it, you become frustrated and give up. By now, the motivation you had to continue writing has passed, so you do something else. Annoying as this situation may be, it’s an all-to-common occurrence among writers. If you were better organized, perhaps this wouldn’t happen.

Even in today’s seemingly paperless world, writers usually amass a huge volume of paper files and books. Most like to have information at their fingertips. And while you can easily search for anything on the Internet, there are some offline sources that you’ve gathered that you prefer to use.

So how can you organize your writing office for the most efficiency which will eventually lead to more writing jobs. Having information at hand means that you can complete jobs faster and in the end increase your income.

To get organized, it’s best to start out with a plan. Think like a journalist. The key is the five W’s—who, what , when, where, and why—plus how. Answer these concretely to know what to keep and what to discard.

Naturally, you’ll want to keep a file on each article and story your write and several, if not a whole file box full, for each book. All those files will take up valuable space. If you don’t allow for them in your overall plan for your office, then you will be undermined later on.

Photos of home offices in magazines and on the Internet show perhaps one or two filing cabinets. That’s just unrealistic. While they may contain frequently used files, all the rest of the files must be hidden. In fact, you should consider a second storage area in your home for your archived files. These are all the ones from finished writing projects. While you may be lucky to have a basement, attic, or garage in which to store them, others living in smaller spaces may have to resort to offsite self-storage, which over time can be expensive.
You need to get organized from the start to increase productivity, but it’s never too late to start. Don’t try to do it all at once. Organize one part of your office at a time----books, files, research notes, photos, etc.

Let’s begin with files, both computer and paper. Start by finding the right containers. Filing cabinets work for files used often while cardboard filing boxes, sold at office-supply stores, work well for archived files. In the beginning, you’ll probably combine subjects in one box, but later on, you’ll need to divide boxes up by subject. Keep your system logical to make it easy to find what you want. Alphabetizing always helps.

Do the same with your computer files. Don’t follow Window’s or MAC’s plan and put all your files in one folder. Think of the folders in your computer the same way you think of those in your filing cabinets and boxes. In fact, you may want to create dividers for your paper files that match the names of the folders in your computer that contain related files.

A good way to ensure that you don’t lose any of your work is put install a second hard drive—or  have someone else do it for you. Another alternative is to use an external hard drive that connects to our computer via a USB cable. Either way, your files will be safe if your computer crashes. Unless your second hard drive, dedicated to your data, fails, your files will be safe because when a computer crashes, it’s the main drive that does so.

Next week, we’ll look at continuing the process, but before then, create a plan of organization and make an Organizing To-Do List.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Boy, Have Times—and Technology—Changed

NOTE: Normally, I write this blog in the second person to connect directly with you, the writers who need help in getting started with your careers and those who need any tips they can get to prolong theirs. But this week I’m writing about a situation that I’m going through at the moment that has a lot to do with both my professional life and my office.

When I started out writing nearly 40 years ago (I’m not that ancient, really), I began in a world without computers, without email, without tablets, FIOS, and an Internet that has brought the world into my life. I didn’t realize just how different that all was and how it affected me until I discovered that I had a major structural problem with the floor of my office back in May and would need to deconstruct the last 30 years of my full-time career.

As writers, we’re so intent on moving forwards that we seldom look backwards. Even later in life, I don’t dwell on the past. But deconstructing my office bit by tiny bit has shown me just how much I’ve accomplished in the last 30 years.

Assembling my office began when I started freelancing fulltime. Until then, I worked in various rooms of wherever I happened to be living at the time. But even then I began accumulating informational materials, books, and files that would stay with me until now. Believe me, you don’t realize just how much you’ll accumulate as a writer until you have to go through it all.

I haven’t moved since I started freelancing fulltime. And while being in one place has its advantages, it also has its disadvantages. One project led to another and to another, each with its own set of notes, files, and reference books. When I began writing books in earnest, that all got bumped up a couple of notches.

The reason I’m telling you all this is to strongly advise you to review what you’re accumulating from time to time. While some of you may naturally do this and not save much, others, like me, save everything. And rightly so.

By saving notes and references, I’ve made thousands of extra dollars spinning off material from many projects. As a non-fiction writer, I often created new articles from parts of main ones and from sidebars. I’ve sold many a piece as a reprint, bringing in extra money for practically no work. And the wealth of material gathered in writing 15 books has given me information to spin off into any number of other projects.

One of the ways I chose to add to my income was by teaching adult evening classes and giving lectures. The material for over 75 courses and lectures came from my articles and books and from my knowledge of writing, specifically for my writing classes. But I also created courses based on my specialty of writing about antiques, for which I also wrote two books.

Another facet of my work has been in photography. From the beginning, I’ve always billed myself as a writer/photographer. For the most part, I’ve illustrated most of my articles and several of my books. This, in itself, created a whole other section of my office. Notebooks filled with negatives, boxes of slides, and a complete darkroom filled over half the space. With the advent of digital photography, I store my photos—over 30,000 digital images alone—in my computer. But I still have several thousand slides and negatives that are still useful and can be digitized.

My advice to you all, based on what I’m going through right now, is to plan ahead. Plan your office for efficiency and make an effort to review and cull through your files and other materials periodically to keep from getting overwhelmed later. I teach my students in my digital photography classes to start an organizational scheme right away before they accumulate so many images that they won’t be able to find what they’re looking for.

Even with the best planned file system, the shear volume of files can prevent you from using them as efficiently as possible.

In my next blog, I’ll discuss what you need to keep and what you can safely throw away. Since my office will be completely torn apart in August, I’ll do my best to post a blog or two, but I won’t be able to do one a week until most likely mid-September. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Efficient Note-Taking Tips

No matter how good your research skills are, they won’t do you any good if you don’t have an efficient note-taking system. Organizing all the information you collect is just as important as finding it. Without good organized notes, whatever you write will take twice as long.

While some writers still cling to the one-note-on-an-index-card system they learned in school, that’s not the most efficient way of organizing your information. First, it’s a technique that originated before the Digital Age. Today, there are far better ways of doing the same thing.

One of the simplest ways to take notes is to create a note file in your word processor. Into that, you can type in whatever notes are pertinent to the writing project you’ll use the notes for. At this stage, don’t worry about gathering notes in any particular order. Add them to your note file as you find them.

Let’s say your writing an article. At some point, you need to block it out. Blocking is a simple technique that lists the main parts of your piece. It’s not detailed like outlining. Try to stick to a half dozen or so sections for your article. Think of the phrase that you write for each section as its heading. Organize the sections in the order best suited for the article, beginning with the lead. Finally, number each section in order from the lead to the conclusion.  This should take about 10 minutes.

Once you’ve gathered all the notes for say an article, print out your note file. Read over your notes, underlining key passages. In the left-hand margin, jot down which section of your article that piece of information applies. After completing this sorting process, go back and place the section numbers to the left of each note. The numbers won’t be in order. But by following their chronological order, you can begin to write the first draft of your article. Depending on how many notes you have, this should only take 10-15 minutes.  If the subject of your article is pretty straight forward, you should be able to complete the first draft in 60-90 minutes. By allowing another 30-45 minutes for editing, you should be able to complete the finished article in about two hours, not counting your note-taking time.

There are lots of other ways to gather information. You could use a tiny digital recorder and take your notes orally, then transfer what your read into the recorder to a word-processor-ready file in your computer.

If you’re taking notes from written material, you can use a program like Dragon Naturally Speaking, to read selected bits of information into your word-processor directly. This program is extremely accurate and will cut down your note-taking time considerably.

Another option, especially if you don’t have the time at the moment to read through and select information is to use an OCR program like Omnipage Pro. In this case, you scan the pages you want to use and the program converts the printed text to workable word-processing text. Afterwards, when you have more time, you can either go through the text on screen or print it out and underline those parts you wish to select. You’ll then have to go back and using the side-by-side feature of your word processor, copy and paste the parts you selected to a separate note file.

Keep all the notes for each writing project in a separate file folder. Obviously, you’ll have many of them for a book project. In that case, create a folder for each chapter in which you may have several printed out note files.

Being a successful freelance writer demands that you work as efficiently as possible. After all, time is money. The less time you spend on note-taking, the more money you’ll make for each project.