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.