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. 

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