Weekend Writing Inspiration: Clear Your Writing Space (Organize Your Writing Space, Part I)
February 23, 2019
“My writing is a disorganized mess and it stops me from moving forward. How can I get all my ideas, notes, and drafts under control?”
Remember that time you went hunting for a red pen to mark up a draft and couldn’t find one anywhere? Or when you scrounged through your digital files for hours, trying to figure out which one was the most current draft? Or combed through stacks of paper, searching for those notes you know you wrote down about a new screenplay idea or plot twist?
Writers have a unique challenge when it comes to organization. Much of what we do falls into the realm of ideas, which often requires many iterations before a project reaches completion. This makes it easy for all of the work and materials we generate along the way to get out of hand.
Today, as Part 1 of a series, we’ll cover tips and strategies to start getting a handle on your writing. For our purposes, I’m going to assume you have a regular writing space to work in, but even if you’re writing on the go, many of the same principles still apply.
Start with your mindset
Let’s look at two important mindsets to organization: being aware of how much you’re actually keeping track of, and using a “from this day forward” approach.
- Acknowledge how much you’re actually keeping track of
First, think about everything that’s associated with your writing that you keep track of. Though we tend to think of writing as only requiring a means of getting words down (pen and paper or a computer), there’s more to it than that.
For example, you probably have:
- Writing implements like pens, pencils, and markers
- Writing devices like tablets, computers, and phones
- Handwritten notes, both on full-sized pieces of paper and on small scraps with quick ideas you’re capturing
- Printed drafts
- Digital drafts
- Research materials including books, articles, notes, and online articles
- Story development notes and digital files for character profiles, plot points, and more
- Ideas for future screenplays
- Items to keep you comfortable while you write, such as water, tissues, lip balm (specifics depend on your personal preferences)
- Other writing/business related items you have in your writing space
That’s a lot to track and organize!
Each of these needs a place to “live,” and when they don’t, clutter and disorganization follow close behind. Worse, it can create stress and anxiety when you don’t know where to find something or feel yourself using valuable writing time searching for what you need.
Take a moment to appreciate all of what goes into your writing life and recognize that you have more to manage than you might have previously acknowledged, to help understand what you’re dealing with.
- Know it’s okay to use a “from this day forward” approach
When you’re thinking of tackling a writing reorganization, keep in mind that it’s okay to use a “From This Day Forward” approach. This means that you CAN declare organizational bankruptcy on your past projects and focus your organization efforts on your current screenplay only.
The idea here is to commit to using good organizational skills with your current work only, rather than trying to go back through time and “fix” everything. If you do go back to an older screenplay, you may choose to reorganize it then, but for now, it’s perfectly okay to keep your efforts focused on today and the future.
This relieves you of the burden of extra work right now, while also making space for you to try a new way.
Now let’s look at getting your physical writing space cleared.
Clear your writing space
Once you’ve looked at your mindset, I recommend clearing your writing space — assuming you have one — before working on organization. First decide what approach you want to take: a total re-do, or more of a triage approach.
Option 1: The Full Monty
When it comes to getting organized, you’ll ultimately be best served by doing a full reorganization of your writing space and materials. Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her Netflix show, Tidying Up, offer wonderful methods of sorting your belongings on a deep level.
The first big step is to take everything out of your space and assess what you truly want to keep in it.
I worked with an organizer about eight years ago, and still benefit from the work we did in my writing room and office. Though I have more current work to do on paper organization, all the “important stuff” has a place to live. We pulled everything out of every nook and cranny to assess what I needed, what belonged elsewhere, and what could be thrown away.
The downside of a full clearing and reorganization right now is that it can become a distraction and keep you from writing.
The upside is that it can feel invigorating and clarifying and bring new energy to your writing. You just want to make sure it doesn’t become an excuse to put off writing. If you want to take a weekend to purge, clean, and organize; great! But don’t let it take over your entire writing life and stop you from writing.
If you use this approach, set aside the time separately from writing time, and go for it. (And stay tuned for more tips about deciding what goes where in next week’s article.)
Option 2: The Triage Method
If the chaos is too intense or unmanageable to tackle in a short window of time, start with a triage approach where you stash anything that’s backlogged into a box, bag, or other temporary storage with a commitment to come back to it at a future date. (Pro tip: Schedule time for this on your calendar right now, even if it’s over the next few weekends or after you finish your current draft. In my writing programs, we periodically do a “clear the decks” process where we catch up on tasks like this.)
When triaging, the goal is to “stop the bleeding” by getting your space visually cleared so you can concentrate, then circle back and do the deeper work when you have non-writing time to do it.
For example, you might take all the notes and drafts from other scripts or other paperwork that needs sorting, purging, and filing, and put it all out of sight. Whew! Then you’ll be looking at only what you need to be seeing for this current project.
Shine your desk
Once you have your writing surfaces cleared, give yourself the gift of cleaning your work surface.
There’s a terrific principle from “The FlyLady” who teaches about home organization and cleaning, and she always has people start with this task: “Shine Your Sink.” The idea is that when your sink is clean and clear, you have a sense of accomplishment and pride — great for writers to have too!
So, wipe down your surfaces, dust out the corners, clean off the blinds. You don’t have to spend forever. But a cleaner, brighter writing space will do wonders for your clarity of mind.
Your Weekend Writer’s Assignment
Take a look at your writing space. What’s working? What’s not? What’s missing? How might you take a pass at triaging your space to make it more functional, aesthetically pleasing, and clear? What would give you the most bang for your buck? Tackle those first.
Stay tuned for the next articles in the series for thoughts about what goes where and how to use systems to keep your organization humming along.
Got Questions You Want Answered?
After working with hundreds of writers over the last seven years, writing coach and Called to Write Founder Jenna Avery has answers for you about how to balance your life and your screenwriting, trust yourself more as writer, fulfill your call to write, and more. Submit your questions to email@example.com or via Jenna’s online form at https://calledtowrite.com/final-draft and she may choose your question to answer anonymously in a future article.
Written by: Jenna AveryJenna Avery is a screenwriter who specializes in sci-fi action and space fantasy, and her most recent project is a post-apocalyptic coming-of-age story for a Canadian producer-director. Jenna is also a writing coach and the founder of Called to Write, where she has helped hundreds of writers overcome procrastination, perfectionism, and resistance so they can get their writing onto the page and into the world where it belongs. Jenna writes about writing and fulfilling your creative calling at calledtowrite.com, writes for ScriptMag and Final Draft, and teaches at Script University. Download Jenna’s free guidebooks for writers, including “How to Choose Your Next Book (or Script!)” when you join her mailing list at https://www.calledtowrite.com/mailing-list