I’m a pretty organized person. Over the years, I have spent countless hours reorganizing everything from the kitchen cupboards to my clothes-packed closet. My organizing skills came in handy when it was time to get all my writing projects in order, and now I’m going to show you how to organize your writing projects too.
People look at me strangely whenever I offer to help reorganize their closets or garages, but it’s a process I enjoy. When you organize your stuff and your space, your mind feels calmer and more organized. You can think more clearly, and that feels good.
I’ve spent a lot of time organizing all my writing projects and have developed a few good methods for keeping things in order.
Basically, all of my writing exists in two formats: print and digital. Years ago, I kept hard copies of everything and tried many methods from file folders to binders.
As I tried each organizational method, I would figure out what worked well and what didn’t work. These days most of my work is stored digitally, but I still keep some old hard copies stashed away.
Since I put so much thought into how I organized my own projects, I thought I’d share my organizational tips so you can learn from all my hard work.
How to Organize Printed Material
After trying many different strategies for organizing hard copies, I realized that binders are the way to go. Why?
- You can purchase thick 3-5″ binders and cram in as much as possible, and the variety in sizes comes in handy. You might use a slim binder for storing ideas and a thick one for storing book manuscripts. Or maybe you use one big binder for everything and then move projects out into smaller binders when you’re actively working on them.
- Organizing is easy with tabbed dividers. Whether your using them to separate ideas, notes, and projects or chapters and scenes, you can used dividers to make it easy to find whatever you’re looking for.
- The pages go in and out easily by opening the rings. As long as you have a three-hole punch, you can easily add, remove, and move content around within your binders.
- Clear-cover binders can be customized with fancy spine and cover inserts. Use the spine to label your binders and never forget what is stored and where you can find it.
- There are a host of binder accessories available, from bags that hold pens and pencils to folders that you can clip in for holding pages that aren’t hole-punched.
Eventually more and more of what I’d written was digital. The material in my binders became dated and being environmentally conscious, I started focusing more how to organize my writing digitally.
How to Organize Electronic Files
I’ve struggled with how to organize my electronic writing. For some reason, printed materials are easier to group and label. By using subfolders, I’ve been able to create navigable directories that make it easy to find anything and everything I’ve written.
Here are the sub-directories I’ve created in my “Writing” folder:
- Notes on Writing: Notes and articles on the craft of writing.
- Ideas: Random ideas that don’t fit anywhere else.
- Templates and worksheets: Blank character sketches or world-building worksheets as well as story-writing guides, like the Hero’s Journey.
- Completed Works: Pieces that are ready to be sent out or published. Published works are in a separate sub-directory within this folder.
- In Progress: anything that is not polished, with the following sub-folders:
- Journals and Freewrites: Most of these were originally handwritten, and I’ve managed to digitize a lot of them.
- Feedback: feedback and critiques, separated into sub-directories for feedback I’ve received and feedback I’ve provided other writers.
- Submissions: copies of work that I’ve submitted along with a spreadsheet for tracking submissions.
- Research for Writing Projects: information that I’ve found online and have saved because I think it might come in handy someday for one of my projects. Now that I use Evernote to clip material from the web, this folder has become an archive.
I reorganize this whole mess about once a year. I just went through it a couple of weeks ago and did a little clean-up, and I found that this system works well for keeping files where I can find them quickly and easily.
A Few More Tips for Organizing Your Writing
Let’s go a little deeper, shall we?
- Before setting up a new system to organize your writing, think about how you work and what you need. Consider how much material you need to organize and store. Then develop your system and give yourself plenty of time to set it up correctly.
- I’ve found that digital files are much easier to use and maintain. They are searchable. It’s easy to move files around. And they don’t take up a lot of space in your house. They can also be backed up; and it’s easy to store a second backup off-site. So it can be worthwhile to digitize some of your old writing material, even if it means spending time typing it up.
- Back up your digital writing! There are plenty of easy and affordable backup solutions, and it’s worth your time and a little money to make sure all your hard work is protected. I set up a weekly reminder on my calendar that tells me to back up my entire computer once a week. It’s just a click once you’ve got your backup system in place!
- Let it go! Don’t be afraid to purge old stuff that you don’t need and will never use. Some writers cling to every word they’ve written. Be discerning. Do you really need all five drafts of your first novel, which you never intend to publish? Perhaps you could keep two drafts and shred the rest. This goes for digital and print copies.
- Use your camera. If you’re not sure about purging some of your print material, use your camera and take snapshots of all the pages (bonus tip: review your images for blurriness before tossing your originals). Then stick the images in a folder with a date on it and come back in three to five years. If you still don’t think you need it, drag it into the trash.
- Maintenance is crucial. Your organizational system will be useless if you don’t maintain it. Stop saving everything to your desktop and start taking a few seconds (yes, it’s just seconds!) to save your files into the appropriate directories or sort them into the right binders.
Tell me, how do you keep your writing organized? Share your tips for organizing your writing in the comments!