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For Writers: Organization Without an Office

February 16, 2019



Do you know how difficult it is to stay organized when you don't have a permanent space to write?


I tend to write all over the house - the living room, in the bed, the dining room. I like the ability to move about, to sit where I'm comfortable. But, it makes it very difficult to keep everything organized in the process. We don't have the space in the house for me to have a designated office, but I've come up with several ways to stay organized even without a writing space.  


In some ways it's all about creating a portable office - something that can move with me to different spaces. But, it's also about narrowing down exactly what I need for each work session so I don't overload on 'supplies.'


The two key components for me are my trusty laptop and a notebook. 


The laptop is for all the writing. I outline by hand, but I always use the computer for drafting. I keep a notebook with me for jotting ideas, making to-do lists, scribbling notes, and marking developmental edits I'll need to make. Both are obviously easy to move and transport from one location to another. Both fit in my tote bag if I want to write at a coffee shop or the library. And, both make up the bare bones supplies I need to work. 


What about the other 'stuff' though?


The files? The craft books? The extra notebooks? The index cards ready to spread out while plotting or outlining?


Those things are all still here - just in an adjusted way. 


I keep a small filing cabinet in my closet to store paperwork, business cards, promotional items, etc. I don't need access to those things regularly, but they're organized and ready when I do. All my notebooks and craft books are kept on a bookshelf. I'm lucky that our house is filled with bookshelves so I just claimed one shelf for all of my writing books. It's easily accessible and I can grab anything I need when I need it. I don't necessarily use index cards when I'm plotting because I don't have the space. Instead I use an 18x24 drawing pad and small post-its. The pages are large enough that I can plot out what I need on post-its and, because they stick to the page, I can leave them or move them as needed. Plus, the drawing pad is easy to store. When I need to reference what I've plotted, I can pull out the notepad, lay it open, move things around, and store it away when I'm done working. Would it be easier if I could have it up on a wall or set out at all times? Would it be better if I had all of these things set up in a room to access immediately? Perhaps. But, this is a system that works for me since I don't have a designated writing space. I've adjusted my process rather than make excuses about not being able to work without an office. 


What about digital organization? 


I own this mug because the humor in it was spot on for years. Spot on!


I was always saving files and drafts randomly, naming them stupid things that didn't make sense, putting them in the document file of my laptop, and then complaining when I couldn't find what I was looking for. Enter Dropbox. It might be considered old school and maybe I was a little late to the digital cloud game, but what a lifesaver! I've been storing files in Dropbox since 2009. Every file, every paper, every presentation, every draft of my dissertation from my Ph.D. program is stored there. Every draft, formatting file, inspirational picture, and character sketch for everything I've ever written is stored there, too. And the funny part about it is that I've never had to pay to upgrade storage. Ten years later and I'm still within the space allowed for the free program. I know that no matter what computer I'm using, no matter if my laptop dies, no matter if something happens to all my physical copies - it's all saved, organized, and accessible there. And, there's a comfort in that. 


As far as organizing the files, I save everything in designated folders named after the writing projects themselves. I also create subfolders for different drafts, formatting files, cover art, etc., within those designated folders.





By organizing my digital files this way, it makes everything incredibly easy to find. It took time to sort through everything, put files in the correct folders, and organize them in a way that made sense for me, but the process was worth it. 


Taking the time to find systems and organization that works for me and my lack of space has done so much to streamline my entire writing process. It took away my need to make excuses about space and forced me to focus in on what was important. It's not the space - it's the writing itself. If writing is important to me I'll find a way to work anywhere. No excuses anymore.


And, at least I can be organized while I sit in the living room and try to write historical details to the noise of dogs barking, cartoons on the television, and kids announcing dramatically that we are out of goldfish. 


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