Why writers need to get organised


No, I don’t mean politically or something. Though that could be cool, all marching on Parliament in our pyjamas chanting.

“What do we want?”
“More coffee!”
“When do we want it?”
“Just gimme the damn coffee!”

Ahem, anyway, what I mean is as individuals, we should organise our lives. Creative people are often, to put it politely, a bit scatty. Writers forget boring everyday stuff like appointments and chores because they are too busy thinking about the next book.

But then they get in a great big panic and have to rush to finish something – a guest blog, a blurb, a tax return, to pick up the kids from school… A rush job doesn’t usually result in the best work. It’s stress inducing and it could mean putting off the core work, the mission critical stuff of writing actual books and stories.

Getting organised may not fit with the romantic image of the scatty writer, but I think as well as resulting in fewer stressful last minute rushes it can be a boost to the creativity.

“Be neat and orderly in your life, like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and creative in your work.” ~ Gustave Flaubert

Being disorganised is a waste of precious thinking time. You want all of your brain time to be spent working on thorny plot issues and characters, not on reminding you that you need to pick up a bag of coffee on the way home tonight, that you promised X a blog post by Saturday – or is it next Saturday? – and when are you going to get to the bank to pay in that cheque?

If you get organised you can safely forget all of that stuff. You don’t have to remember it, your system will remember it for you. The creator of the Getting Things Done system, David Allen, compares that to the “mind like water” concept from martial arts. But basically it means getting all the things that can be stored elsewhere out of your head, so your mind can focus on creative thoughts.

Systems and Tools

I’m always amazed when people tell me they forgot about an appointment. Because I bet most people, right now, are walking around with a calendar in their pocket. One that will give them reminders about an event. Even on the last none-smart phone I had there was a calendar, that could give me reminders. Heck, I had a Palm pilot. I absolutely adored the calendar and tasks on that. They are the benchmark of all organising systems for me now. Most calendars on smart phones also have a tasks option, or there are a load of To Do list apps, some totally free. Lots of these calendars and task apps synch online so you can access them across various devices.

The key things calendars and task lists give you:

  • Freedom to forget about stuff. It’s in the diary. It’s on the list. You’ll get a reminder to go somewhere or do something. Meanwhile, forget it!
  • The ability to make the most of your time. I make a plan for a week ahead of what to do when. That lets me pick the most creative time of day to do the writing and less sparkly times for more mundane stuff. It lets me bundle stuff to make the most of time. Got several things to do in the city centre? Find a time to go there and make sure all those things are on the list to do on that date.
  • Prioritising. It’s very easy to be busy and feel good about that, while not in fact getting anywhere with your most important projects. Planning and organising makes sure you get that work front and centre every day.
  • Breaking down big projects into steps. “Write a novel” is a big project! So big it’s a bit intimidating. Break it down into core phases and do something towards that every day.

You have the tools already. You do. You are presumably reading this on a PC or mobile device. You have the tools right in front of you now. Use them. Make the most of them. My calendar and to do list run my life. Everything goes on there. It’s like having a personal assistant. Find a system you lik.e GTD is fantastic, but there are plenty more. Find the one that suits you most and tweak and adapt it until it’s perfect for you.

My essentials
Google Calendar – but any calendar will do.
Remember the Milk – task manager.
Tickler file – to organise bits of paper. GTD recommends a tickler file. But everyone should have one. Especially busy families. Honestly, start using one of these and you will wonder how you lived without one.
Evernote – used more for notes for my writing projects. But good for lists and stuff and for storing documents. You can put reminders on notes to pop up when needed.
Google Keep. For short notes and great for tick lists, with reminders.

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11 thoughts on “Why writers need to get organised

  1. You and I are one of a kind! I’m similar but skittle different tech:
    Calendar on my phone with reminders
    Hand written to do list revised each week
    Notes on phone or notebooks for story ideas – every few months I consolidate these
    Liam 🙂

  2. This is such brilliant advice but sadly we don’t live in a vacuum. It’s very hard to be organised when living in a chaotic environment with which the other inhabitant is absolutely happy. However, I have a whiteboard where I write whose book I’m promoting on what day and who I am betaing for, a diary for work and Mum related things and I try to think on my feet to predict what my other half will require and the best way to provide it. I’m not even trying to write at the moment – my inner CPU is at 100%

    1. Yes, it does help if you can set your own agenda as it were. But you’re doing something there with your whiteboard. But if you do only only thing to be organised, I recommend the tickler file. It’s a lifesaver!

  3. Don’t forget desktop Stickies! The program is free and notes pop up to remind you of anything/everything because you set an alarm. And even if you are writing, you’re gonna see the note. That’s what I use to remind me to pay the rent or I have a dentist appointment.

    1. That sounds fun. I should try that out, thanks! I’ve been using Google Keep a bit lately too. It’s good for quick and simple lists and notes. And you can put an alarm on them to make them pop up when you need them.

  4. Great post! I’m definitely looking into this Tickler thing, although I think I’m already using something similar, by keeping notes on a google doc. For me, the important thing is to have everything in one place – I misplaced my household 2015 budget for days last week, eventually thinking I’d deleted the file by mistake. Then found it as a tab on that same google doc! 🙂 What resonates for me in your post is something I’ve discovered myself – the wonderful feeling that if something’s on the list, I can forget it!

    1. Yes, some people do electronic ticklers do, putting files in say a folder with the day of the month they’ll need it. But there are still some things that are always going to be paper – or at least for the forseeable future.

      Keeping things in one place so you’re only checking one thing is definitely good too. I wish Google would develop its Tasks thing and integrate it better with the calendar, but still waiting on that!

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