I’m probably the most organised person I know; I’m not OCD about it, I just work better when things are organised. Writing a book means that I accumulate bits and pieces of information, research facts, website links, editing tips, formatting guidelines, historical trivia that I can integrate into my plot (but only if I can find it when I get there), maps, diagrams, lists of names in various languages, grammar points to remember (I’ve made up a word for “points to remember” – poitrems – you heard it here first), How-To cheat-sheets for PhotoShop, publication checklists (pre- and post-), Shelfari to-dos, and… need I continue? I’m just getting started. And that’s my point. If I’m not organised, I’ll waste half my day looking for something… where did I put that note about the dimensions of a modern casket? Was it hot arsenic or cyanide that smells like garlic? Are blue diamonds more valuable than pure white? What kind of micro-organism poops arsenic? A friend of mine complimented me one day when I told her some of the things I was researching; she said, “You’re just weird.” And it’s something my husband repeats fondly on a regular basis.
So, I’d like to share a few of my organisational tips with you:
1) Know thyself. Know your weaknesses (You know, those distractions, procrastination excuses, time-eating habits like “just checking into Facebook for a minute before I sit down to write” and an hour later you’re hungry, then you see that the kitchen needs cleaning… you know who you are.). Recognize those time-wasters, and nip them in the bud before they mushroom into a day wasted. Keep your cell phone at a safe distance; wear earplugs if you need to; turn on music if it helps you focus, turn it off if it distracts you. Write down points to research and only dive into research when you have 5 items on the list (and stay away from time-monster sites like Facebook and Youtube while you’re working!)
2) Find a system that works for you. I organise my notes, etc. in various ways: I have pocket-sized Moleskin books for quick reference character profiles, lists of words, family trees of characters, etc.; I also have lined notebooks with those heavy-duty post-it tabs labelling the sections (that are well-spaced apart for future additions); I write the section names on the front and back of those tabs so that I can find it from either way the notebook lands on my desk. For instance, one notebook I always have at hand has sections like publications, pre- & post- publication to-dos, paperback formatting checklist, KDP guidelines, CreateSpace guidelines, grammar, PhotoShop Elements helps, editing checklists, proofing checklists, Beta checklists, and step-by-step guides for various publication formats. Another notebook I keep on hand has things like time-related notes (Julian calendar terms, Ages [Stone Age = ~6,000-2,000 BC], etc.), medical notes (that’s where I put that note about modern casket dimensions), glossaries for archaeological terms, 18th century England notes, lists of museum curators’ names, phone numbers and emails, etc. Besides notebooks, I keep “cards” – here’s an example (to the right): I type up the information in PowerPoint, then save each “card” to .jpg format through MS Paint. These cards are then saved onto my Tab through Dropbox, and Bob’s your uncle, I’ve got them handy whether I’m writing on the couch, on holiday, or in a café.
3) Learn to focus. I’ve recently found a great way to focus better through those hours of the day and night when I know I’m going to be most distracted: It’s called Focus Booster. It’s basically a timer on your desktop that counts down time increments, with an additional break-time at the end of each cycle. The standard unit of time is 25/5, though you can adjust it to your rhythm. The thinking is that anyone can focus on a given task for 25 minutes, even those who struggle with ADD. In using it, I’ve realized how often I get distracted by a thought that comes into my mind while writing and I get up to do something quickly. This way, I stay working for a solid amount of time, and use that 5 minutes to switch gears and get other things done; it’s amazing how much you can get accomplished in 30 minutes. I’d encourage you to download it and give it a try if you struggle with concentration. Here’s a second card I’ve made with the basic principles for the Booster.
Those are just a few ideas; if you struggle with a specific area, or would like suggestions on dealing with specific challenges in focusing, just ask away! Focus well, and your writing will flow so much more smoothly and swiftly.