The Mythical Organized Writer

This is not what my office looks like.

This is not what my office looks like.

I'm not one of those writers who has everything neat and tidy. But I long to be a be one of the few, the fabled... the Organized Writer. A writer who is never buried under piles of paper bits and dozens of half empty notebooks. Someone whose computer files are sorted and organized for easy access. A Wonder Woman of organizational prowess who has her stories cataloged and organized so manuscripts can be easily picked up and edited on the go.

But I am not that writer. I'm more of a, I'd work on my manuscript but I can never seem to find it, it's around here somewhere, kind of writer. The week before last, I lost the jump drive with all of my novel edits on it. That weren't backed up anywhere because sometimes I'm an idiot. I was in tears and I searched for about three days. Luckily my husband located it buried in the debris of scrap-book stuff and receipts that litter my home office.

When he handed it to me, I was disgusted with myself and my inability to be organized. I vowed to work on becoming an Organized Writer. I began doing Internet searches to get some helpful advice. I needed an organizational muse, someone who could give me concrete advice on how to get out from under the paper piles, sticky notes and disheartening file cabinet.

Twenty different websites later, and I still haven't' found any useful advice. Oh there are websites that will all give you the same general ideas, written different ways but it's never helpful (sort of like Cosmo articles about sex).  Most of them say something like, If you aren't going to use it right away, toss it or file it. Well sure, but then I end up with bloated file cabinets and no room for things like receipts and bills and the instruction manual for my toaster oven. Does no one think of the toaster oven?

Throwing scraps of thoughts or ideas away is out of the question. Those are little bits of my genius just waiting for the right moment to be useful! The scrap I'm holding right now says, Peanut butter diva sings the blues. I have no idea where that came from or what I might do with it but it's intriguing don't you think?  I don't want to throw it away yet, in case I eat a PB & J with some Ruffles and inspiration strikes me.

I've tried the filing thing and organized baskets and file sorters too. I even tried using a cork board for a while. It was great. Butthen my notes began to devour it. All you could see were tiny peeks of the wood frame trying to escape. It was so full of paper that the angry cork began spitting the pushpins out and onto the floor (and into our delicate foot meat). My clutter hating husband took it down because the chaos was giving him palpitations.

So in my mad Googling, I had hoped to find someone who could tell me in detail, not just in vague generalities, how to organize my writing on the computer and on paper. So far I've found almost nothing. Most of the advice isn't practical or truly useful. It's like the paper inside of fortune cookies. You know when you break open that stale cookie and the paper says, You are a very nice person and you are like, well sure I am but that's not a fortune, it's a statement.

The advice for disorganized writers isn't really advice. It's a list of commonly known strategies for being organized with no further instructions as to how to implement them. If I knew how to file papers in an organized manner, I wouldn't be looking it up online, you douche-canoes! I'm completely useless at this and I need you to walk me through it as though I don't speak English.

So I have come to believe that there is no such human as an Organized Writer. This creature appears to be as fictitious as a unicorn. 

The Organized Writer in it's natural habitat.

The Organized Writer in it's natural habitat.

Oh I know you'll say, Nu-uh, Christina, cuz my friend's sister's cousin is a writer and is totes organized! Well after I sock you for saying "totes" un-ironically, I will tell you, Your friend's sister's cousin was ALWAYS organized.

That is the key. I think the reason that the organizational advice is vague is because organized people don't know how to explain what they do to unorganized schlub writers like myself. It's instinctual. Intuitive. Either you are a person who always kept things tidy or, like me, you will always be struggling to stay ahead of your papers. You can't explain something that is simply inherent to your personality. I imagine to an organized person, it seems so basic, Just throw it away or file it neatly. But that sentence is so foreign to me, it might as well be written in Klingon. How the hell do I let go of the need to keep every stupid thing and how do I organize my files so they'll be neat? The advice seems to reply, You just do it.  I throw my arms in the air and shout, HOW??? Where do I buy the unicorn magic necessary to make this happen?

So perhaps my unicorn simile was inaccurate but I'm a writer and I like it so I didn't edit it out. It's not that there are no organized writers out there, it's that there aren't any previously sloppy writers who became organized. The myth is that with some vague generalities, you will shift from a person drowning in papers to a happy, organized person. And I call shenanigans on that.

Now that I think about it, I read a great book once about home organization. I can't recall the name of it and that's a shame, but I do remember one piece of advice. The writer said there was no point in buying bunches of boxes or baskets or pieces of furniture in order to force yourself to be organized. It just doesn't work. The writer suggested instead that you work around yourself. If you always leave your papers in this area, make that the paper area. It's that simple. If you always leave your shoes by the front door, arrange the area to accommodate what you are likely to do. Because it's unlikely you'll actually shift from what you're doing to match some arbitrary system.

So I guess I had the unicorn magic in me all along. My shit is in Christina order and I just didn't know it.

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More importantly, I've been staring at the scrap of paper that says, peanut butter diva sings the blues, and now I'm more interested in eating a PB &J than in organizing my office. Mmm, PB & J with Ruffles on the sandwich. Salty. Sweet. Perfect.

So screw organization, how do you like your peanut butter and jelly sandwich prepared? Leave me a comment and let me know.