1.9.09

THE ORGANISED WRITER

I promised some time ago to write a short piece about how I personally organise my writing and my projects. I'm by no means suggesting this as an example of ultimate organisational skill but only as possibly giving a wee bit of advice and ideas that may be useful.

I don't separate my writing and professional and personal life into silos-that doesn't work for me. So this is, I guess, how I organise my whole life, in terms of trying to achieve my goals with the minimum amount of fuss and stress.
The major reason I make a big study out of this is because I am, at heart and by nature, a complete airhead!

The uber-template for my work is provided by David Allen's Getting Things Done or GTD as its known. His best-selling book by the same name is available everywhere. Allen begins his strategy for organising information into CAPTURE. If useful info flows past you and into the big sea, there's loads of good stuff you're going to miss-ideas, research, creative solutions, inspirational thoughts and deadline dates as well as opportunities. So capture it all and consign it like a great steaming pool of potential into the IN-TRAY.
Then on a daily basis you dive into this pool and bottom out the whole thing. Letters/emails/ideas on post-it notes/bills/unfinished poems/doctors appointments/execution warrants etc,
Each item is subjected to a formula-Can it be dumped? So bin it! Can it be done in less than three minutes? Then do it? Does it need to be deferred? So put it in a place where you'll pick it up again such as a @PROJECTS FILE. Is this item dependent on someone else? So slap it in a @WAITING ON file that you'll follow up appropriately
when the time is right. Create the files that work for you-we're all very different. But don't have too many action files.
The classic GTD process looks like this:



David Allen's website offers a range of GTD tools which are well made though a little pricey. Crafty folk can make their own. I would strongly advise getting a TICKLER FILE which is simply 43 folders labelled 1 through to 31 and 12 folders with the names of each month. You can place stuff in here that will ensure you come across it at the right date. A good labeller is also an essential tool for labelling your various folders or even your children-so you don't forget their names! A stapler that you can whack is also highly recommended. I also use a metal stacking desk-top system to store my current folders and my tickler file upright where they're all at hand.
I think the great thing about David's system is that, once you 'get it' and trust it then you can let go of remembering all that stuff which is a great stress releaser and I think a real aid for creatives.

For WRITING I carry a MOLESKINE notebook everywhere-they're just about the best I've used. At some point I transfer my writing to a hard backed and divided A4 notebook, again by hand- I use an Oxford FLINGBOOK. I use MINDMAPS to write my poems in this book and though somewhat arduous to do all this by hand I regard this step as an essential re-write. The completed poem or piece of writing is then ripped out and filed in a loose leaf file with a small sticky label with the name of piece written on. This eventually becomes a hand-written manuscript and it is this file that is typed into my computer as I hurl my quill pen to the floor and enter the digitised age. I use a 24 inch Mac Intel and write nearly everything in SCRIVENER-far and away my favourite writing program. Later they'll be exported to WORD but I rarely use that to actually write. If I'm on a PC I use PAGEFOUR which is similar to SCRIVENER but not, I feel, quite as good. I also use a Mac Laptop but mine recently blew its logic board so I'm unhappily using a Dell. I also use a dictaphone to record my work and read it back to myself. Currently I use tape but I'm considering some method of getting them onto cd's-I can't recommend enough listening to your own poems while you're cooking or taking a dump-Poetry is oral. Sometimes a poem won't reveal/expose itself until it's heard.
I write anachronistically with a Silver Parker filled with real ink. I keep a load of little supplies like sticky labels, index cards, scissors, pencils and highlighters and a very important RED PEN in a robust little zippered pouch. I always keep a couple of index cards in the back of whatever book I'm reading to keep a note of particular references or quotes.  I keep a range of 'Tombo' coloured pens for my hand drawn mindmaps near at hand. Like many writers I am almost sexually aroused by stationery supplies and am often to be found in such places gently fingering materials from the top shelf! (Enough of that! This is not a confessional piece!)

I have a Shorter Oxford DICTIONARY and a Roget's THESAURUS for reference. I'm not keen on any style instructors or grammar manuals like Fowler's or Strunk and White. (They've become a publishing opportunity for those people who enjoy wagging fingers and shouting such as Lynn Truss and John Humphreys. Language is alive and moves like a big dirty river-something these guys don't seem to realise. If you want to read something from someone who knows and loves language-try Bill Bryson's 'Mother Tongue' or Guy Deutscher's book or anything by Stephen Fry.)

On the computer I use EVERNOTE and YOJIMBO for capturing info like snippets of quotes or websites or visual info that I can sort through at leisure. I also use NOTEBOOK from CIRCUS PONIES SOFTWARE which is a digitised MOLESKINE and a lovely little program. The best mindmapping programs are MINDMANAGER and NOVAMIND and are easily available on the web.

I always use Mindmaps if I'm at a meeting or lecture and want to record information or actions.

If I'm writing all day, I do it in bed by the way, surrounded by my papers and tools and wearing my pyjamas. I only discovered them recently when I had to go to hospital-but honestly, pyjamas seem to be a uniform of the subconscious allowing a stream of creativity to flow through. Once you're dressed you're back in the Real World. For females I'm presuming long flowing nightdresses with fluffy collars would have the same effect. Or you could write naked I suppose? Whatever floats your boat! Me I'm sold on pyjamas-with buttoned shorts. (Not trousers with white cords-that would be 'Carry on Poet!' Don't do it!)

So there it is. I hope there was something there that was useful. Do let me have your comments and success to your work!

Tony.

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