Stay Organized to Stay Focused as an Author

Most likely, you’ve heard the famous line “Mind the gap!” in relation to the warning given to railway passengers. It’s a warning for people to watch that short distance between the railcar and the platform. It’s such a small thing, but potentially disastrous if someone isn’t minding the gap. In the same way, many novelists fail to “mind the gap” when it comes to the seemingly small thing of staying organized.

I understand we all have different personalities, and one author may not lean toward being organized as much as the next. Yet, doing even a few simple things can help you stay more focused and avoid wasting time and creative energy.

So here are a few organization basics that can help you be a more productive author:

1. Keep all of your writing files in one place on your computer so you’re not hunting down one document or another when it’s time to write—or while you’re in the midst of writing. You can keep this fairly simply, or get so detailed that you have a master folder for each novel, and then within each master folder, you could have folders for:

–research documents

–drafts (for various versions of your manuscript)

–working file (current manuscript document, outline of the story, the novel’s “idea” document where you compost ideas for that story … basically anything you might access on a daily basis while working on that novel)

–submissions (for queries, proposals, spreadsheets to track your submissions, etc.)

2. Create some kind of daily goal, whether it’s a fixed amount of time to work on your book or a target number of words to write for the day—and then keep yourself accountable to it by having some sort of writing journal in which you track what you do each day, whether it’s a Word document or a spreadsheet.

3. Get rid of distractions. In the words of an author friend:

–“I flip my phone over so I can’t see the blinking light that says I have a new text or email. It’s still on vibrate, though, if someone is trying to reach me with some true emergency.”

–“The home phone ringer is off in my writing room.”

–“My blinds are pulled so I’m not staring out the window.”

–“On my computer, I close the tabs on my open email accounts so I don’t get pop-ups about new messages.”

–“Finally, in go the earbuds with music appropriate for the mood of what I’m writing—loud enough to take me into my story world, but not so loud that I can’t hear my cell phone vibrating.”

4. Last, be sure to back up your files as soon as you finish a writing session. Again, here’s what my author friend had to say: “I immediately email myself a copy of what I’m working on, then drag a copy via wireless onto the family computer in the office, and then put the files on one or two jump drives as well. At any given time, I have my files in at least three locations, and ideally I have up to six places my files are stored. Just doesn’t pay to lose all that work when it only takes mere seconds to copy files these days.”

Yes, some of you may be cringing at the thought of doing any or all of these basics. But most of the time you’ll spend in building these organization structures will come at the outset. After that, it will simply be a matter of using what you’ve built. And I think you’ll be pleased with the results, because minding the organization gap as an author really can help you stay more focused and lead to greater productivity.