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One of the most difficult things about being a writer is being organised.
Us creative types have a tendency to be naturally disorganised, most humans naturally procrastinate, and writers, in particular, seem have that nagging feeling that ‘proper’ writers shouldn’t need a complicated system to be able to sit down and write.
It’s not true. Organising your entire writing system will help you so much and make you much more productive.
Why is being organised so important to writers?
I used to be my own worst enemy when it came to writing. I struggled to make time to sit down to write everyday and that made me suspect that I wasn’t cut out to be a writer.
Ironically, it was a string of failed blogs that made me realise that I am writer. I love to write. Every time I failed, I came crawling back.
But my lack of organisation made me fail. I’d keep chopping and changing between wanting to write a novel, to blogging about being vegan, blogging about my pets, my plants, blogging itself.
Once I was sure I 100% wanted to be a writer, I had to get out of my way. I worked as a restaurant manager – writing every day simply wasn’t an option. So I created a content calendar – I had a list of everything I wanted to get in a week. If I got it done, I could take Sundays off.
I’d write before work (my hours were typically 11 am – 10 pm) and as soon as I sat at my desk I’d know exactly what I needed to get done. No time was wasting wondering what to write about.
What’s the best way to organise your notes?
One that works for you.
The important thing to remember is that you need to keep your system flexible. I have different organisation methods for different things – I have a master blogging notebook and a master fiction notebook.
They each contain, basically, lists of ideas. Characters, random quotes, article ideas, email ideas – everything. I also have other notebooks I use for individual projects.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll need a junk drawer to keep hold of random scraps of paper you might need, but probably never will. I know that’s not exactlytly organised, but at least if you have a junk drawer they won’t get chucked away accidentally.
Just maybe keep it to a small drawer.
Is it better to use a paper or digital planner?
I have both. I highly recommend Personal Planner. I use mine to track my daily schedule – how much I schedule depends but currently I write down the articles I want to get written, and a food diary that I’m keeping for a weight loss blog.
(Those of you that are wondering how the hell I’ll rank for that, it’s actually a super old domain that I changed the niche for so many times Google’s probably permanently blacklisted it. I just need to keep myself accountable before I eat so many hash browns I turn into one. I’m doing whole food plant-based, intermittent fasting AND including gluten free options. It could rank yet.)
I love the idea of bullet journaling but it’s too time-consuming for me. Customising my own planner was a perfect compromise between a traditional planner and a bullet journal.
I have tried to get into digital planners but they’re too expensive for the amount I’d use them. I’d want an app I could also use on my phone, iPad, and laptop, and most of them are only free on two devices.
The digital notetaking app I do like is Google Keep. It syncs on all my devices, and the functionality is great for a free app. It can set reminders and syncs with Google Calendar.
I use it for:
- Shopping lists
You can tick items off, but it just puts and ‘x’ in the check box and moves it to the bottom, so when I’m creating my grocery list I already have most of the stuff I’ll want inputted – I can just uncheck the box
- Fitness Challenges
I used to do yoga every day, and I could copy and paste the playlist URL (I use Yoga with Adriene’s free playlists) into a Google Keep note and it would take me directly to the playlist without having to search for it.
You can use it to set reminders in you’re likely to forget too.
- Random crap
#Code snippets I might need
#Article URLs I need to link to
#Ideas for websites, books, get rich quick schemes
#Instagram hashtags so I can just copy and paste
#The recipe for my house plant potting mix
And you can colour code it. Seriously, I love Google Keep.
How to create an organisation system that works for you
Start with a planner. I prefer to handwrite mine (erasable pens are a godsend) but use digital if you prefer.
If you have a lot of bigger projects, I’d recommend getting one of those notebooks with dividers – it’s just easier having as many of your notes in one place.
I’m a notebook hoarder and I hate waste, so I’m forcing myself to use my notebooks up. I should be able to treat myself to a new one around about 2022.
Most writers are notebook and/or stationery addicts. I believe it’s because we feel like buying stationery is pretty much the same as writing. Procrastination at its finest.
Why creating a schedule is so important for organisation
Actually, I don’t know if creating a schedule is important for organisation or if organisation is important for creating a schedule.
Either way, if you know exactly what you’re going to write as soon as you sit down at your desk AND you know where all the stuff is that you’re going to need, it will make the act of sitting down (definitely the hardest part of writing) infinitely easier.
A lot of writers swear you need a desk to write at, and whilst yeah, it’s nice, not all of us have the space for our home office.
All you actually need is a signal that this is writing time.
The best signal is a note in your planner saying ‘9 am – write *insert article title here*’ It cuts right to the chase. It doesn’t matter that you’re writing in bed.
Why it’s important to have a brain dumping area both online and IRL
Those lucky people that can digitalise all of their notes can relax – you don’t need to handwrite anything if you don’t want to.
But I do. I handwrite the first draft of my fiction, and I to handwrite my planner.
The reason I stumbled across Google Keep was that I was looking for a digital notes app like Goodnotes, but I needed somewhere I could store notes – basically, a slightly fancier Notes app, which is what Google Keep is.
I could easily carry a notebook everywhere and write stuff down, but realistically, I won’t. I’m bad enough at writing ideas down anyway – I’m hardly going to whip out a pen and paper at the beach.
My phone goes everywhere with me. I was more likely to use it, so I’m trying to get into the habit of writing my ideas down.
The biggest lie we tell ourselves is “I’ll remember that.”Someone famous
There are also some things I write down – URLs for random articles I want to cite, for example. It makes sense for a lot of us to keep both digital and analogue notes.
What to do when you don’t know where to start
Get a planner – a cheap diary will do. You just need enough room to write down the articles you want to write on whichever day. If anyone can recommend a good digital planner, please leave a comment.
Ideally, it’ll have some space at the back to take notes. If it does, that’s all you really need. I also recommend you download Google Keep. It’s a great place to leave random links, the hex code for your brand colours and anything else that’s pain to write down.
What to do if you’re not a natural planner
Just try. I’m not one of those super organised list-making types but writing myself a schedule is the only way to get me to write. I set myself challenges – usually just something like ‘write x number of posts by whenever’.
I’m unhealthily competitive with myself (but weirdly zen about, for example, Scrabble) so I go to my planner and write myself a plan so that I know it’s possible to succeed.
Because I’m lazy and love to sit and do nothing, I leave wiggle room, so that if I finish early, I get time to do nothing. it works!
Final thoughts on getting organised as a writer
If you write yourself a clear schedule so you know exactly what you need to do everyday, you find that things like motivation and procrastination aren’t the issues they once were.
I’m a bugger for scrolling through Reddit and the like when I’m meant to be writing, so I use the Flora app to do this.
Whilst I don’t allow distractions like this to stop the articles from getting finished – I just stay at my desk longer – I do find that I’m doing it automatically and it really impacts on my focus.
Apps like Flora are great for people like me that find themselves subconsciously picking up their phone and scrolling through it without really noticing.
If I want my website to get traffic as quickly as possible I need to write a lot of content. I can’t rely on going viral.
The advantage (and disadvantage) of that is that I’m totally in control. If my keyword research, competition analysis, and content strategy are good, I will rank. I just need to stay organised.