The Great Purge Continues

drema girl with pearl earring
Me with the work of a talented local artist on display at my alma mater. I imagine you know which two artists’ work he merged?

Someone PLEASE tell me to get back to writing. Our house will never be the same! Out have gone books and more books, clothing by the bagful, and oh so much more.

I even tackled the dreaded long, narrow closet in my writing room. Again. Every couple of years I attempt to make it behave but it ends up raspberrying at me. Not this time! Since I’ve been organizing the whole house, I decided to give that closet another whirl. This time I saw the solution in my mind’s eye: crisp, white bankers boxes.

When we moved to Nashville oh so long ago I bought carloads of bankers boxes. They’re perfect for moving all of your stuff and things. They’re uniform and they have separate lids for easy access. The other day I realized if I was ever going to tame our paper monster I needed to find some, stat.

Furthermore, I needed to categorize the papers better AND be willing to release more of them from my life if I was to ever be victorious.

So early yesterday morning I sat in my writing room and began assembling bankers boxes. I pulled every ugly cardboard box out of the closet, every crate, and started sorting.

Mind you, I’d been through these papers a few times. This time I decided to use the “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I didn’t have this?” advice I’d read recently.

I thought I would get rid of every printed draft of the novels I’ve written. I have clean e-copies of them, so I figured I didn’t need them. I unexpectedly decided I needed to keep those marked up manuscripts, so I did. It felt right.

Going through my old journals I realized what a different person I am today and how I am also the same. More on that another time.

Formerly treasured school essays complete with comments, writing with lovely comments from mentors, got pitched.

Some of the purge was practical: most of the comments on my schoolwork were made on stories that have either already been published or have been changed so much that the suggestions no longer apply.

A few of the papers I wanted to keep, but I let them go when I realized this: I was holding too tightly to the good regard, the confidence given to me by my mentors. I’m a bona fide writer now, hell, I’m a teacher of writing. Holding onto those comments for as long as I did helped me see that others believed in me when I didn’t. I will forever be grateful for that. I have been privileged to work with some fantastic mentors who have undeniably helped shape my work. But I can’t see myself as the writer I AM until I let go of that one-down position. And it’s time.

That said, it doesn’t mean I didn’t flinch when I tossed all of those blue essay books, those stacks of marked papers into the trash bag. Doesn’t mean I didn’t ask myself if I was being hasty. Doesn’t mean I didn’t grit my teeth as I hurried the bag out to the trash can.

Ironically, the dude driving the recycle truck knocked the wheels right off our trash can this week. I’m not sure how, but I see a connection.

By the way, the closet looks just as I hoped it would. I think I’ve done it this time. Forgot to take a pic, though. Sorry. 

In the same vein (and possibly this is redundant rather than reinforcing), I sorted through our writing instruction (or craft, for the uninitiated,) books. Those have always been the hardest for me to let go of, but I discovered that I was ready to release many of those now  as well. Some were outdated. Some were ponderous and tedious. Some were written by Dead White Guys FOR Dead White Guys. Some were yellowed, and I really don’t enjoy reading yellowed books.

But again the biggest revelation in reviewing our craft book collection was that I thought some of the content was either too commercial or too simplistic, that I knew some of it was just plain bad advice. I no longer need  “1+1=writing” books. I took a box of over 20 (!!) craft books to the Goodwill Bin. (I wouldn’t throw those away, of course).

And for those of you who know I’m married to a writer, of course I asked him if he wanted them before I hauled them off.

Never fear: we still have three well-stocked shelves of writing books. I know I still have things to learn. The difference is I also know what I don’t need to learn. 

I’ve also tackled renovating the rusty locker I picked up during Spring Clean Up. This is now residing in my writing room with cute baskets in it to hold my blank journals and writing supplies. As I told a young woman recently, “I’m not afraid of color.” Obvious, isn’t it? I heart this fresh color.



While I’m blissfully happy to be wrangling the house into order, I’m ready to return to writing beyond freelancing. Fiction keeps calling, and I’m about to, I need to, answer.

What are you writing nowadays?

The Golden Notebook: Organize Your Writing in 2014

If you want more “gold” from your writing in 2014 (be it money or just the satisfaction of seeing more of your ideas captured instead of left to wander off), try using your “golden notebook.”

(Disclaimer: I once owned Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook but got rid of it without having read it because it was copy I bought at the library’s book sale that was too musty and yellowed to keep. So if I totally misused the title, Lessing fans please forgive me. I really do want to read it.)

I have a writing organization system that works great for me – if I use it! So read the above title as a command to myself. Let me explain my system, in case you need one that you, too, can put into place and promptly ignore.

Because I have ideas for every category of writing you can think of (articles, essays, poems, novels, short stories, plays, movies, hints, blog posts and more!), I recently decided to go back to a system I used years ago. I bought two boxes (I am not kidding) of cheap spiral bound notebooks. My goal (seldom achieved) is to carry one with me AT ALL TIMES. No joke. Beside my side of the sofa (what, you don’t have a side?), in the kitchen, on my bedside table, everywhere.

Here’s where guilt has kept me from pursuing this method in the past: I write JUST ONE IDEA PER PAGE! Yup. Why? Because I have binders for these categories and I put the ideas in each binder. Well, that’s what’s supposed to happen so that when the well runs dry on story ideas (Okay, I actually pin that list to my office wall!)I know just where to go to find one. But I feel so guilty wasting paper. Yeah, there’s the tree killing aspect, for sure, but when I was young a notebook was such a precious thing that I have a hard time not filling every line. After reading Nora Ephron’s essay on revision in which she said she would often go through three to four HUNDRED sheets of paper in the course of writing one article, I don’t feel nearly so guilty.

The most important part of the system is writing the idea down. I have persuaded myself that as long as I write the idea down, I can always get my assistant (I’m getting one in 2014, right? Ha!) to file them as long as I include at the top what category the idea falls into. Just in case I have to be the one to wrangle these ideas, I do it anyway.

Except sometimes an idea really fits into multiple categories. Recently I ran across an idea that I classified as a blog post idea, children’s story, and blues song idea. I don’t generally write blues songs, but if someone needs some lyrics, evidently I have some just itching to be birthed. Sometime. The point is that when this happens, I really should write the idea multiple times and label it for each separate category.

You’re going to ask why I don’t just write these ideas and save them as separate computer files. I’ve tried. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t work for me. In this day of Dropbox (which I use all the time to back up my files), you’d think I’d have adequate access to my ideas no matter where I am.

Ah, but my ideas seldom come to me when I’m in front of a computer. They usually come to me when I’m reading, or driving, or running. Or watching TV or… If I waited to turn on the computer and write a new idea down, it could well be gone by the time I entered my password.

Also, looking at a list of ideas just overwhelms me. I prefer to flip through my ideas and see them one at a time. For one thing, it allows me to remember the circumstances in which I first wrote them, which usually makes me smile, and who doesn’t want a reason to smile?

I look at my list with a pen in hand. Here’s where having just one idea per page is very useful: I write down any ideas I have for that idea, maybe a rough outline, sources to contact, and markets for it, if any. That wouldn’t be possible if I had ten ideas per page. This way my ideas are more likely to be used.

About the paper: I use good ol’ spiral bound (Ugh, with those horrible leftover hangy things. Inelegant, I know.) notebooks. I have toyed with using a binder with paper in it, but it’s not as friendly — I like to fold the cover over and really get into contact with the paper as I write…it helps me empty the idea from my mind better. A binder creates a more formal distance and is not as tactile. Maybe it’s just me.

I have tried legal tablets, but alas, no holes, and I get so aggravated when I flip the page and can’t properly write on the top of the opposite side.

I have also tried beautiful journals, but they’re way too pretty to tear pages from, and they aren’t as conducive to writing my ideas as large as I like to. Those spiral bound notebooks really do have it all. 🙂

(By the way: That list of short story ideas on my wall? It works because they are all ideas for a single collection. Otherwise, forget about it!)

My challenge with this system is going back through and marking when I use an idea so that I don’t reuse it. It’s fine to reuse your ideas, but not for the same market. (Confession time: recently I went to submit a story to a publisher, only, thankfully, taking a moment to look at what else I had out on Submittable. Yup, I’d already sent the same story to this market four months before. At least I know I should be hearing back soon.)

Another downside to this method of organization is that you really do need to periodically go through your notebooks and place these papers into the appropriately labeled binders. Hey, here’s the beauty of creativity: just touching these papers and reading them can often jog more ideas. Which must be written down. Which must be filed. Arggh…! Here’s where I reveal the obvious: I despise filing things. I have three or four bags of papers ready to be filed into our household filing cabinet. I’ll get to it. Someday. But at least my ideas are different: none of them seems a burden. Each is like a gift from my mind or spirit to me, even those I think I will never ever use.

Do I think I will ever use all of my ideas? No way. Writing them down and saving them is just a way of honoring them and a way to amuse myself when I later look back and ask myself how I could have possibly thought that was a good idea. Yet maybe there really does need to be a musical written about Van Gogh. Joking…that doesn’t happen to be one of my ideas. Although, where’s my notebook?

The plus side of having so many ideas? If you ever find yourself fresh out of ideas, just give me a shout. I may not have great ideas (although at the time that I write them they are always “the best,”) but I certainly have enough to share.

How do you organize your writing (or other creative pursuits)? I’d love to know! I’m quite sure there are better and more effective systems out there. Wait, let me get my notebook first. There. Now, shoot.