Striving to be a Tidy Writer

This week I have tidying on my mind.

Yes, I’ve been watching Marie Kondo’s new Netflix show about getting organized and eliminating belongings that don’t “spark joy.” It’s definitely inspired me to start going through my things one drawer or cabinet at a time. I’m not sure I have this whole “spark joy” thing down yet, but there is something extremely calming about bringing order to chaos.

As I’ve been tidying up my house, I’ve become more conscious of the disorganization in my writing space and process.  I like things to be neat, but I settle for “not a complete wreck” more often than I should. Without a degree of order, I’m distracted. So, in honor of this newfound, and undoubtedly ephemeral, love for tidying up, I’ve been thinking of ways to “tidy up” when it comes to writing.

Tidying my workspace

I struggle to focus when my desk is messy, and boy, was my desk messy just a few weeks ago. With a new baby, many things were just moved out of the way and piled in the room I’m using as my office. This, coupled with an influx of belongings that my parents had so generously been storing at their house, left the office a complete mess.

During my maternity leave, I wrote in whatever room my baby had fallen asleep, but with my return to work looming, I wanted to get everything organized so I could get back into a daily routine. Or at least clear off enough space on my desk to set my computer down. There was a great deal of sorting, but after a few cleaning sessions, my desk reappeared from underneath a mountain of papers and clothes. It still needs a little work, but tidying is an ongoing process.


Tidying my thoughts

After tidying some of the physical spaces in my house, I began to think about applying the concept of “tidying” to my writing more literally. For me, this meant purposefully committing to strategies I have employed in the past, like taking the time to organize my thoughts at the beginning of a writing session. A few minutes of prep work pay off in focus and flow. I like to reread the last paragraph or two to step back into the scene. I also read any notes I left myself about where I was going next and jot down some ideas about where the scene is headed. If I tidy up my thoughts, my writing session goes more smoothly.

Tidying my ideas

This may sound like the same thing as tidying thoughts, but it’s not.

Everything should have a home, and this includes story notes, or what would constitute a “story bible.” This includes character descriptions, planned arcs, setting notes, world maps, the master outline, and more. As of right now, I don’t have anything like this. I have some of these things digitally, but I never seem to consult my digital notes. My handwritten notes are everywhere–on notecards, pads of paper, even the occasional receipt. I have no system, and as I get deeper into my series, it’s taking its toll on me. I’m relying on my memory, and it costs me time and energy to go back and check where things are in the timeline or what the weather was. There were so many versions of my outline for my current project that I wasn’t sure which was the actual final.

This is one of my major goals going forward as a writer: create an accessible and logical system for important book/series information.

I think something physical, maybe a binder, is the way to go here. A section for character info, timelines, settings, as well as my overall outline for a story. If you have a brilliant method for keeping track of these things, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


Tidying up is a daunting task.

There are many, many more hours of sorting, folding, and arranging in my immediate future. Tidying is a long-term commitment. It takes effort to keep things tidy, and sometimes the mess creeps back in. Still, it seems to me like the perfect metaphor for writing. Putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) imposes the order of a story on the chaos of those ideas bouncing around in my head. Whether it’s a drawer full of perfectly folded socks or a completed chapter, there’s a true satisfaction in getting organized.


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