Step One on How to Keep Writing with a Full Time Job (or with various other demands on your time): getting organised! Or even organized — whichever spelling you prefer. The process remains the same.
While I am a firm believer in the freedom of chaos in my life — and grateful to the powers of serendipity and synchronicity for so many things that have come to me! — one place I am organised is in my writing projects. But before I offer you my ‘rules’ let me emphasise one important thing:
Do what works for you.
I will tell you what works for me, but there’s no guarantee it will work for you (think of Eddy and her personal organiser). Use your own noggin: figure out why it works for me and if a somewhat different approach will be more fruitful for you.
This is an essential item because having goals and making plans all depend on deadlines to get them done. You have many calendars at hand: a desk calendar, your phone, your computer, Google, etc. Use them! I do use a lot of calendars. My work computer tells me when it’s time to go to class; I would never get there if it were not hectoring me! My Google calendar sends me reminders of weekly duties and upcoming deadlines; it also allows me to check the dates of things far in advance to make sure potential dates don’t conflict. I also have actual paper calendars on my desk (or wall) mostly printed from Calendars that Work. I like the visual cues they offer, especially seeing my month’s work flow (and making ample room for fun).
Even if you’re not interested in recording the day to day musings of your life, you need a journal to keep track of your writing progress. I love personal journals: I have mine from about the age of twelve and they are a treasure trove and an honest reminder of where I have been — and where I have come. If you want to see your progress in writing, you need to note it as you go along. Online or paper, public or private — it’s not really important as long as you have one.
This can take a variety of forms, too. You may just have a book-style journal, but it needs to be a different one from your journal. Your notebook is for keeping track of writing projects. You may want to have a virtual one and employ things like Evernote or a similar clipping service to bookmark useful things online and writer yourself notes. I do that, but the backbone of all my writing projects remains a yellow pad and a manila folder. Some come about after the fact: the first piece of some projects (yes, even novels) might be a hasty note on a scrap of paper or even a napkin. But once I know it’s going somewhere, it gets a folder of its own. It soon gets other hastily penned notes, maybe an outline, random bits of paper when other ideas come to me, photos or whatnot, but that’s where it begins. I even have an ‘ideas’ notebook: that’s actually a portfolio stuffed with bits of paper that may or may not become projects some day.
And that brings me to folders: not only folders for individual projects, but to organise your writing. It may seem easy at the start, but it will get more complicated quickly. Organise your computer files! It will keep you from pulling out your hair later. Each story may be a document, but if you make notes for it in a separate doc, make a folder! You will save yourself a lot of heartache if your folders are automatically backed up, too. Consider using Dropbox or Google Docs or Box to store your files so you have a copy on your main computer as well as the cloud. Have a hierarchy of folders: I have Stories, Plays, Humour and so forth, then sub folders for projects under each of those. In your email program, have a folder for Submissions to keep track of where you send things. Yes, it’s better to have a database to track them, but I admit to being utter crap at keeping up the database I used to have (I need minions!)
Lastly, you need space. It doesn’t have to be much, it doesn’t have to be formal. If you use a laptop, it may just be a chair or one end of your sofa. Virginia Woolf was right: a room of one’s own is the best thing. The reality is that can be difficult for most people, especially with a family. So work on a spot of your own to begin with and tell everyone that’s what it is. Put your folders and notebooks within easy reach. If you use a computer, make sure there’s a plug nearby.
All right, once you’re organised, we will move on to goals.