Filing, filing, filing

I’ve spent the week cleaning out my files.  This was the result of reading a book called Organizing Solutions for People with AHDH.  I’m not AHDH, but I am right-brained, so there are some similar organizational challenges.  Filing has been a particular headache because it always seems so overly complex, and honestly, the last thing I want to do is spend a lot of time on it.

The book focuses on simplifying filing, and also getting rid of what I don’t need.  That’s where I’ve been—going through what I do have and purging.  I’ve had horror stories with filing, so much so that at one point I purchased a filing system.

The system was color coded and worked pretty good, but over time, I began to find it overly complex.  Instead of using it, I started to pile because that was easier.

I’m cleaning out those piles now.  And hitting the folders in that filing system, and in most cases, getting rid of it.

I’m also finding old documents buried in the files, like receipts from 2004.  Yeah, it’s about time I got rid of that.

It’s been surprising to see how easy it’s been to accumulate papers because I might need them one day or I wasn’t sure what to save.  I was reading some message board posts the other day about someone taking very detailed notes from a conference so he could refer back them, and I found a file folder of notes from workshops I’d taken 3 years ago and never touched.

Sometimes it’s best not to let it get in there in the first place.

Organizing vs. Organizing

I just saw another one of those posts where an outliner writer tried to describe a pantser (person who doesn’t outline), and ended up making it sound like the pantser was terribly disorganized because they didn’t outline. It’s nothing new actually, but it hit me differently this time.

It was on organizing itself, where there’s about the same response to people who are creative and messy. Organization tends to be associated with being neat, though that’s not a qualification of being organized. Yet, if you travel the organization sites, a lot of them pound their fist and say that being messy is a sign of disorganization.

Whereas, for anyone creative, the process functions in a very different way.

When I was in the Army, I got a lot of this from my squad leader. I never quite understood it at the time; I knew where everything was, and I was working on it besides. And it didn’t help that HIS desk was disorganized and messy. What was he complaining about?

I even had another sergeant hover—actually hover—over my shoulder while I was cleaning up two supply drawers, then go back and “straighten” everything out after I was finished. Like I hadn’t done it right.


So I came out of the Army thinking I was horribly disorganized. Every time I tried to organize in the “proper” way, I would lose everything.

One day, a coworker in my civilian job admired how organized I was. I was flabbergasted!

The perception is like the outliner seeing the pantser: They can’t see how it can work the way it does, so it must be wrong.

I’ve been looking at organization these last few weeks because it’s the end of the year, and also because I do need to look at things from the perspective of starting my own publishing business eventually. Honestly, it’s best to do it now while it doesn’t count, then learn how at the wrong time. And I still see how much all the advice that I’ve heard over the years that doesn’t work for me gets into how I do things.

Things I’m trying for working out my process:

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Most systems get pretty complicated pretty fast. I’ve found over the years that too many digital subfolders means I have to remember where things go, and sometimes I don’t always remember the same thing later on. The result has been that essentially stuff gets into an “inbox” and never comes out. I created an info dump digital file, renaming individual files and dropping them in there. Only files currently being worked on stay elsewhere. I’ve been amazed at how much old stuff I was storing with current stuff. And also how much disappeared behind layers of subfolders.

Top Drawer Current; Bottom Drawer Last Year.

Bookkeeping files are hard to save because you’re always going to have more past files than current ones. For the creative person, they become part of the big picture, rather than the logical sequential order of things. Moving the older files to the bottom drawer keeps them available but out of sight, and out of mind.

Separate folders for bookkeeping years

About five years ago, I bought a system called Filing Solutions, which works great. It’s prelabeled files so it was easy to set up. The one flaw is there’s one folder for, say, all the phone bills. Because everything was in one file, all the years got mixed together. It took quite a while to make sure I got all the old records that needed to be shredded, because I had to touch everything. I separated them by year in the bottom drawer, so next year, I can just pull one folder.

10 Stories in 10 Weeks Update

This next story was a time travel story, which was for a specific call. When I got the idea, I thought it was going to a particular type of story, kind of nice and feel good.

Then, as I started it, I stopped to read the guidelines and thought that I needed to get time in up front. So I typed the first sentence, and it was a different story.

So the other one can also be a story as well …

Learning Thing: Writing science fiction and time travel. I typically write more fantasy, but I want to venture into science fiction. That’s a muscle I’m going to work again.

The Why of Organizing Writing Files

My post last week triggered some interesting comments on organizing, so I thought I would address some of the major reasons of WHY.

Why #1

I’ve always just created a folder, slapped some name on it, then saved files to the folder. I wasn’t always careful about naming the files or the folders because I was always rushing off to do something else. So sometimes the file names didn’t make much sense to me later.

Then there was the Doc1 files, where I just saved the default …

Then there was the novel project …

I was trying one of those Write Your Book in 30 Days, which had all these different worksheets for each week, and it was a lot. I tried naming them the best I could, and I was trying to save backups of my writing files as well. I ended up with at least fifty files in one folder, and it was a like a visual clutter to me. Even though they were dated and sorted that way, I had trouble finding the last thing I worked on because there was too much chaos.

Then I’d need something from an older version that I’d taken out — but because of how inconsistently I’d named them and from the visual clutter of all of them, I had trouble finding what I was looking for!

So an Z – Old Files Folder preserves the files, but controls how much I have to wade through on a daily basis.

Why #2

In December, my computer failed. I’d done some backups of the story material on flash drives, but I hadn’t backed all my documents up.

I thought I could use what I had.

I was missing two stories. They somehow didn’t make it over from the other computer.

I continued to make flash drive backups of my current computer.

A third story has disappeared.

So I paid to have the hard drive recovered. On my new computer, I have 2K of files. With the additional files, it went to 6K. I also found that I hadn’t lost three stories — it was four, plus one poem. I had short stories in three different main folders. The four were all in a folder that never made it into the backups. The poem was called “wra.” The name even looked like it wasn’t anything important. I only found it because I opened the file to see what it was.

I almost deleted it unopened.

I’m also finding duplicates, caused because I wasn’t consistent in what I named the files. Couldn’t find the file, so I recreated it. Instead, I had 2, 3, or even 4 files.

I’m also finding files where the context was needed to understand the file name, and the context is no longer there.

But the real reason is that I shouldn’t be making more work for myself when I write, or when I do something else on my computer. It’s easy to think that the name isn’t that important, but I’m having to spend a lot of time figuring out what the files are, which should have been unnecessary.

Organizing the Writing Files

Most of the time when I Google organizing + Writing, I get a lot of articles and posts on outlining. So not what I’m looking for.

Writing, by its very nature, is paperwork. Like:

  • The story itself
  • Other versions of the story (i.e., drafts, publisher wants it in rich text format, etc.)
  • Correspondence (i.e., submission letters, rejection letters, general correspondence)
  • Contracts

And there’s even more.

It’s also easy to lose paperwork, especially if it’s not labeled correctly.

Because of space limitations, I want to do electronic filing. But what I’ve found out there on organizing isn’t very good. Most of them seem to be left-brained, very terse and with generic one word titles like “Docs.”

I can’t find stuff in folders like that!

I can’t even figure out where to put stuff with folders like that!

So the way everyone says really doesn’t work for me. The result I’m trying to figure out what does work for me because I really need to.

Goal #1

It should really obvious where a file should go. At one of the places where I worked, they redesigned a shared folder structure based on a senior boss’ email. The problem was that person had organized the system with those very terse words, like Meetings, Reports, and Presentations. If you’ve been to meetings, you know that the contents of said meeting could fit in all three folders!

Goal #2

Another goal is to take the time to make sure that what I name both the folders and the files makes sense to me. That’s been a problem at work where I’ve often just saved a file with someone else’s name and that doesn’t always reflect what I know about the document.

On the writing side, I just simply don’t always take the time to name them properly.

Goal #3

Find files without mining through files that are not relevant. Some files do become out of date, but still need to be saved.

Naming Stories

So what I’m trying to do is spell out the full name of the short story. Just normal spaces. None of this lines for spaces nonsense (and I know some programmer out there is horrified). When I read, I hop form word to word. The space is a natural hopping spot. With lines, no hopping. It looks like one word to me. So:

Name of Story

But I also have different versions of the file. I might send it to this magazine, who wants it in .doc format as opposed to .docx. Or another magazine wants no contact information on the manuscript at all. So:

Name of Story vDOC

Name of Story vNO INFO

That way, if I run into another magazine that has the same requirements, I can simply reuse it. (My old method was to delete the extra file, which makes more work for me). The “v” means version.

Files like rejections look like this:

04-08-2015 – Rejection – Publication name – Name of Story

Naming the Folders

The short story folders are in a folder called “# Short Stories.” The number sign is so that the folder will pop into a particular order. In this case, I can’t control the folders other programs install in the Documents file, so this forces a different sort order.

Inside, the short stories are organized simply by their name. In the folder title, it’s the name first, then genre, and subgenre. If I don’t have that on the folder, I won’t necessarily know what genre the story fits. I currently have 39 active stories, so they can really run together.

I thought about breaking it down into genre subfolders, but that started to get more complicated and increased the risk of not being able to find a store because it got stuck in the wrong folder.

The format looks something like this:

Stain of Ghost – Fantasy – Steampunk

Inside the folder, there are more folders, because there can be lots of files. So far, what I have:

  • Submission Versions – This is where I put all the different versions for submitting stories. I just make these up as I need them, so it’s not automatic that I create one without any identifying information or a .DOC file.
  • Record of Submissions – Submission letters, rejection emails, acceptance emails. I also saved the User Agreement on a site I submitted to and saved it here as part of the submission.
  • Contracts – For any contracts associated with the story.
  • Research Notes – Any notes I did for the story.
  • Old Files – That folder gets named Z – Old Files, so it falls to the end of the folder structure. Pretty much, it can be anything that’s not current. I want to be ruthless with this one because it’s really easy to get a bunch of old files in the main folders that I now have to search through to find current file. Just like at work. If I submit a leave slip, once the leave is over, it’s an old file.

I still have to think about what’s going to work for me for the more generic paperwork — author biographies, author bibliography, that kind of stuff.

What’s your filing system like?

there’s Organizing my way and the army’s way

A to Z Challenge Badge
A to Z Challenge Participant

For several years after I got out of the army, I thought was terribly disorganized.  I was messy and tended to pile things.  In fact, if you look at any site on organizing, these are both often touted as a sign of disorganization.  “File it, don’t pile,” they will say, often accompanied by a stern lecture and disbelief that anything can be found.

It’s hard because people will look at messiness and think that you’re disorganized and not productive. It’s also true that I’ve seen people who are messy and disorganized like the person with stacks of paper three feet high covering the entire desk and the floor. That was enough to make me queasy!

But in the army, they took the organizing to new levels. Some of it is because of what the army’s mission is: War. There are things that you have to do in order because that might cause an accident, or worse. Maintaining discipline helps with the chaos that war turns into.

But it was worse for the barracks soldier. If you had a spouse or kids, or both, you lived off post in your own home. Once you left work, you could organize whatever way you wanted. The barracks soldier had to keep her room ready for inspection at all times, and some parts had to be a certain way. We had silly rules like you couldn’t put a magazine on a table top, or if you had a pack of cigarettes (not that I smoked), it couldn’t be out. Everything had to be put away, always.

I need to see stuff as part of how I do things. Like I’m working on this A to Z post, and I have a pile on which there’s a calendar so I can see what day to post it. I also have a story I need to critique and that’s in the pile, too. If I put the story in a drawer in a file cabinet to be neat, I’ll forgot entirely because filing means it’s done and I don’t need to touch it again for a long time. Out of sight is really out of mind.

In the barracks, we had this three drawer chest that was probably about the size of a nightstand.  It was serviceable but ugly (curiously, I could not find a picture of it online.  Maybe that’s a clue on the ugliness!).  But I did find a picture of what it is was supposed to look inside.  We had a diagram of how it was supposed to look and it had to follow that at all times.  I ended up have a set of all this stuff for that chest, and then a separate set of stuff that I actually used because it was so hard to get it exactly to inspection standards.  That made it terrible for the limited storage because I was having to buy two of everything.  Though I did get sneaky.  I discovered that if the drawer looked neat on the top, with all the clothes nicely folded, they didn’t look to see if there was chaos underneath.

Oh, yes, I was a bad soldier.

On the work side, since I was in an office, my squad leader was always getting on me about how my desk looked, and I kept thinking, “But how am I supposed to work?” I also had this one sergeant who would follow behind me and rearrange supplies because he wasn’t happy with how they looked. Oooh-kaaaay …

Looking back on it now, I often like I couldn’t be me, really, anywhere. This was such an issue that when I was able to finally move into an apartment, I went almost entirely in the opposite direction and exploded with messiness. I ended up having to bring it back more to the center and understand how I needed to organize.

So it was quite a shock after I got out of the army and a coworker told me she envied my organization skills. Organized? Me? When I’m so messy? So it’s been an evolving experience away from what the army taught me to what really does work for me.

Next up will be “the Practicality of the army uniform” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.

A Right-Brained Experiment with Getting Things Done

In my time management travels, I dabbled a bit with Getting Things Done.  I suppose I had to, because it’s a system that a lot of people talked about.  I’ve been trying to get a handle on my time management because I would like to write full time as a fiction writer, and it’s best to do it now.  I’ve also looked at FlyLady (that was scary!), Julie Morgenstern (who gave me the impression that, “Yes, I know people organize differently, but do it my way”), Autofocus (extremely demoralizing) and a bunch of others that largely said the same thing.

One of the basic problems, I think, is that GTD was written 20 years ago.  The world’s changed a lot.  Email and technology has exploded.  I don’t know about other places, but where I work, having the ease of editing a presentation is NOT a time saver.  People will tweak it to death, all the way up until the last five minutes before it’s given.

There’s also an assumption that the person using the system has a stable schedule.  The culture at my work is the fire hose.  Nearly everything is an emergency because people wait so long to do something that it turns into one.  I try to control what I can, but a lot of is out of my hands.  I cannot schedule more than 2 hours ahead because it is so bad.  Try doing a weekly review on a regular basis with a stream of emergencies.

The third assumption is that everyone is a manager and works on a big project or multiple projects.  This is a source of aggravation for nearly every time management system because they assume everyone’s a manager (hello out there, time management gurus.  You do realize there are employees, right?  We’re the ones you’re telling the the managers to delegate to).

The other area I have trouble with is that it’s not really friendly for really creative right-brained people.  I found this on Asian Efficiency, which fits my reaction to the system:

GTD is not written for you and me. It’s written for “left brained” people who already posses strong level of structure in their lives, and GTD adds them another layer of power and control in their decision making process.

Lists are evil things for most of us creative types.  I don’t even use one to grocery shop, because I invariably don’t get everything on the list, forgot items on the list, and overspend because I’m using the list.  The fastest way I can lose anything important is to put it on a long list.  I don’t even keep my submission records on a spreadsheet because it’s too easy for me to lose track of them.  

Creativity is also a funny animal.  It seems silly to me to put on a list somewhere, “Write Scene 4.”  Maybe my muse wants to write Scene 10 instead.  Maybe it wants to write Scenes 4-8.  I’m a pantser.  I follow the flow of the story.  All I truthfully need to know on the creative side is that this story has a deadline.

The result was that Getting Things Done got a resounding, “Not for me.”

Tracking Ideas and Inspirations for the Chaos Writer

I’m playing catch up this week — I was at Capclave, a sci fi con in Maryland this weekend.  Now I get all the stuff I didn’t do over the weekend.  I swear, I think Saturday and Sunday is when I run all my errands.  I’ll write a post about Capclave later on.  Meanwhile, back at the Capitol …

One of my writing goals for the quarter is structure.  Not structure like story structure, but outside structure, like organizing papers.  I grew up in a very disorganized house where things were stacked and we only cleaned up when we lost something.  The army was the opposite of that, but their organization never made much sense to me, so when I got out, it was like I exploded back in the other direction again.

But my writing is chaos, but when I let it spread to outside mundane things, it creates disorganization and more chaos that ultimately makes more work for me — and makes it harder to write.  So my goal is focused on finding things that work for me.

The first of these structure things is what to do with ideas.  When I started writing, I kept everything in a pocket notebook that I could carry around me.  Sometimes they ended up on scraps of paper.  Soon they began to breed …

Then they got lost.

Eventually, I turned the notebooks up and was amazed at how many notebooks I had with only a handful of ideas that I had never used stored inside.  Some were more than 20 years old!  So I evolved out of not recording anything because I figured I’d remember it if it was a good idea.

But it’s left me scrambling sometimes when it comes to short story ideas.

So right now, I’m experimenting with using a three-ring binder.  One idea per page, and date it to give it an expiration.  If I’m inspired by a newspaper article, I write the inspiration, not save the whole article.  We’ll see how this works out.

How do you store/track your ideas?

Linda Adams, Soldier Storyteller


Starting November 5, I will doing a month-long session on Forward Motion on “Basic Training of Military Culture.”  The lesson plan for the course is posted here.

Check out my article Balancing Writing and Blogging on Vision: A Resource for Writers.  It deals with the pesky issue of time management so that blogging doesn’t interfere with writing.

And for a little Halloween fun, a very short story about the House of Green Cats on IO9.


Natalie Markey talks about her first day in Saudi Arabia as a non-Saudi Arabian.  I remember when I saw my first Saudi Arabian women.  They reacted as if I were a strange alien creature.

Being Right-Brained and the Math Horror Zone

The first time I realized I was right-brained was a few years ago.  I’d picked up a book called Organizing for Your Brain Type. As I was reading, I suddenly realized, “OMG!  It’s me!  This is me!”  It was explanation of why all the things that worked so well for everyone else didn’t work for me.

Math was one of those things.  Right-brained people are holistic thinkers and very creative.  It takes a huge mental shift to think sequentially and be logical.  My first experience with this was a 2nd grade math class.  I was called up to the chalkboard to figure out a math problem.  Evidently I was taking too long, and the teacher spanked me in front of the class.  Can I hide now?

I got by in later classes, I think, because I memorized a lot, and I could watch for patterns.  I was still a poor student when it came to any kind of math.  Fractions and division were particular confusing.

But what got me was algebra.  It was required in high school, so I had to take it.  The teacher goes to the chalkboard and scrawls out something like X + 7 = 15, then starts dashing off formulas rapid fire.  I was still stuck on what the heck X meant.  Then the teacher assigned us homework.  I took it home, and it was, “What do I do with this?”

So I asked my father, who is a math guru.  He showed me how to do the formulas.  My brain started to hurt from all of the logic.  It took a long time to get the work done, and was mentally exhausting.  But I checked my answers against the back of the book.  Yay!  I’d gotten all of them right.

The homework came back from the teacher with a big, ugly 0 at the top and slashes through every problem.  I never did better than that.  The teacher couldn’t be bothered to tell me what I was doing wrong, so I got a D for the final grade.  I looked down at that D and wished that it had reflected all the tremendous effort I’d done.  I worked harder than all the other students and yet, had nothing to show for it.  I walked out of that class without learning anything new and hating math.

School days are always a horror for kids, something Buffy the Vampire Slayer took advantage of.  Have you traversed the minefield in school and survived to tell the tale?  Share it, so I can feel like I’m not alone in the Math Horror Zone.