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It Gets Easier When You're A Bit Of A Tool (Enthusiast).
Being a successful writer is challenging. It requires high-flying values like organization, vigilance, commitment, and persistence. Are you getting nervous yet? All these big words aside, there are also plenty of down-to-earth, day-to-day experiences that fill the life of a writer.
Experiences like never being able to find a pen when you need one, accidentally using the wrong color to schedule something in your overly-aesthetic productivity-optimized planner, or finding a typo in your Kindle Ebook after you've completely formatted and published the whole novel! What fun!
Good news, my materialistic friends - life gets easier when you start out with the right stuff. Literally, stuff. As in items that help you out.
I'm going to share the tools I use to stay organized, functional, and (mostly) stress free while pursuing my writing goals - hopefully they spark some ideas of your own!
The Pen (And Journals, And Planners, And...) Is Mightier Than The Sword.
Are you organized? If this question alone makes you sweat nervously, you probably need some help in this arena. Really, do you know of a writer who doesn't need help getting organized? If you do, get me their number. I want to call them up and call them a liar.
There are a few basic things that I, the official conductor of the Organization Struggle Train, use to hide and handle my shame when it comes to being a hot mess.
1. A Planner. Duh.
Yeah, this one is pretty non-negotiable. Planners are life-changing, if you use them right - but most people don't use them right. They don't really even use them, period. Checking every once in a while to see if you have a doctor's appointment, or spending 2 days in a determined yet short-lived organizational frenzy once in a while, doesn't count!
The steps of proper planner selection are as follows: do your research and self-exploration, write down what you need, want, and don't need in a planner, then spend a dedicated amount of time choosing one that is a good fit for you (I use this Smart Planner due to its versatility regarding both time and goal management). I wrote a more in-depth post about this on my other blog, Bougie on a Budget - check it out.
Essentially, you need a planner, and you need to treat your planner seriously. Check in with it for at least ten minutes a day, and use it for everything - but especially for writing. Divide the types of writing you do and schedule time for each category. Break your writing down into steps and schedule those, too, with a deadline to guide you. Trust me, you will be shocked at how much this helps you with time management and creative overwhelm.
Laura Iancu has a helpful guide for choosing and using a planner that works for you on their company blog, and there are plenty of other great resources to help you with this process!
2. A Goal-Tracker.
This is very lifestyle-bloggy of me to include, but I make no apologies. This sh*t works, okay? You may think you know what your goals are, but do you actually know how to break them into useable strategies? It's not like they teach this (or anything else inherently useful) in grade school. Most of us need a little help.
Goal trackers come in many forms. You can track using an app such as Strides or Toodledo (or about a million others), a journal (I like the layout of this Evrim Goal Journal), or individual pages to add to an existing planner or binder (my mom dragged me onto the Franklin Covey fan wagon on this one).
Writing is pretty much just a form of constant goal-setting, both for the long and short term. As you gain experience and become more successful (which you will, if you keep going), you'll start to balance more and more projects. It's all too easy to go flying right out of your routines and into the vast, uncharted wilderness of Hot Mess, USA, so I strongly believe that it is vital to have a way to track your overall strategies and goals as you progress.
3. A (Writing Specific) Calendar.
Is this excessive? Only possibly. Has it helped me? Hell yes! I suppose you could also have a writing-specific planner, but having more than one planner tends to get out of hand. A small to medium-sized calendar that you can glance at is more helpful to the general writing-oriented population, in my experience.
This calendar should not be a boring, normal calendar - don't just use one of the millions you have sent to your house by eager non-profits. I know, I know...the World Wildlife Fund does have some amazing conservation-themed baby-animal options, but they're simply too basic.
An erasable calendar is one of the better options, in my opinion, but plenty of people prefer a goal or habit-based calendar, specifically. I am ordering a paper one from Free Period Press in order to test it out, but it really comes down to personal preference. The basic principle is that your Writing Calendar needs to be set up in a way that allows you to keep your process in an organized visual format.
The Holy of Holies (AKA Tools For Your Writing Workspace).
The things you keep in your writing space(s) are going to influence you whether you notice them or not. Being specific about what you keep in your where is not only a good habit to keep clutter down, but it also helps you to be a more productive professional.
Most of us are working out of home offices, so this also impacts your house as a whole. Don't be that author that ends up on an episode of Hoarders. It's not a good look. To help you avoid that fate, here's what I use to keep my workspace #aesthetic and functional on a daily basis.
1. The Magic of Gel Pens.
Don't laugh. Well, okay, I won't actually know if you are laughing at me, but hear me out. I. Love. Gel Pens. They legitimately take my productivity and planning skills from 0-100 every time I use them, and it's not just me.
Pens are such a hot topic that there is legitimately a whole host of Pen Enthusiast Societies. People are serious as hell about their pens. And as it turns out, whole communities of people agree that using colored gel pens makes them more productive and motivated! There are a lot of blogs and gel-pen blog posts dedicated solely to this topic. It is wild.
Honestly, I wish I had some fancy studies to link to proving that I'm not crazy for being this obsessed with gel pens, but I guess no one has realized just how vital it is to fund such a study. Get with the program, NIMH. Seriously, though...just try it. Something about color coding your outlines, planner, calendar, and literally every other part of your life is just primally satisfying. It gets my mind going.
There are plenty of cheap gel pen sets out there. Just pick the amount and type you think will work best and go to town! I've gone through a whole host of brands, and I have a few top choices. The TANMIT 33-pen set is consistently the cheapest, most enjoyable option I have found. The reviews are filled with people losing their damn minds over these things, and that's the kind of energy we need in 2020.
2. Journals. So Many Journals.
Just kidding - most of us already have an excessive number of vaguely-labeled "writing journals" and we need to be stopped. Still, having a small selection of beautiful, well-chosen journals can be a mood booster, at the very least. A lot of writers simply don't work well unless they utilize a writing journal for planning, scene-writing, research, etc.
They key here is to be specific about the journals you use. Choose one that suits you mentally, visually, and organizationally. None of this willy-nilly, serial journal philandering I see out there. Pick a reasonably sized harem and stick to it! One notebook per novel manuscript or one per project-type (research articles, blog posts, etc) should be more than adequate.
Journal Lust is a real thing, and it can blow your bank account to smithereens in the space of an afternoon if you let it run rampant. Pick a good number of journals or notebooks to limit yourself to and stick to it. When people give you extras as gifts, store them where they aren't visible until you're done with the ones you already have. Or, better yet, just donate them!
Did I completely hypocritically order a new journal as I typed that paragraph? Yes. Yes I did.
Keeping in mind the aesthetic, layout, and versatility you need, pick journals that really speak to you as an individual. These notebooks are powerful tools when used effectively. Whether you prefer classic and simple designs or something more modern and varied, like the Star Right Bullet Journal (which comes with pens and other helpful tools), you're bound to find more options than you know what to do with.
3. Stickers. And No, I'm Not Five Years Old.
Look, if you think you can look me in the eye and tell me you don't feel a visceral, childlike spark of joy when you see a fresh page of stickers, you are a dirty, stinking liar. It's human nature.
Stickers are also pretty helpful for keeping yourself on track and categorizing your work. You can use them in your journals, on your calendars, as labels for various writing-supply drawers, and in all sorts of other places. Essentially they are just visual reminders and idea-sparkers that are cheap and easy to use.
Using stickers is also just...well, fun. And shouldn't the whole writing process be fun? Even the administrative parts? You deserve some color and joy every day, and little sticky images of fruits and rainbows are a fail-proof way to get both of these things into your life.
Again, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Stickers, like gel pens, have whole communities that just go apesh*t about them. I'm all for it. I found a helpful guide to using stickers for organization purposes on the Eric Condren blog, and there are seriously hundreds of other posts and resources on this topic out there.
Disclaimer: I am, in fact, addicted to roaming organization-themed blogs and retailer sites, and boy is it a dangerous game. Just say no to their evil, horribly effective marketing skills, guys. And for God's sake, stay out of the Container Store if you can't afford to buy fifty different bins for your gel pen collection.
4. The Occult Powers Of A Writing Whiteboard.
Oh, I am a fan of whiteboards. The squeaky sound of colored markers on a slick, shiny surface gets my inspiration fired up in ways I don't fully understand. I just look at my whiteboard, and I'm already setting out plot transitions and character profiles at warp speed.
Big or small, mounted or mobile, the power of a whiteboard is not to be underestimated. I mentioned the mystical abilities I gain by plotting my novels using one of these babies in a previous post, but that's not all they're good for.
I use my whiteboard to work through problems, outline posts, divide plot points, link scenes, and more. The sweet, chemical smell of my writing process is one of my favorite things, and it could be a ritual that helps you, too. Whiteboards come in so many shapes and sizes, you can find one to fit any workspace. I have one large and one small sized board that I use separately or in tandem.
In Conclusion...It's Okay To Be A Materialist (Sometimes).
But only sometimes. There's a fine line between "a set of helpful tools" and "utter, life-destroying chaos." Do I toe that line? Definitely. Do I cross it? No.
The fact of the matter is that writing, as a process and a career, has a lot of moving parts. It is a very time-consuming, energy-consuming passion to have, and to succeed at it you generally need to have a set of dependable methods to get your work done. The right tools can make that much, much easier.
A lot of these tools can be made or found for free using online resources or by raiding the junk-collections of friends. Posting on writing groups to begin an exchange could also help you to find the tools you need without spending money. Creativity is our specialty, right? So use that mind of yours to find solutions within your parameters!
What are your favorite writing tools and tips? Share them with the Words of a Feather community in the comments! Thanks for reading, and see you soon!