Be a Better Writer: Get Organized

Be a Better Writer: Get Organized

The organization of our offices, desks, and computers isn’t just for neatniks. Every writer can learn to write better and more efficiently by putting a little extra time into cleaning up. If we can spend less time trying to find our favorite pen or our notes on one of our minor characters, we’ll be able to spend more time actually writing.

Organization always comes down to personal style. One person’s slobfest is another person’s I-know-exactly-where-everything-is. Some of us need a little clutter to help us feel comfortable in our workspaces; some of us need everything squared away, so we can think better. How you organize isn’t so important as just doing it. Following are a few tips I’ve found useful in keeping my writing life organized and myself on track to write that next novel.

Organizing Your Desk

Let’s start big and work our way down to the small stuff.

Whether your desk is your bed, your kitchen table, or (wonder of wonders!) an actual desk, the important thing is putting and keeping your stuff in places that are both memorable and convenient.

Tip: Make use of space savers, such as mail racks and drawer organizers.

Tip: Big drawers are often just hidden messes, so optimize them by dividing them into smaller, more specific niches. I use metal bookends to divide my drawers into smaller subdivisions. Pens go in front, iPod/Pad/Kindle/phone cords in the middle, little-used odds and ends in the back.

Tip: If you use a laptop, you may want to prop it up on a kitchen cooling rack to help prevent overheating. This offers the extra benefit of more desk space. I keep my day planner, notepad, favorite pen, and chocolate bowl underneath the laptop.

Tip: Consider your pen jar: I keep one black pen, one blue pen,one red pen, one pencil, one highlighter of each color, and one pair of scissors. When I’m finished using them, they always go straight back into the jar. Extras go in the drawer until the ones in the jar need to be replaced.

Organizing Your Library

Whether or not you separate your writing resource books from your reading library, you’ll want to keep your books in good order, so you can always find what you’re looking for.

Tip: I keep all my writing resource books within arm’s reach.Dictionary, thesaurus, baby (aka character) name books, and various encyclopedias are the only books I keep on my desk. But my main bookcase in also in the same room, so if I need to reference a novel, all I have to do is get up and take a few steps.

Tip: I admit to organizing my resource library by size, for the sake of aesthetics. But my larger library is organized alphabetically by author last name and separated into categories (fiction, writing how-to, history,etc.).

Organizing Your Computer

In our mad rush to spring clean our houses, we can sometimes overlook the one place where we actually spend the most time: the computer. If you haven’t sorted through your files lately, make time to look through every nook and cranny of your computer.

Tip: Delete files you no longer need (but make sure you really don’t need them!) and organize the files that remain into sensible categories.

Tip: I like to keep my computer as clean looking as possible,which means organizing files into the smallest number of folders. However, I also want to save time by not making myself click through numerous subfolders before I finally get to the one I want.

Tip: Always take a few extra seconds to properly title all files.In the long run, you’ll save yourself lots of time and frustration by titling that latest document Dreamlander Rewrite 12-1-11 rather than this one copy 15.

Organizing Your Browser

While you’re elbow deep in computer dust, take another minute to sort through your browser’s bookmarks and add-ons.

Tip: I make extensive use of folders and subfolders in my bookmarks.Tip: Every few years, I go through all the bookmarks and delete any links that are dead or no longer useful to me.

Tip: I reserve my bookmarks bar for sites I visit frequently.

Tip: Again, make sure you title everything as sensibly as possible. If you won’t be able to tell what a bookmarked site is at a glance, you’ll probably never use it anyway.

Organizing Your Writing

You can find any number of handy software programs to help you keep your writing as organized as possible.

Tip: Scrivener is the industry leader. It allows me to organize all my story notes by scene and chapter, among other handy things. Nothing I’ve found beats Scrivener for keeping my notes in order and my mind focused on my story—instead of my messy writing folder.

Tell me your opinion: What is your best organizational tip?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Really useful, since chaos always make working impossible. So better to keep it straight from the start.

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