Monday, June 29, 2009

The Organized Writer: Cleaning Out My Word Files

An organized space is an organized life is an organized mind.

I’m moving along in my quest to organize my life. I’m proud to say my hotmail and yahoo Inboxes are nicely cleaned. I still have a way to go on my main email account, but I’m working on it. But unfortunately, I’ve got more work to do.

My Word files are kind of a mess. I’ve got unneeded files, old edits, and just plain junk clogging up my harddrive. I have files that should be placed in folders for easy retrieval. This would save me from having to search constantly for files. To date, I haven’t taken the time to clean and organize. The time has definitely come.

Here are some tips on organizing Word files that I’ve picked up:
Figure out what to save and what to pitch. The things that are important to save are up to the individual user. But there are a couple of rules of thumb. Sally McGhee writes in “7 Tips for Managing Files” that files are much like clothing. If you haven’t worn an article of clothing in the last year, you probably never will. Same with Word documents. If you haven't used a file in a year, you probably won't. And do you really need a folder with 300 jokes?

Give your files unique and easily recognizable names. For an author, a file name is usually the name of novel or short story being worked on. But sometimes there are many components with the same name. For instance, I will have a synopsis for each novel, sometimes more than one (long and short versions). I’ll have query letter letters as well. For my published works, I have Author Fact Sheets, covers, advance reading copies, blurbs, excerpts, reviews, etc. Some articles suggested using abbreviations, as long as they make sense to you. So for example, if I wanted to group together everything I have for my published book “Her Best Man”, I could name things in the following way: HBM/AuthorFactSheet, HBM/Cover, HBM/Excerpt, and so on. Then I could take all of files and move on to the next tip.

Use folders and sub-folders for organization. Aside from a sub-folder containing blogs, I currently have everything lumped into a folder called “My Work”. Things need to be separated for easy retrieval because right now I have to go through the whole mess to find what I’m looking for. So each novel is going to receive its own folder, and everything associated with that novel will be filed there. Most articles I read say it’s probably best to stop at sub-sub-folders. If you need more than 3 folders, rethink your organizational method.

Set up Active and Archive folders. This is a tip I wish I would have read about a long time ago. In the Active folder, store only those files that you are currently working on. In the Archive folder, store files that are completed. This way you’re not wading through old information to get to your current project. In my case, I would file the folder containing all my information on “Her Best Man” in my Archive folder. I’m not working on it, but I still need quick access to these files because I am actively promoting the book. For files that you still want to keep, but you no longer need quick access to, consider taking them off your computer completely. Store on an external harddrive or burn to a CD. Make sure they are labelled appropriately. For more information on setting up an archive folder, check out this website.

Set Your Software To Save Files In Correct Location. After you have created your folders and subfolders, go into your software settings to have the programs automatically save files to the correct new folders. For instance, you can set Microsoft Word to automatically save documents to your “My Documents” folder and your browser to automatically save downloads to your “My Downloads” folder.

Back Up Your Computer. After you organize all your folders, make sure to do a backup of your Documents or My Documents folder. Not only will this save your files, but will preserve your new structure in case your computer crashes. For more on backing up your computer, check out Tip Dude’s Top Ten Tips – Backing Up Your Computer

Keep On Top Of Your File Organization. After all this work, you don’t want to let your files pile up again. Stay on top of your files and make sure they go in the correct folders or subfolders. You may want to do this daily, weekly, bi-monthly or even monthly. Unfortunately, this is usually where I go off the rails. Sigh.

Are your Word files lined up in precision or do they lounge in mass disorganization on your harddrive? Do your Word files get out of hand or do you immediately find a folder for it? What’s your best organizational tip for keeping emails, Word files or paper clutter in check?


Helena said...

Jana, you have put me to shame today, but thank you so much for all the good ideas on how to get organised.

The best advice I was ever given, and so I'll pass it on: Handle each item ONCE, deciding what to do with it when it initally reaches you. This applied at the time to paper, but is also a good approach for any kind of 'document' received. I try to do this, but have to confess I usually fail miserably.

My librarian instincts tell me to try to set up a system for keeping track of Word docs ahead of time. Then you just have to save into your system, but circumstances can change. For instance, when I was writing pieces as assignments for courses, I saved them to a folder for each course. But later, when I re-worked the same pieces I wanted them either in files by genre or, as you recommended, by individual titles, then sub-folders for drafts, query letters, etc.

It seems never-ending, but if done regularly becomes a habit.

Thanks for the link to Tip Dude. Very useful! Especially with reference to backing up files which I was beginning to get very nervous about a while back.

Also thank you for setting such a good example. I admire your persistence. Good post today!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
Well, I'm trying to be organized. Definitely not there yet.

My husband loaded a new motherboard onto my desktop computer and all my files were wiped out. Well, not really wiped out. They were in my backup file, which is now in a different drive on the computer. I consider that my "archive" file. But it does mean that I start with a clean slate in my "active file". I'm trying to keep it as organized as possible.

I've kind of been obsessed lately with organization. Organization is something I strive for but never quite reach. It definitely is not in my personality to be organized, but it really bothers me that I'm not. Not sure if that makes any sense, but sadly that's the way I am.


Karyn Good said...

I do use folders but the folders themselves can get pretty crowded. I'm not particularly organized but could be considered a little bit organized. I've lots of room for improvement and will be referring to your link, 7 Tips for Managing Files. It's seems like a daunting task but one that is worth tackling. sigh.

Silver James said...

Buying a new computer helps. I had to sort through all the files on my old hard drive and figure out how/where to save to CD. With the new one, I'm only adding back the documents I need RIGHT NOW and making sure they are set up in their own folders.

I hadn't thought of using a subfolder for drafts, especially after a WIP is finished.

One suggestion I've picked up from agents and editors. When you safe your final, especially if you are submitting online queries? Use the same form of name for your attachments, for instance:


I'm trying to train myself to do that now so I don't have to scramble if I get a request. And this helps with the agent/editor's organization on the other end. Whatever we can do to make it easier for them gets points for use!

Captain Hook said...

We already know that I'm anal-retentive in the organization arena, so I'll just say that I love spreadsheets for organizing.

I have all the folders and subfolders, etc. But what I also have is only one doc that is not in a folder. It's a spreadsheet that lists every doc I have and where it is located and when the last time I worked on it was. I find it very useful.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, you really are making headway, eh.

It took my computer crashing for me to come up with a lot of the things you've mentioned. My laptop is so much more organized now that I know what I want and what I use often. I guess it just takes experience and time as well.

Thanks, Jana. Great post.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
Organization is a daunting task, especially when I've gone without it for so long. Clearing up months (years?) of messy files is a pain.

But I think the time saving is worth it. Sally McGhee, in "5 beliefs that keep you from being productive" says that you can save up to 2 hours a day by having systems in place for handling emails and files. Thats two hours extra for writing.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Silver,
I have to admit it is something of a relief that I "lost" my files and that they are now in a separate drive. I'm trying very hard to keep my current Word files as organized as possible. But I still need to go back into my archive files and weed out some of the junk.

Good tip about naming files. I also read a tip that said to name your Word files and your files in your Inbox the same whenever possible. So I've got files in Word and my Inbox called Guest Blogger Info, Promotions, and a couple of others.

You said you're trying to train yourself so you don't have to scramble. That's the whole thing isn't it? I find I'm often scrambling and searching for files, email messages etc. wastes time.

Thanks for your input.

Jana Richards said...

Oh Captain. If only I were as organized as you! You are my organizational hero! Great tip about your spreadsheet.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
There's nothing like a computer crash to make you see the error of your ways.

I'm making headway, but I still have a long way to go. Paper is starting to creep back onto my desk. For me, battling clutter in my workspace and my computer is an ongoing struggle.

I forgot to acknowledge Helena's tip about only handling paper once. That is the best way to keep paper from piling up on your desk. The thing is you've got to have a plan in place so that when a piece of paper comes into your house, you immediately know what to do with it. What throws me off with paper and with emails is indecision. And indecision leads to clutter.


Suse said...

Hey Jana,

Thanks for the good tips about organizing files. I do have folders for each of the books or short stories that I write. I save them to my desktop as well as to a flash drive. However, I also have a folder called Writing Reference Articles that I've saved many an article that I think I might need in the future. It'll probably come down to the fact that some I haven't read or looked at them in a year. Will I still need them? Who knows because I don't have time to look at the articles to see what's even there. I might be considered a pack rack of reference articles.

I've organized my emails now into folders so that part of my life is at least more organized.

Even though I'm not at work for the next couple of weeks, I have a feeling that I'll be spending my time cleaning up my piles (books, magazines, fabrics, bills - you name it). I hope your summer will be more interesting.

Janet C. said...

Ah, what I wouldn't give to be organized right now. Oh, well, I do plan on implementing some of the suggestions from your post and from the links when I get back up and running.

Captain - spreadsheets - I'm intrigued. I do a spreadsheet for my query letters to track when, where, what I sent out for submissions, But on my other work - I just might look into that.

Great post, Jana - and good luck with the organizational sweep going on in your life right now.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Suse,
So glad to see you here!

I started a file similar to your Writing Reference Articles file. The trouble with a file like that is that it can get out of hand, and soon you have so much stuff in there you can't find anything. Perhaps if it were divided into sub-folders for the different kinds of topics?

Glad you got your email organized. You're doing better then me.

Hope you have a great summer. Happy organizing. Drop by and see us again.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I know what moving like. It's hard work, it's stressful, it's exhausting. My husband and I have done our share of moving over the years and now we're helping others. Last September I helped by oldest daughter move to Toronto and this past May I helped my mom move from her apartment into a seniors' residence. So I totally feel for you and know what you're going through.

Spreadsheets are great ways to keep track of information. I use them at work all the time. Unfortunately I'm sure I'd probably lose the file or forget where I put it.