Putting these two things together feels as impossible as pineapple on pizza. A creative person needs no rules, boundaries or pesky lists. Organisation is about limiting yourself with goals and deadlines. They can’t possibly work together. The problem is, with all the deadlines for competitions and magazines, agent contacts and notes and the little ideas that pop into my head at random times, I found that I really needed a way to keep track of things.
My lack of organisation is a legend in my family. That September when, while we were in the throes of back-to-school panic, my mum found my lunch box stuffed in a corner somewhere, my six-week-old crusts having mutated into some new life form. How I made everyone late each morning as I’d daydreamed over my cereal instead of getting ready.
It’s still a struggle. My old housemate reminisced about all the mornings he would hear the door go two, three, four times as I came back to get the stuff I’d just realised I’d forgotten. Maybe creative people are more in need of organisational systems, to counteract the fact that an interesting thought leads to things being left in weird places (or is that just me?).
Here are some of the techniques I’ve used which have made it far easier to keep track of things. I’ve also included ideas on how to keep the positivity going, as it’s something that often gets forgotten but is just as important in keeping your creativity going.
I came across this last year and it is the most useful thing I have ever done. I’ve gone from having stuff on post-its, emails, texts to myself, to having everything in one book. You can find the full guide of how to do it here, but the basics are fairly straightforward. Make some ‘Index’ pages at the front. Chop a double-page spread into 12 and that’s the rest of the year sorted. Each month has two pages, and whatever else you use it for is up to you. Number the pages as you go, and fill in the index. Wonderful. I use it for upcoming deadlines, ideas, lists, tracking my period moods, notes on the book I’m reading. It means I can easily find ideas for my stories, reviews or blogs, and also remind me of the personal things I want to do (something silly every month, that series I need to watch etc.)
To focus on the positive, I’ve used a few ideas of my own. If I manage to do my ‘Morning Pages’ (three freewriting pages a day), I stick on a sparkly gem. It makes all the difference – seeing a month full of colours tells me I’ve been productive. Instead of just ticking things when done, I also put in smiley stickers or draw a happy picture. Sounds silly, but it adds to my sense of achievement and means the journal is a lovely, positive reminder of everything I’ve achieved.
This is a very recent discovery. While the journal covers most things, it doesn’t give me an easy place to put emails, articles or other things that I come across on my computer. This app is perfect for that. I’m quite new to it, but at the moment I’ve created separate ‘notebooks’ for different things I tend to want to save online (recipes, submissions, advice, reading) and then I just pop the pages in. I can also forward emails to it, add stuff on my phone and even do voice memos (which I don’t because I hate hearing my voice). It’s very handy and much quicker than categorising emails in browsers. You can find more information here.
I started using these seriously a couple of years ago. I am signed up to so many useful, interesting email lists (try Sian Meades for freelance opportunities, Electric Lit for interesting reading and Dear Damsels for brilliant women’s writing). The problem is, I end up with a stupid amount of emails to trawl through every time I have something to submit. So I decided to separate them out into categories and compile them in a spreadsheet. Google means I can do that from any computer; very convenient. I have tabs for where to pitch my books, my short stories, my non-fiction, and then an ‘other’ tab which has things like writing residencies and bursaries. I can easily flick back through it and add the deadlines I want to submit to that month to my journal. It also means I’m forced to look at the deadlines carefully and decide which fit best with my writing.
However, the most rewarding tab on my ‘Submissions’ spreadsheet is the first. It’s called ‘Success.’ I went back and wrote down every single place I have managed to get something published. It was such a lovely experience. It’s the first thing I see when I open that sheet and it really helps with my motivation and positivity.
I really hope this is useful and please let me know if any of this works for you. If you have your own tips for organising a creative life, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch via the contact page or @sarahtinsley uk
Thanks for reading,