To my regular readers: Though today’s post is aimed primarily at aspiring writers, keep reading! You might find an interesting tip or two that will help you keep your office or paperwork tidy. And be sure to come back next week, when we continue our ongoing series of Q&A’s with other authors about housekeeping.
If you’re new here: You must be wondering why today’s link for the ACFW blog tour has brought you to a website about cleaning. That’s because I’m an author of both fiction and nonfiction and it just so happens that one of the classes I’ll be teaching at the conference, Tracking the Details, relates well to both writing and housekeeping.
Allow Me to Explain...
When my first book came out about 10 years ago, it was #1 in a series of 5. Though each book focused on a different mystery, the characters were the same throughout, with an overriding romantic storyline that arced across all five books.
Because I was new at this business of writing, it didn’t dawn on me right away the sorts of problems I would begin to encounter as my series progressed. Namely, I never thought to make notes about any of the details of my characters—hair and eye color, street names, what they called their grandparents, etc.—assuming I would be able to keep all of that minutia stored in my brain. Yeah, right. By the third book in that series, I found that I was wasting at least an hour a day combing through books #1 and 2 in search of previously-established facts both mundane (the name of my main character’s high school) and significant (the kind of car driven by my love interest.) By the 4th book, the whole process had become even more time-consuming. By the 5th, well, let’s just say if I could have all of that time back I could watch every episode of all eight seasons of 24.
Though I knew I would be sad to tell these characters goodbye, my main emotion upon finishing the final book in the series was relief. Never again would I have to flip back and forth through previous releases in search of the name of the neighbor’s poodle!
When I started on my next series, I was determined to find a better way to track all of those stupid details as I went. There were many different systems to choose from—file-based, spreadsheet-based, notebook-based, charts, etc.—that figuring out which one was best wasn’t easy. In the end, the most important truth I learned was this: Whether you’re writing a standalone book or a series of a hundred, you must establish a system for tracking details but it must be a system that works with your brain.
If you’ve read my book The House That Cleans Itself or have spent any time on this blog, you know that my whole message is about finding the systems that aren’t necessarily the “best” but rather those that are best for you, that work best with your own natural inclinations.
Narrowing it Down
That’s why I always begin this particular lecture with a simple test, one that I created to help my students figure out which type of brains they have. You may be a “horizontal thinker,” a “digital creator,” a “tactile maintainer,” or something else, but figuring out which one you are is the first, best step in establishing a detail-tracking system that will work for you.
Once you know that, we discuss the various types of details that need tracking (hint: there are more than you think) and then we cover the specifics of the various systems available, indicating which systems work best for each brain type.
It’s a lot packed into an hour, but every time I teach this particular class, the feedback is incredibly enthusiastic—not because I’m something special or that I have unveiled some miracle plan that no one has ever thought of before, but simply because my students have begun thinking about the many ways they can work with their brains rather than against them to get their details—and maybe even their lives—in better order.
A Killer Quote
For example, here’s a quote that I love to share whenever I teach this class, because as I do I can see the “lights” turning on inside certain heads across the room:
“When I put something in a file, I never see it again. The problem isn't that I can't find it (although that has happened), but that I don't look. I am constitutionally incapable of opening a filing cabinet and fishing out a half-finished project to resume working on it.”Isn’t that great? That’s me to a “T”, which can make this business of being a writer a very messy process indeed. After 14 books, I think that without my detail-tracking systems, my office—and my brain—would’ve exploded by now!
—John Perry, A Plea for the Horizontally Organized
The Perfect Desk
Whether you’re a writer or not, I hope you’ll take some time to think about the various systems you use (or don’t use, for that matter) to track the details in your life. Are you an out-of-sight-out-of-mind sort of person? If so, then I urge you to find ways to keep things more “visible” around your home. Use clear storage containers, never opaque or cardboard. Hang bulletin boards where you’ll see them, but also where you can conceal them when you want to, for example on the insides of cabinet doors.
One of my favorite tools is my glass-over-wood desktop, pictured here as it looks in the store:
and here as it looks in my office, in full use:
I got it at IKEA a few years ago and have found it to be the perfect solution for my needs. When I’m working on a book, I can cover my desk with character lists and timelines and house plans and more, but because this information goes under the glass, it’s always there and always handy but without getting in my way. When I’m not working on a book, I’ll use that space for other important items, such as to do lists, computer keyboard shortcuts, calendar printouts, eyeglasses, etc.
Don’t Miss This Conference!
If you are a writer, I can think of a hundred different reasons you should come to the ACFW conference (whether you’re interested in my particular lecture or not, lol.) I sincerely hope that you’ll come and take advantage of this amazing event and all that it has to offer. To learn more about it or to sign up, visit the ACFW website.
Thanks so much for stopping by my blog today. If you’d like to learn even more about how to turn your home into a House That Cleans Itself, be sure to come back again next time.
To my regular readers, I hope today’s post has inspired you to think about your own natural inclinations/shortcomings/strengths/thinking styles and how you should always keep these things in mind when applying systems throughout your home.