Friday, September 6, 2013

Overcoming Hot Mess Status So You Can Write Stuff

I used to be a hot mess.

I'd go to pull out my sweater boots from my closet and find one mysteriously AWOL, even though they hadn't seen the light of day since last fall. (Still haven't found that second boot, by the way.) I'd never know which bills were due when, whose birthday party I was supposed to attend that coming weekend, and I'd have to call the doctor's office about three times before my appointment because I couldn't remember when I'd scheduled it. And I'd lost the convenient little reminder card they give you.

Disaster to the millionth degree.

It was also around this time that I decided to start writing seriously, and by seriously I mean everyday and with the intent of publishing my work. So, you know, adding in a few hours of creative work everyday was super helpful in my organization process.

I did this for a few years, and it never seemed like I could find balance. I'd write my heart out for a few weeks, and then look up from the end of a draft and notice that I had, like, no clean underwear. So then I'd do all the cleaning/laundry/organizing for a few weeks, and zero writing (but at least I had clean underwear). Rinse and repeat. It was...exhausting.

That's about the time I figured out this is an ass-backwards way of going about a creative kind of life. (Hey, I never said I was quick to catch on.)

I think that some people have this pre-programmed stereotype that organization and creativity are mutually exclusive. I mean, I know when I think of a writer or artist, I see them sitting at a desk littered with crumpled papers and half-empty Chinese cartons, angsting over a deadline in the middle of the night. But it totally doesn't have to be that way.

Creative people can also be organized people. And, dare I say, probably should be organized people. 

Because here's the thing: our brains are pretty messy, and that's a good thing. When thoughts about epigenetics and pterodactyls and leftover cheesecake are rolling around in there, our brains have a chance to make connections between ideas that shouldn't really go together. And voila! A shiny new idea is born. But how can you relax and let the magic happen if you can't find a matching pair of socks, or you're constantly dodging the curveballs you keep throwing at yourself because you forgot about your kid's bake sale that's tomorrow and you have to cut your writing time to make freaking cookies at 1 AM?

Here are my binders. I know, I have a problem.
So do me a favor, okay? Take some time to get yourself together. Let go of the stereotype that creative people are disorganized disasters and put a system into place that will run smoothly, even without your constant attention. In my house, I'm the Binder Queen. In my cleaning binder, I keep a checklist of chores that need to get done daily, another for weekly, and another for monthly. And, because I have a bit of a chart-making problem, I also include obnoxiously specific instructions for each major chore, and a list of a cleaning supplies needed for that chore. You know why I'm that crazy? So that when I crawl into my writing cave at the end of the day, any of the other people in my house can (and do!) crack open that binder, check things off, and most importantly, don't have to ask me questions. About anything. I don't have to interrupt a kick-ass revising session to show someone which cleaner to use on the tub. It's already in there. Now leave me alone.

In my cooking binder, I keep grocery lists, a weekly and monthly meal plan, and a plan for my son's lunches. I also keep a calendar of special occasions coming up where I might be expected to make something. This act alone usually keeps the random trips to the grocery story in the middle of the week at bay, so that I can just do it all one time, once a week, and not waste any precious writing time running to get something stupid like a stick of butter so I can make those 1 AM bake sale cookies.

The finance binder is mostly just weekly and monthly budgets and receipt trackers, but I've recently included a section of every single password for every single website I've ever used since the beginning of time. Once again, this is so that everyone will leave me alone. You want to order something from the Amazon Prime account? Good for you. Just go find that binder, check the budget for the week, and then look up the password yourself. And don't bother me. Please.

I'm not going to lie, making all of this stuff was a pretty Herculean task at first. But once it's done, it's done, and all you have to do is maintain the binders once in awhile. Not only has this system saved my sanity, but also oodles of time. Honestly. After my kid goes to bed, I can escape and write for a few hours every night if I want. Hell, I can even read something for fun sometimes. I know, I know, a dream, right?

If you're interested in making your own organization system, a good place to get started is with Clean Mama Printables on Etsy. She makes all these handy-dandy organization kits for everything you can imagine. They're pretty cheap, and you can instantly download (and modify!) them. I've used them before and love them.

And remember, binders are a writer's best friend. xo.

Andrea Hannah is a YA writer represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider. She writes stories about criminals, crazy people, and creatures that may or may not exist. When she's not writing, Andrea teaches special education, runs, spends time with her family, and tries to figure out a way to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (still unsuccessful). Oh, and she tweets a bajillion times a day, mostly about inappropriate things. 

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3 secret replies:

  1. Binders are a great way to stay organized! :D I keep cute Post Its on a few places around the house, especially my computer, to stay organized.

  2. Whoa, that's awesome! And a really great idea. Right now I wallpaper my desk with post its.

  3. Oh wow. I really need to start doing this. Like immediately.