As I am nearing the end of my revising process before sending my poetry collection to my editorial and formatting team, I am trying to decide what to do next. Should I work on another poetry collection? Should I tackle the novel idea I started during NaNoWriMo? Should I do another journal-writing focus by continuing to create art journals? Should I do all three now that I am no longer home educating? That’s about the time I start to question whether I should be writing at all when I still have to declutter my basement.
Which then led to another question. How should I declutter my writing ideas so that I am focusing my writing in the best way?
That’s when I remembered the decluttering techniques in Real Life Organizing: Clean and Clutter-Free in 15 Minutes a Day by Cassandra Aarssen. This is a great book if you want to figure out what type of organizer you are. Aarssen characterizes the four types of organizers as Butterflies, Crickets, Ladybugs, and Bees. I will highlight how these types function as organizers (with some help from MBTI) and how each might benefit from organizing writing ideas in a similar way a clutter spot in the home might function better.
- Butterflies are visual, artistic, and creative. They most likely have a Perceiving-P in their MBTI alphabet. It’s easy for butterflies to put off sorting of any kind because of visual overwhelm (where to start?!) and being concerned about putting something away and never finding it again. I can see how this could happen with writing ideas, too. If an idea isn’t visibly accessible because it gets buried under other ideas, it might be important to have that idea in plain sight.
- Bulletin Boards: Try using a visible list of writing ideas using 3×5 notecards. (I would suggest Post-It notes, but they tend to fall off as the adhesive wears out or when the humidity is high.) Once an idea turns into a tangible project, move the notecard to the project column. Once the card is complete, remove it from the board. And throw it away! No need to keep that 3×5 card once you have used that idea and cause more clutter! (I’m guessing there is a virtual bulletin board app for those who want a paperless option.)
- Sorting Bins: If you have more ideas than would fit on bulletin board, you might want to try labeled bins. You don’t have to invest a lot of money in bins for this either. Use those old shoeboxes! They can even be decorated (with or without labels) and stacked in a room without anyone knowing their true function. Designate the boxes as Yes, No, and Maybe.
- Yes: These are the ideas that you are ready to explore and start working on soon.
- No: These are ideas that started out in the Yes or Maybe box but have lost their luster, and you are (almost) certain that you no longer want to pursue them. You can keep these ideas in the No box for a while, but remember that throwing out these ideas is the purpose of this box. Empty it the way you need to empty the trash.
- Maybe: These are any and all ideas that you may want to write about, but not right now. When this box is overflowing, decide if those ideas belong in the Yes or No box. Or maybe they stay Maybes. That’s okay as long as the ideas can be contained for future use.
- Crickets are methodical, perfectionist list-makers who have neat piles of important papers. They are J’s on some level. The piles are what get in the way of a Cricket’s ideal work environment, so here are some suggestions.
- Go Paperless: If you can organize ideas on a computer or phone app, do it! Color-code them for added fun.
- Vertical File: If you have to have paper lists, try using a vertical file with labels or color-coding based on importance.
- Invest in a Planner (Paper or Paperless): List-makers love to check off items on their lists. Set goals for your ideas and prioritize them into levels of importance. A monthly goal check-in is a great way to check-off ideas that are working, maybe working, or not-at-all working. Planners are also great for organizing the rest of life, so that writing remains a priority.
- Ladybugs are “surface-tidy,” “hidey-hoarders.” Ladybugs are Feeling types. Writing ideas will not be visible on the surface of anything in the home, but they might get jammed in a junk drawer. Here are some ways to avoid those ideas scribbled on cafe napkins, grocery receipts, and church bulletins from getting stuck behind the drawer.
- Drawer Sorting Systems: Use small bin organizers or shallow boxes to sort ideas into Yes, No, or Maybe categories. When the boxes are overflowing so that they can’t be topped with a lid or the drawer can’t be closed, it’s time to sort those ideas.
- Binders: Placing ideas in color-coded folders or dividers to indicate Yes, No, and Maybe within a three-ring binder or separate binder for Yes, No, and Maybe are other options. You might not need a No binder if you have a trashcan handy. When a binder gets too full to close, it’s time to sort!
- Idea Notebook: Use a small memo notebook to jot down ideas whenever they come to you. And anything you have written down on a scrap of paper. Keep a notebook in the junk drawer, the glove box, and your purse or backpack. Color-code with highlighters the ideas that are a Yes or a Maybe. Be sure to work on those Yes ideas! When a notebook is full, circle the ones to keep and cross-out the ones to delete. Start a fresh notebook listing the circled keep items. Highlight with Yes or Maybe. You can keep those notebooks. But, toss out those napkins unless you plan to use them for an art journal page.
- Bees are multi-project hobbyists and collectors. They put the “T” in Thinking. They work, work, work as they play, play, play. Here are some ways to get all those new projects done and make time for the old ones.
- Rule of Three: Have only three writing projects at a time.
- Set Priorities: Which one of those writing projects is the most important? Always start with that one first and complete a goal (word count, chapter, etc.) before moving on to the next project.
- Purge and Avoid the Something-New Urge: Because Bees have more ideas than the average writer, no box, bin, or binder is big enough. Make a list for each project. But, only one list per project and only three projects. Work through the lists one priority at a time. Rewrite the lists daily or weekly to keep the to-do’s ready to do. The next big idea will be there when you need it. Your mind is big enough to hold it. Keep it there until your current big three are done.
If you have read through these types of organizers, but more than one way of organizing ideas fits you as a writer, try a method and see if it works. That’s one reason why I didn’t delineate which organizing types are Intuitives (N) and which are Sensing (S) types. Our S-N part of our personalities is how we process. Organizing is a process and how we do it depends on whether we perceive details (S) or possibilities (N) more or less. I didn’t bring in Extraversion and Introversion either. That’s because the E’s will get together and talk about how to organize writing ideas in a coffee shop or an online group while the I’s will want to be alone to do it on their own (or read what the online group says, but refrain from commenting). I realize I am generalizing. So, maybe this will help.
If you walked into my office, you would probably guess by my vertical file and my neat piles that include my planner, my writing journals, and a few important papers that I am a Cricket. But, you might find it curious that the files aren’t full. That’s because I am a Ladybug who jams papers that need to be filed or scanned into my desk drawer. I can also be a bit of a Bee at times, so I do tend follow the Rule of Three to prevent my Cricket-Ladybug sides from getting overwhelmed by my mental collection of ideas.
I love Butterflies, and I have been blessed to be married to one and have raised two. (One claims to be a lazy cricket.) I am blessed to be the Cricket in their lives (and I try to refrain from chirping too much). But, my Ladybug side is my true writing personality. If I buzz, I’m usually buzzing in my own ear to sit down and get busy writing for at least fifteen minutes a day. (Another reason why I appreciate Aarssen’s book is for its subtitle.)
In all likelihood, one of these types fits you as a writer more than another. But, it is possible that none of them do. If you are already an organized writer who finishes one project at the time and doesn’t struggle with clutter (of any kind) in general, then congratulations. You are a Dragonfly. You might have found this post interesting, but it doesn’t apply to you. You can be the one to teach the rest of us and give us something to aspire to be.
So, if I have inspired you, brainstorm and organize your way. But, don’t aspire to be me. I am most certainly not a Dragonfly. I have far too many books and pens and journals. Not to mention empty files and a paper-jammed drawer. Did I mention my basement?