Thursday, February 21, 2013

Purging the Dreaded File Cabinet

So a couple of months ago, I was irritatingly smug about cleaning my desk. Cleaning my desk was an excellent thing, truly, but the thing is, only a few feet away lurked...

The Dreaded File Cabinet. <insert "da-da-doom" creepy sound effect here>

You see, I bought this very lovely file cabinet for my office, lo these several years ago.  Problem: rail guides in top drawer did not allow for hanging file folders, because they were not drilled in the right place. The drawer itself glided in and out beautifully, but not anything inside the drawer.

So, because I couldn't use hanging file folders in it, I simply piled old notebooks and manila folders and three ring binders and wire-bound notebooks and paperclipped copies of critiqued short stories that I needed to edit and magazines on writing and all kinds of crap into the top drawer. And because it just felt wrong to make the bottom drawer my "working" drawer, I simply filed various bullshit in the second drawer, like my sixth grade report card and travel brochures for the Kern River.

Just FYI, one of my earliest novels still retains the pin-fed paper guides on each side.

In a working human body, you consume food, and excrete waste. If you don't get rid of the crap, you will reach a point where you not only feel terrible, but can't function.

My writing had become constipated.

Time for a high colonic.

I realized that the issue of the top rails not functioning was not a Decree from on High. I could, in fact, drill new holes and move the rails, so that they worked. I was a little nervous, because I was sure  I was gonna drill right through and mess up the aesthetic front of the cabinet, but I - didn't.

Woo-hoo, me! *swaggers and blows sawdust off drill bit* Look out, Builder Bob, there's a new carpenter in... No, not really. I just got lucky.

So I made an Office Depot run (does anyone else squee whenever you are forced to make a trip to an office supply store?) and bought box-bottom hanging file folders, and set up a section for each novel. Outline/synopsis, research docs, character studies, working drafts. Query Letter. Rejections folder. Book Contracts (none yet, but I'm keepin' hope alive).

I had been collecting tidbits about locations, from NoHo to the RenFaire to Griffith Park and had already set up file folders containing notes, magazine articles, etc. about each one. I moved those to the front, since I might will want to use them for more than one novel.

A full 25% of my top file drawer is now set aside for short stories, on most of which I need to actually review the crit notes and revise. And now I can.

My Hoard of Great (but ancient) Writers' Magazines? Bye-bye.

In theory, I was planning to go through each magazine, xerox the best articles, and put them into a three-ring binder, neatly organized with tabs. In reality? Ain't happened in the last 20 years, ain't gonna happen.

But I did keep about 50 really, really good articles, both from traditional magazines, and the 'Net, that I thought were worth revisiting. Here's how I organized them.  

Section One:

  • Genre Glossary (from Dystopian to Steampunk to Magical Realism to Cozy Mystery)
  • Outlining
  • Synopses
  • On Learning/Writing Style (Visual, Auditory, Tactile)
  • Characters (main)
  • Characters (secondary)
  • POV (Point of View)
  • Staying Motivated/Writers' Block
  • Craft Exercises
  • Vocabulary and Cliches, Duplicate Phrases
All my great articles, mid-organization
(My writing style is to figure out everything out about my characters, first, down to whether they're a fan of broccoli or not, and worry about plot later. You may go at it in the opposite direction: plot first, characters second. )

Section Two
  • Plotting
  • Dialogue & Dialogue Tags
  • Openings Pages
  • Hooks
  • Ending Pages
  • When to Tell, When to Show
  • Common Problems
  • Writing Humor 
  • Writing Romance
  • On Prologues
  • Editing

Section Three
  • On Writers Groups
  • On Agents (Why You do/don't want one, How to tell a good one)
  • Queries
  • Pitching
  • Market Research
  • On Rejection
  • Book Proposals
  • Publishing Contracts 
  • On Self-Publishing
All the articles neatly organized. Yeah, file folders!

My plan is that now that my articles are in an order that makes sense to me, it will be easier to review the pieces I need when I get stuck in some area, or to quickly add a new article I love. I still think a three-ring notebook would be a great idea, in theory...

Scribbling 'R Us

 I tend to jot down notes on whatever notebook I am carrying around with me at the time. And, of course, I continually bought lots and lots of new notebooks, because you can really only record fresh new ideas in a fresh new notebook.

If there was any actual value to a barely consumed wire-bound notebook, I would now be rich. But what I have done is tear out all those nuggets of what I thought were brilliant ideas *snort* and put them in one file folder, to be gone through... soon. While the notebooks are now freed up for new ideas, as I have become less finicky about only using virgin notebooks in my old age prime of life.

Oh, dear sweet sentimental youth, I found a wire-bound notebook with a carousel horse on the cover.

Not that there's anything wrong with carousel horses. Or dolphins. Or big-eyed teddy bears.

It's just that I'm not 17 anymore.

I have also noticed that my handwriting has vastly changed over the years, morphing from "Tortured-curlique" to "Screw-it- I-have-better-things-to-do" style.

Good thing I have a heavy-duty shredder.

Aaah. I feel relieved.

Cleansed, even.

And I didn't even need to spray air freshener.

True, it did take most of the day (though I feared it would take even longer than that). I still have to look at all my scribbled notes - you never know, might be gold in them thar hills!

I also found a recipe I'd been looking for. Seeing as it involves major quantities of shredded hash browns and cheese, this may not be a good thing.

My hands are beat all to hell - deep paper/file folder cuts, shallow cuts, dry and ashy.

The cat went to bed without me.

But I have a deep sense of satisfaction. And a couple dozen half-fresh notebooks ready to record new ideas.

I'm starting with the carousel horse one.

When was the last time you purged a file cabinet?
Did you find anything surprising there?
Do you keep articles on writing? Any tips on organizing them?