This week’s guest poster is the wonderful Devon Ellington, author of the Gwen Finnegan mysteries. As a full-time writer, organisation is important and in this post, she discusses her method for creative organisation.
Creatives often see or hear the word “organization” and it petrifies them. But there are ways to create (and “create” is the important part of it) organizational systems that work for you. That streamline your process.
That makes it easier for you to complete your creative work in a timely fashion, to have the different permutations that are the most standard requests, and to keep track of them. More submissions mean more likelihood of acceptance, which leads to more offers.
When you’re known as creative, talented, AND reliable, even more, offers come your way.
Writing is my passion and has been for many years. It’s also my profession. It’s how I keep a roof over my head. Writer’s block and disorganizations are luxuries I can’t afford.
I also teach writing and organization – making clear it is ONE way, not THE way – and have several Topic Workbooks published in different areas of organization and submission.
I start with a calendar.
A calendar on paper. Not an electronic calendar.
I have never had an electronic calendar that hasn’t failed me. Now, in the US, with the destruction of Net Neutrality, there’s no way I’d trust the cloud or anything else that I can’t hold in my hand.
Right now, I’m on a tight contract schedule with my novels. I’m also juggling several stage plays, radio plays, and a television pilot. Along with articles, blog posts, and the writing I do for clients.
I start with a BIG calendar. One of those desk blotter calendars.
The first entry I make for each project is the final deadline. Then I break down the project into smaller draft deadlines, figuring how many words/session I need to do, and enter them until I reach the start date.
For instance, with my books, the final deadline would be the release date. Working backwards would be the due date for galleys, for rounds of revisions, all the way back to the first draft.
In some cases, I have deadlines for outlines for the next book in the series. Since the first chapter of the next book is at the back of the current book, that has to be worked in, too.
Even when I write a book that’s not yet on contract, I set my own deadline, put it in the calendar, and work backwards. That keeps projects from slipping off the radar (although, with my current schedule, some had to be moved).
I like color. I’ve played with using different colors for different projects. I’ve played with using different colors for different stages of a project. I’ve played with using different colors for different types of projects. Each way has positives and negatives.
I find I change my color-use system every few years. Process evolves.
Because I juggle so many projects, I outline. The Writer’s Rough Outline allows me to drop immediately into the project wherever I am in it, when I have the time blocked out for it, and get to work. No blocks, no wondering what I meant to do next. I get in the trenches and dig.
My Writer’s Rough is a roadmap, not a prison. If the story takes me in a different direction, I go with it. For instance, my third Coventina Circle novel, RELICS & REQUIEM, deviated quite a bit from the outline. I kept my editor informed as it evolved, and it’s a better book for the evolution.
My Gwen Finnegan between-the-books novella, MYTH & INTERPRETATION, however, started to go too far off track, and was trying to become its own book and take too much focus off the series.
My editor helped me reign it in before I’d gotten so far into it that it would have been close to impossible to get out without dumping the book and starting over.
The Writer’s Rough Outline is different than an outline that goes out with a submission package. The Writer’s Rough is for me – only, now, that I have a series contract in place, do I share work that raw with my editor.
I work best early in the morning (or very late at night). The novel (or play or radio play) on the most immediate deadline is what I work on first. I do my first 1 – 2.5K of the day on that project after I feed the cats and do my yoga/meditation, but before anything else.
Once that’s done, I switch between other projects, depending on deadline and money. He who pays most and has the tightest deadline gets my next attention. I prefer to edit in the afternoons or evenings.
If I’m on a really tight deadline, I’ll have another writing session on the novel at night. If I’m juggling more than one novel on a tight deadline, I’ll work on one early and one late.
When there’s research, I keep my research materials for a particular project in a bin or a crate. That means if I’m driving to a residency or a retreat weekend – pick up the bin, and everything I need is there.
I have a vast nonfiction library – once a book is in galleys, I unpack the bin, filing papers, returning books to the shelves to find them for the next round. Choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about a similar process in her wonderful book THE CREATIVE HABIT.
For each series, I keep a series bible. Once the book is in galleys, I update the bible. While I’m writing the book, I create tracking sheets, to keep details consistent within the draft.
If there are unusual spellings in the book, I submit the list to my editor and copy editor, again for consistency. If it’s an inconsistency that would annoy me as a reader in someone else’s work, I try to avoid doing it on my own!
Preparing submissions is a different conversation, but the above gives an idea of different elements I’ve used to stay organized without destroying creativity. They feed each other.
Devon Ellington publishes under half a dozen names in fiction and nonfiction.
She is also an internationally-produced playwright and radio writer.
She worked backstage on Broadway and in film and television production for over twenty years.
TRACKING MEDUSA, the first Gwen Finnegan Mystery
Archaeologist Dr. Gwen Finnegan is on the hunt for her lover’s killer.
Historical researcher Justin Yates bumps into her, literally, on the steps of the New York Public Library, and comes to her aid when she’s attacked, sparking an attraction between them despite their age difference.
After avoiding a cadre of pursuers at the Met Museum, Gwen impulsively invites Justin to hop a plane with her to the UK.
The shy historian, frustrated with his failing relationship, jumps at the chance to join her on a real adventure.
That adventure takes them through Europe, chased by factions including Gwen’s ex-lover and nemesis Karl, as they try to unspool fact from fiction in a multi-generational obsession with a statue of the goddess Medusa.
Connect with Devon
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Big thanks to Devon for giving up her time to guest post on my blog and share her advice on being organised. Do check out her links and if you have any questions for Devon, leave them in the comments below.
I will be back tomorrow with a new blog post and if you aren’t already I’d love if you would follow this blog, so you get notified when new posts are uploaded 🙂