Sharing How I'm Building My New Writing System

It's flexible yet satisfying!

One of the positive things that's come out of the pandemic for me has been finding insight into what works and what doesn't for my organizational style. I've re-designing systems to work with the way I think instead of forcing the way I think to fit into an existing methodology. It's been making a huge difference in my productivity, but also my desire to write, beadweave, play my keyboard, read, and make art.

In my previous newsletter about apartment therapy I hinted at my preferences for organization. This is what I wound up doing for my art supplies a few months ago.

I separated out my supplies by type into a colorful set of drawers and attached chalk labels to them.

This new system has been amazing, because now I can find what I'm looking for. (I’ve always wanted an apothecary cabinet—turns out I need one with the ability to attach labels!) Now, I’m using the supplies more frequently instead of buying new stuff, and I’m noticing what I do use and don’t. These drawers have been such a tremendous help, I have been subconsciously building off of this system ever since to apply it to my writing.

When I was primarily writing narrative design, I didn't have a writing system. What I did have were notebooks, sticky notes, and random bits of paper that were interspersed with to-do lists, gaming notes, poetry, story ideas, etc. Basically, if I could find a piece of paper to "write down my thoughts", then that's what I did.

Over time, I’ve collected over forty journals in various sizes, stacks of used sticky notes, and other miscellany that I didn't catalog. That's just analog!

Going through them, I found quite a few poems, story ideas, novel notes, drafts, etc. that I either never did anything with or still can’t get out of my head. In some cases, I rewrote the same concept, because writing it down didn't fix my problem. Knowing that, I did try other systems in the past but few worked. I thought bullet journalling would help, but it turns out it really, really doesn't for me. "A" notebook is not realistic for how I work or live.

Without realizing it, I started developing a new writing system in the Fall building off of my art supplies re-organization. The first thing I did was to play around with Zoho Notebook for a few months. It's an app along the lines of Evernote, but instead of cards you have digital notebooks and colorful sticky notes that you can tag, group together, etc. Zoho Notebook allows you to color-coordinate, title, and arrange your notebooks in differet ways, too. I’ve also found the staff is helpful and open to ideas. Plus, the app syncs across multiple devices so I'm not confined to "a" physical notebook. Bonus!

By using this as my centralized system, I've got an up-to-the-minute app that works with me instead of me trying to force how I think into a different system. I'm more likely to have my phone on me, after all, than I am "a" notebook. Gotta keep it simple!

Building off of that, I recently went through all my notebooks, notes, and journals. And, I gotta be brutally honest with you: in the beginning, this process sucked ass. It was hard to comb through everything and type out my research notes, story ideas, drafts, poems, etc. Now that I'm three notebooks' worth of content away from being done, I'm so glad I did. It felt like I was taking out the junk for a storyteller’s spring cleaning.

After re-typing my notes into a file, my next step is stripping content. Either I copy them into my centralized system, mark it as another To Do, or cross it off because it’s no longer relevant. For example, one item that came out of this is to collate all of my poetry. Another, is to add a generic searchable genre tag #horror #sciencefiction #fantasy, etc. to my story ideas I've ported into Zoho Notes.

Now, I'm not going to get away from handwriting and, in many cases, it's really healthy for me to ruminate on paper. To faciliate that and prevent another journal-junk drawer disaster, I've dedicated two spaces. The first is a giant sticky notepad that sits next to my desk. The second, is to assign my notebooks to "subjects" as opposed to a "free-for-all" to avoid a chaotic blizzard of paper.

Here's an example: I assigned a notebook for my novellas and my post-pandemic bucket list.

Eventually, I'll want journals that are all the same size for archival purposes, but for now I'm working with what I already have on hand. Yay!

The reason why I wanted to share this, is because all to often I notice how much subtle pressure we feel trying to write a certain way or organize our lives. It takes time, energy, and effort to figure out what works, because you need headspace to understand that you’re not broken or wrong for doing things differently than anyone else—just like I’m not, either.

I don't know what's going to work for your writing or art, but for me? Having centralized, clearly-labeled, colorful systems that have the flexibility to change over time is positively impacting my productivity and is lowering my stress. (Much like how backup systems and online folder organization can evolve or change over time.) Unlike so many other de-clutter challenges, this is not a schedule-based or a decision-based system, mind you, it's a simple habit-forming one that isn't super strict or too flexible. And, because it’s somewhere in the middle, I’m finding it works regardless of what I'm working on. For me, systems need to be present, but also flexible.

Now that I’m almost done with this leg of the process, I'm excited to tackle my email to farm out those "story ideas" and put them in ONE system where I'm less likely to lose or forget about it.

How about you? Do you have a writing system? Have you thought about approaching writing as an overarcing system instead of a project-based process? Why or why not?

Please note: the Amazon affiliate links in this post give me a little kickback. Why? Unfortunately… Capitalism is the beast that feeds us. Thanks for reading!