To Move Forward you Need to Look Back

Warning-this post may involve some serious work on your part! LinkedIn and Twitter connections know that, in preparation for National Novel Writing Month, I recently made a serious attempt at cleaning my office. Fellow writers will understand that this is no easy endeavor. Those of us who make a career out of words and ideas do not tend to have conventional offices. Instead we have piles, scraps of paper with unintelligible notes scribbled on them, books with bent pages, receipts, photos, and newspaper clippings. You see, we just never know where a good story might come from so we take note of anything that sparks our curiosity!

My first step was to buy a document shredder at Staples. True confession-it was my first because initially I was too afraid to throw anything away in case I might need it later. This might be a writer’s biggest downfall-the inability to get rid of anything. We are idea hoarders! I firmly told myself that it was fine to shred anything that I had already saved on Dropbox, my hard drive, and a USB memory stick. That didn’t include any interviews-just a bunch of rough drafts.

Here’s a secret-shredding is very cathartic! As I piled up the papers to be noisily turned into paper confetti I actually felt relief, that I was moving onto the next stage of the college transfer book (production) and a sense of pride over how much work I’d put into it to get to this point.

Now that you could actually see a patch of carpet where the book papers had been piled, I took out a stack of empty binders in different colors and went about the arduous task of coming up with names for each binder so I could file all my loose documents in a way that would make sense to me later. Here’s a hint-when don’t try to use another persons system (especially a left-brainer's). It will be entirely too logical and will only lead to confusion and frustration on your part when you can’t put your hands on something you know you had a month ago.

I discovered that this was also a pleasing thing to do once I got into the swing of it. We always seem to have so much on our plates that we often feel overwhelmed-like we are on a hamster wheel-going nowhere fast. Finding (and shredding!) idea scraps that actually became published articles is a wonderful, gratifying feeling. And finding the ones that haven’t yet found a home is like getting reaquainted with an old friend. “Oh I forgot how much I liked you, how interesting you are,” I’d say out loud (talking to yourself is one of the perks of working at home!) And some things I found I had lost interest in so into the trash can they went.

After two days of pretty intense organizing, I breathed a sigh of relief. Today is the first day of November and I can start with a fresh page, I thought confidently. Then my eye fell on a large container stuffed with papers in it that I had somehow missed. I sighed. But I had bigger fish to fry. The box would have to keep until next year…

Have you signed up for NaNoWriMo yet? It’s a fantastic way to boost your writing chops, connect with other writers, and work towards your 10,000 hours of practice! Here’s the link: http://nanowrimo.org  

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