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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Off the Page...
November 2003 Column


Three Steps to Sanity in the Writer's Life

by Tama Westman

The autumn winds wickedly whipped the leaves from the branches of my trees before they had a chance to change color this year. As I stepped outside to challenge the brisk chill and decisive wind, my writer's spirit stirred. Where does it end? How do I judge saying no to one editor, yet yes to another? When will I get to work on my project of heart--the manuscript that gathers dust in my mind as I work to put food on the table?

As busy freelancers, we sometimes take on more than we can accomplish, committing to projects that will likely see us committed before completion. The answer is not simple, not easy.

Every so often, when you find yourself swallowed up by too many ideas, stories and projects, take the tumbling piles of papers and files that move from desk to console to floor and sort, stack and stuff them into submission.

Sort--the first step to stop the madness
I start with an open area, usually my living room floor, and haul everything from forgotten files to half-finished stories to potential market leads and pile it all into the center of the area. Three post-its placed on the carpet define new sorting areas: "Get to it now," "Get to it later," and "Forget it."

Every single scrap is scrutinized for reality. There is no one else in the room--and it is time to be honest. Ask yourself:

  • Will I really develop a story for this market?
  • Is everything ready for this particular piece?
  • Do I need to keep this file?
  • Am I even interested in this information?

Your answers determine the sorting process. You will need a post-it pad (love these), an empty file folder, pen and paperclips for the next stage.

Stack--second of three steps to sanity
Pick up a page--what is it? An article you've pulled from a magazine? Why? Is it resource info? Were you pulled to the writer's style, or did it spark a story idea in you? Write your thoughts and reasons and paperclip them to the page.

Prioritize your "get-to-it-now" group as you go along. Pending assignments and articles that must be completed on a short timeline should be popped on top. Fingertip access will be yours when you return from your brief organizational frenzy and start writing again.

With a blank calendar, chart your working writing schedule. Write down what interviews, research, writing periods and deadlines you need per project. There are only so many hours per day, how much can you really do? Alternately, how much more could you do, once organized? Seeing it in black and white not only sets your pace, but will jumpstart your writing day. Somehow, I have forced my sleepy self to wake earlier these days, so I can have time for a slow cup of coffee and a chat with my flowers in the garden before starting the day. Serenity replaces frustration when I get up just fifteen minutes earlier.

While you continue to sift through the smaller stacks of papers, determine if any of it is time-sensitive. For instance, if you had an idea for an autumn article, but missed your opportunity this year, post a reminder for March (remembering that most magazine editors work six months out) and pull this from your tickler file. place it someplace where your fingers can tickle through it every few weeks to reacquaint yourself and stir further ideas that you can add to the file.

How the tickler works:
I had extensive interviews and resource material for a feature article on alternative medicine. However, when it came time to query--I couldn't place the piece. To the tickler, I tossed. As weeks went by, I added a quote or statistic picked up here and there. Many months later, I happened to catch a guest on a TV talk show discussing alternative health. I watched the show and jotted down his comments. Now, I had a current, national exposure piece to tie with my past research. A phone call later, and I sold the story and recouped a profit on a piece that might have otherwise been lost. The tickler file kept everything organized, and the topic fast-forward in my mind until the time was right.

Stuff--ideas are great, but not their weight
Now comes the fun part, pull over that crucial piece of office equipment, the trash can, and toss the third pile of pages that represent writing you are NEVER going to do. If you are not going to work with it, (remember to be honest here), then throw it out and move on to projects that you are excited about and able to complete. Toss with flourish yelling, "So long! I'm free, free, free of you and the guilt you've delivered each day."

All those story ideas that have long since lost their foothold in your mind, clips of other's writing that you simply do not have a place for, markets and magazines you are not going to write for--toss it all and allow your desk to be clear.

It it amazing how much better you can organize thoughts and ideas for your writing when you no longer have to balance the tipping scales of falling papers that lean against the monitor, keyboard and file drawer, cluttering your mind, as well as your desk. As an organized writer, you are now empowered to write, and write well. Carry on...

Tama Westman writes the Off the Page column for Write From Home. As a correspondent and columnist, she publishes news articles, feature stories and her column, Cuppa Thoughts, regularly with her local paper, the Chaska Herald. She has served as the editor of the award-winning literary and arts magazine, Haute Dish. As a freelancer, her articles appear in several local newspapers and, nationally in The Gathering and Light & Life Magazine.

She teaches creative writing and poetry classes with the AHEAD program (Achieving Higher Education and Dreams) at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN, mentors high school journalism students and helps to edit the column of her 18-year old, British-bred cat on coolpetsites.com, Purrfect Gypsy Ė The Catís Eye View. She is married with two college-enrolled children, and keeps her balance with a cup of tea taken in the afternoon in her English garden. Her published clips can be viewed via her Web site, http://www.tamawestman.com and she can be reached at tamajoy@earthlink.net.









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