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

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com


Spring Cleaning Goes Digital
by Brenda Stokes

You've bustled around the house trying to get a head start on this year's spring-cleaning. With Easter around the bend you wanted to have a sparkling home ready for celebrating. Yet when you sit down at your dust-free computer to check on some submissions (as us obsessive-compulsive writers often do!) you're astonished at what you find.

The computer desktop is bombarded with files. Old drafts, e-mails, sources and guidelines lay strewn about haphazardly as icons run amuck. The disarray is so bad, that your entire screen is covered in files. Some even overlap! And amidst the gigantic mess are the portraits you promised to send Grandma—last Christmas!

Something has to be done, and it has to be done fast. Don't know how to bring your spring cleaning knowledge into the digital age? No problem. Here are a few writer-friendly tips that are sure to get you sorted, organized, deleting and finding exactly what you need—when you need it.

Say Goodbye
I know it's tough, but it has to be done. The willingness to hit the "delete" button is a skill that has taken me a long time to acquire, but once obtained, life is so much easier! No longer is my hard drive cluttered beyond belief with files that are years upon years old. Lisa Zaslow, owner of the organization company Gotham Organizers, recommends asking yourself why you're keeping your files. If your answer is "just in case," you'll end up keeping everything forever, says Zaslow. Only hang onto the items that you can honestly foresee a use for.

Zaslow offers a few, "no-brainer" items that should hit the trashcan such as:

Drafts: Once you've written the final piece and submitted it, there's really no need to hang onto the unpolished drafts. Likewise, do you really need to keep those rejection letters? I know we all keep a few for inspiration, but the rest can hit the garbage fairly quickly.

Doubles: If you find multiples of the same file on your hard drive, there's no point in keeping them all. Keep the most recent version and delete the rest. Additionally, get rid of excess research material that's already been included in an article. You don't really need to keep that text file of a two-year-old query outline, do you?

Easily Accessible Info: Files that contain information you already have in hard copy or can easily be obtained by going to a Web site do not need to be stored on your computer. Don't hang onto e-mails just so you can save an editor's address. Instead, create one all-encompassing file for your contacts. This saves space and lets you hit delete with less fear.

Another great way to manage the process of deleting old files involves a dating system. Barbara Hemphill, author of "Taming the Paper Tiger at Home," recommends sorting all of your files by date within folders. Designate a date by which old files should be deleted. For example, you might choose to make your date December 2003, meaning anything older than that must go!

Update your "delete date" and always check for files you don't need when opening up others. "Each time I pull up a directory to add a new document," says Hemphill, "I do a quick check to see if there is an old one I can erase...[and] most of the time there is!"

Blackhole No More: A Filing System that Works
We've all had grand aspirations of organizing our computers from top to toe. But what happens when you create a system for filing that is so complicated you can't even remember it? Unfortunately, this is one of the many reasons people's organizational attempts fail to work. Want to save your masterpiece-in-the-works to your computer, without worrying about whether or not you'll ever find it again? Here's how:

Hemphill starts out by suggesting writers keep all of their created documents in one file folder. Within this folder, create a variety of subfolders based on topics, markets or another category that works for you. You can also organize your files by the program they were created with. So all Word files could go in one folder, while Excel files can go in another.

Another helpful way to keep track of what's on your computer is by naming your files a series of words or phrases. I usually format it as follows:

Filler-MagazineName-TitleofPiece-Date.doc

Find out what works for you! Once you've named all of your files with easy-to-identify names, open up your computer's "Find" function and search for the topic you need. You only lose files on your hard drive when they're named something obscure like, "stuff" or "article." Things can't get lost if you name them appropriately.

Speed It Up
I probably have the slowest computer ever produced. But that doesn't stop me from maximizing its performance quality. Hemphill suggests checking out ComputerMoms.com for in depth info but she also recommends a few quick tips for the not-so technologically savvy writers.

  • Keep your computer updated. Request notifications from Apple or Microsoft for system updates.

  • Defrag your computer regularly. This system tool is easy-to-use and can run in the background on your computer.

  • Empty your browser's cache weekly. You can actually set the computer to delete your Internet history on a weekly or daily basis, but the cache is something you must take care of. All of those Web sites you visit can really load up your computer!

  • Don't forget about your trashcan! You may throw away lots of things, but without emptying the trash, it just builds up.

Finishing Touches
Good job! You've gotten your computer all cleaned up for spring. But come June, will it be back in its previously disheveled state? Keep it clutter-free year round by following this clean up plan on a weekly basis. This way, the job is a lot shorter and you can keep track of what you do or don't need a lot easier. You also won't have to question the contents of a file because it will still be pretty fresh in your mind.

If you can't keep up with the cleaning week to week, at least try for a monthly clear out. Run defrag, delete what's old and keep things nice and tidy. You'll be thankful next spring when your cleaning load is significantly lighter and you're only big computer cleaning chore involves giving the monitor a wipe down.


Brenda Stokes is a freelance writer and college student based in Southern California. Her work has been accepted by ePregnancy, Woman This Month, Northwest Baby & Child and others. She can be reached at brenda@ph-x.com or http://www.ph-x.com .


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