Organize and De-Clutter Your Writing Zone

~ Make it Beautiful !

Organizing is something you do before you do something, so when you do it, it is not all mixed up. ~ A.A. Milne


Oranize and de-clutter your writing zone.

 

Last month, while pondering my Big Word FOCUS, I learned that maintaining one’s focus on one’s writing is a challenge that requires you to become immersed in the creative process. While passion and motivation are high on the list for getting into that state of flow, it is helpful to be in a stress-free, distraction-free writing zone.

So, it seemed serendipitous that the next Big Word I drew was ORGANIZE. I don’t know about you, but while I consider myself to be a fairly organized person, I can quickly build up piles of papers that need attention. I am also prone to saving magazines with writing articles I like, and to printing out helpful writing tips and to collecting research facts for the books I am writing. Then there are all my promo materials and calendars and journals. Add to that all my writing materials – pencils, pens, rulers, stapler, and other stationery supplies, and honestly, my writing zone was a mess. All that mess hovered around my writing area and distracted me before I even started to write.

Note: Although, I am just focusing on my writing environment, I am not alone in struggling with cluttered spaces. According to the blog, SimplyOrderly, the average American spends almost 12 days per year, looking for things we own but can’t find. As a writer working to deadline, I cannot afford to lose time searching for papers or waste a half-hour reading an interesting, but irrelevant to my writing, article. But even more importantly, I cannot lose time writing because I am distracted or stressed.

Organizing Reduces Stress

Apparently, cluttered spaces make people feel trapped and anxious and affect our stress levels. For example, researchers at DePaul University found that people who lived in cluttered homes showed more general dissatisfaction and frustration. A 2010 study by Saxbe and Repetti found that women who thought their homes cluttered had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva.

When I looked around at the papers littering my desk and those poking out of the file box sitting next to my desk, and then at the calendar I could see out of the corner of my eye with all those looming deadlines, I knew just how those women felt.

Every item was pulling my attention away from my creative work, scattering my thinking, and keeping me stressed.  I could feel myself thinking: “Maybe I should stop writing my novel and get that blog post done.” Or “Maybe I should check my calendar to see what is due next week.” No wonder I was having trouble focusing on my novel and finding that all important state of flow.

Setting Out to Organize and De-Clutter a Writing Zone

So to reduce my stress and make myself not only happier but also more productive, I set about creating a distraction and clutter-free zone around my computer where I write.

The idea was not to get rid of all those important papers or journals or calendars. That would be impossible and foolhardy. Instead, I kept my task limited. My goal was to make the area that I could see while writing distraction-free. So I moved my paper piles, magazines, and research notes to storage containers located on shelving behind me where I couldn’t see them while writing, but where they were near at hand for when I needed them outside my dedicated creative writing time.

Using the SORT System to Organize and De-ClutterSORT to Succeed by Darla DeMorrow

In order to accomplish this task, I needed a simple organizing method. There are many approaches to organizing clutter. I looked at a number of blogs and books and settled on using Darla DeMorrow’s simple and logical SORT system (Organizing Your Home With Sort and Succeed). Her very simple advice, in the long run, is the easiest to follow.

The key to her system is having you write down exactly what you plan to accomplish in the time you allot. Having a time frame and a goal keeps you from getting lost in reading an old magazine or wandering off with an item and then ending up reorganizing something else.

1. First, I Sorted my desk zone clutter.

2. Second, I Organized it using various containers and drawers.

3. Next, I Removed and Recycled items that were unnecessary (yes, there were some!).

4. Finally, I Tweaked the space so it became clean and beautiful for me to look at.

How I Organized

Here is some of what I did to give you an example. I sorted through all my excessive pens and pencils and kept only few on my desk. I moved the open file boxes to the counter behind me, and I filed my to-do materials and articles and promo items in those boxes so they were no longer lying in piles. Next, I put my journals and notebooks on shelves under my desk where I can pull them out quickly, but where they are not staring me in the face. I turned my calendar so it faces away, but is easily turned around when I need to see the date, and hung a restful picture on the back. I have to say, no longer having red-marked days staring me in the face while writing has lowered my stress level tremendously.

To make the space welcoming, I cleared away the piles of books blocking my view out the window, added a cactus garden and an ammonite fossil shell, and set out a few of my favorite rocks that I like to hold when thinking.

Now when I sit down to write every morning, all I see is the computer, my beautiful and inspiring objects, and the view through the window. I love it.

 

Making It Work

But it is not enough to just SORT. To succeed, you also have to maintain that space. Now that I have my stress-free writing area, I need to keep it that way. That takes resolve. So far, I have managed it. Every evening before I turn off the office lights, I make sure my writing zone is clear and ready for me in the morning. Now my goal is to keep it that way all year long.

My Organized and De-cluttered DeskReady and Waiting


What do you see when you sit down to write?

How could you make it less distracting and more conducive to fostering your focus and creativity?

My 2019 New Year Resolutions

~A Dozen Hopes for 2019 ~

Time to make those 2019 New Year Resolutions. I have a long tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions. I bet many of you do too. After all, we only get a chance to revisit our hopes and dreams every 365 days.

Usually, I make a list and stuff it away. This year, inspired by my Hearts Through History Romance Writing Chapter, I decided to write my resolutions as a word cloud.

Making My 2019 New Year Resolutions Word Cloud

First I needed to choose my words. There were so many wonderful words that I wanted to pursue that I had trouble picking only a few. I ended up with twelve words that were meaningful to me and that I thought I could pursue successfully. Twelve – a dozen seemed like a nice even, easy-to-handle number, and to my surprise, mirrored the twelve months too. (Be looking for blog posts focusing on one of these words in each of the coming months.)

Next, I took my words and using Word Art Creator, turned them into a beautiful graphic that I can hang on my bulletin board or paste in my journal. This cool little website is pretty intuitive to use. You can choose the size, color, and font for your words and then a shape to fit them into. You can even upload your own shape.

Here’s how my 2019 New Year Resolutions Word Cloud turned out:

Zara West2019 New Year's Resolutions

 


Using Word Art to Picture a Novel

Pretty cool, don’t you think? This gave me another idea. What if I created  a word art design for the romantic comedy I am currently writing? So I did. The novel is tentatively named Hooked on Love, and here is the word art version. Looks like a fun read, right?

Hooked on Love Word Art by Zara West

 


What are some of your 2019 resolution words?

Put them in a word art design of your creating.

Share how it works for you.

 

Fifteen Minutes Writing – The Book Factory Method

~ Life in Fifteen Minutes ~

Do you know how much time you spend on daily activities like reading e-mail and perusing Facebook? Do you struggle to reach your daily word count? I know that I do.

A while back, I took a workshop with USA best-selling author Kerri Nelson, which she has recently published in book form: The Book Factory Method: Your Guide to Producing Multiple Novels in One Year.

Fifteen Minutes CountThe Book Factory by Kerri Nelson Reviewed by Zara West

Kerri makes the point that in the scheme of things fifteen minutes is not very much of one’s time. In fifteen minutes, we can accomplish tasks like wash the dishes or fold the laundry. Why not spend fifteen minutes writing too?

In The Book Factory Method, Kerri explains how thinking in fifteen-minute time blocks is a sneaky way to find time to write.

Where are Those Fifteen Minutes Hiding?

Finding fifteen minutes is a lot less daunting than finding an hour or three for writing. Kerri suggests analyzing how you spend every fifteen-minute block of your work day and searching out those spaces where you can sit down to write.

Taking her advice, I kept track of how I spent my time over a three-day period (Here’s a 15 incredible minutes you can use to track your day) and discovered she was right.

Sure, I had all my daily tasks—like cleaning, washing, cooking, going to work, working, and so on. But there were also large blocks of time spent lost on Facebook and answering e-mail, time spent straightening my writing zone and getting ready to write, and time spent on rereading what I had already written—time that could be better spent just plain writing. In fact, I actually found three fifteen-minute blocks that could be better spent writing everyday.

Using Those Fifteen Minutes Effectively

Once you have your slots, Kerri suggests you get a timer. Using a timer and shutting down e-mail and the Internet is essential for this to work.

A note on timers: The timer I like the most is Hourglass. But I have also used my phone timer and an old-fashioned cooking timer just as effectively.

Now you are ready

  • Sit down.
  • Set the timer.
  • Start writing.
  • Do not stop till that timer dings.

Give it a Try

If you fast draft, you can actually produce quite a few words on the page in fifteen minutes, and in Kerri’s case, those dedicated fifteen minutes has produced a passel of published books. Will this work for everyone? I have no idea. But it worked for me.

I quickly found that sitting down and fast drafting (Kerri makes a particular point about applying this method only to new writing, not revision or editing) even for as little as fifteen minutes a day put words on the page for me.  Working with the time limit also trained me to be more focused. Knowing I was being times, I learned to ignore distractions. After all, there are very few things you can’t let slide for a few minutes.

In addition to the fifteen-minute writing method, Kerri provides many hints and helps for becoming more productive. She examines goal setting, motivation, and some writerly tricks for plotting (she’s a pantser), writing pitches and queries, and maintaining one’s physical and mental health as a writer. I strongly recommend The Book Factory Method for anyone who wants to become a more productive writer.


What method do you use to find writing time?

I love hearing from my readers!

Writing Visionary Goals

~ Why I Start with Visionary Goals ~

In my last post, I talked about how I set up my writing journal. In this post I will explain how I set my visionary goals.

Designing Visionary Goals

When designing goals, there are three things we are advised that make a good goal. The first is it should be specific with a clear definition and a recorded start and end time. Second, the goal should be measurable so you know if you achieved it. Third, the goal needs to be achievable i.e. it is something you have the skills or can get the skills to accomplish. A visionary goal is different. It encompasses something we feel deeply about- something that may not be measurable.


Why Visionary Goals?Tips and tricks for keeping a journal by Zara West

As an educator, I have written and been guided by thousands of measurable goals and objectives. So why do I start off my writing journal with my rather nebulous five-year visionary goals?

I do so because while being practical is a sure way to get work done, they do not inspire. And if there is something a writer needs to have tucked into their psyche, it is inspiration.

So this year, I have set myself the following five-year goals.

  1. Write more books and stories from my heart
  2. Discover readers who love my books
  3. Be happy writing and not feel stressed

As you can see these are definitely not measurable objectives nor well-defined. I don’t specify a set number of books and stories. I don’t name the genre or the topics, and five years is pretty broad range in terms of a time-frame.

These are goals that come from my hopes and dreams. I talk about love, heart, and happiness– very general words that we can all argue about. What does it mean for a reader to love a book? What does happiness feel like to a writer? What is a story from the heart?

Working with Visionary Goals

Despite their nebulousness, these are definitely goals I want to attain. What writer doesn’t want to keep writing more and more wonderful books and stories? What writer doesn’t want their stories read by appreciative readers? Why write at all if it makes you feel stressed and unhappy?

However, just because these are visionary, doesn’t mean that we can’t use them to delineate our writing career path.


Turning Visionary Goals into Measurable Ones

So the next step is to take each visionary goal and place it in this sentence, and voila, you will have a nicely packaged measurable goal to guide you – but one that has heart at its core.

In order to _________________ (visionary goal), I will ______________ (your activity) for ____________ (time-frame).

An example:

In order to write more heartfelt books, I will write at least 2 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Now that is definitely something that will keep me on track, but also incorporates my dream of writing more stories from my heart.

I also use my visionary goals to come up with a slogan to hang over my computer. Here is this year’s.

Work hard. Work happy. Work inspired.


From Visionary Goals to Success

Setting goals is key to feeling successful. When you can track your progress, when you can count the number of words or pages written, and the number of stories sent out into the world, you know you have accomplished something. But if that leaves you stressed or you do not love what you have written, then it is all for nothing.

That is why for me starting with visionary goals is more fulfilling and, in the long run, leaves me happier as a writer.


Do you set visionary or practical goals for yourself?

How do you use them?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.