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The Write Attitude On Paperwork Day

Alas, writers do not have the luxury, unless employing a personal assistant, to ignore the standard paperwork that piles up all around us as we happily go about our craft. Pile meant in either physical or electronic terms. A full email box of to-do’s can be as daunting as stacks of paperwork that shield you from the outside world beyond your desk. 

Writers must handle such mundane and uninteresting tasks as answering correspondence, filing, submissions and billing, etc. Most of us would rather do anything but paperwork. Unfortunately, we can’t rook our kids or spouse into doing it while we tackle one of their chores because business paperwork is a personal thing. Yes, writing is a business and yes it’s personal. Your 15 year old would have no idea what to do with that number on the back of the Walmart receipt, the password scribbled on tissue or the folded napkin complete with future article draft. They love us, but they have their limits. They’d rather clean their rooms. 

We must take care of these tedious chores on our own. We’re stuck. So, pour another mug of hot coffee, have a seat and lets begin. (sounds like tax time, sans valium) 

That pile you laughingly call scrap paper but is actually an e-book in progress…stick that in a file folder and put it somewhere. I don’t know, pick a spot. Chances are good that a few pages can be found in your youngest’s pile of doodles. How was she to know it was important. 

Sort out those bits and pieces of columns you have floating around your work environment. Use this maintenance time to file them away AFTER finishing a complete thought on them. Expand on the notes a little. Otherwise you’ll be looking at them sometime in the dusty future and wonder what the hell you meant at the time. You know it was brilliant, but it’s gone. 

Undo the paper clips you’ve strung together. Yes, I realize this isn’t “paperwork” but it has the word paper in it. Paperclips have lost their importance. With the business of electronic everything, who needs to clip papers together. Especially writers. We don’t believe in organization. We function in a semi-continuous state of chaos. So, paperclips have become a toy. Something to fiddle with if our fingers aren’t busy at the keyboard. Keep them handy; they’re wonderful doodle-stoppers while you’re on the phone. 

When you begin to see your desk top (notice that is two words, not desktop; we’re talking about an actual wood/metal/plastic piece of the furniture that holds your computer) you’ll know you’re on the right track. Tidy and put away everything you can. I know it’s hard. There will be a period of adjustment. But like any good thing, adjustment will come. 

Here’s one suggestion to make your paperwork life easier. I don’t know about you, but I tend to know exactly where things are. I realize my writing space looks like a blowup at the paper recycling plant, but I can find anything. I know the reason each scrap of paper exists. To accommodate tidiness and still remain in control of my bizarre collection of snips and scraps,  I devised a solid system for filing. 

Get 5 plain file folders. Never use the labels. You are far more concerned with accuracy as opposed to looking nice. Who needs labels that curl and fall off on humid days? Just scrawl the following names on the folders. If you’re like me, you’ve lost that writing callus that took a lifetime to build to withstand any pencil or pen and your handwriting sucks. Typos can be fixed. Penmanship is a lost art. Label the folders thus – 

Right upper corner, Left upper corner, Left lower corner, hard drive top and sides, misc. 

Got that done? Ok, good. Now the beauty of this system is its simplicity. 

Take the piles of scrap paper and such, located at the corresponding desk area, and put them in the correctly labeled file folders. Stick the whole mess in there and close it. 

I realize the system is not perfect (mistress of understatement here) but it has one distinct advantage. I know, by location, where everything is. This leaves me the option of knowing what location that file came from. Odd? Yes. Bizarre? Ok. But it works for me.  

The only thing I haven’t figured out is where to put the boxes of files I have, marked “file cabinet top drawer, file cabinet bottom drawer”. 

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