Office Organization Tips: How to Get and Stay Organized for Your Freelance Writing Career


by Donna M. McDine

 You’re in the process of taking a writer’s course and the abundance of information thrown your way is filed neatly in your brain. You wish you could say the same for your work space. While all your notes, research, writer’s books, etc., are valuable for your writing career it’s a miracle you can even find your desk under the sea of paper.  It’s imperative that you have the best filing system for your needs! 

1.                  Analyze and Purchase Supplies: First make a visit to your local office supply store and purchase hanging folders, manila folders and folder labels. If you don’t have a file cabinet now would be a good time to purchase one. You could purchase the good old standard metal filing cabinet or a file cabinet on wheels. The file cabinet on wheels would come in handy if you are limited on space and need to remove it from your work area when entertaining.

2.                  Identify Categories: Upon your return tackle the job of sorting your mounds (hope it’s not too deep) of paper into categories. File names:
ü  Agent Info
ü  Character Development
ü  Critique Groups Dialogue
ü  Editing
ü  Commas & Punctuation
ü  Grammar
ü  Point of View; Plotting & Outlining Your MS
ü  Scene & Story Structure, Sensory Details. 

The list is endless. Your filing system will grow over time. While reading articles on writing that you find helpful clip and file the article immediately. This makes for easy referral later.

3.                  Create Your Files: Place all your pertinent papers in the appropriate file. Each manila folder should be inserted into an individual hanging file in alphabetical order for easy retrieval and filing.

4.                  Desktop File: Jan Jasper, author of Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, and Technology (St. Martin’s Press) states: “Action files must always be within easy reach – ideally in a small desktop file holder that holds the file folders upright so the tabs are clearly visible. For added peace of mind, make a note in your calendar or scheduling software to remind you of important dates. This combats the “out-of-sight, out of mind” worry and lets you clear your desk without fearing you’ll forget something important”*

[*Conquer Desktop Clutter with Action Files © Jan Jasper; 2001-2007
About the Author: Jan Jasper has been training busy people to work smarter, not harder since 1988. She helps clients streamline work procedures, manage information overload, and use technology efficiently. Her specialty is helping people who've already worked with professional organizers and coaches and are still not able to get it all done. Jan is the author of Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, & Technology (St. Martin's Press). She recently completed a North American media tour as the national efficiency spokesperson for IKON Office Solutions, Inc. She has appeared on radio and TV all over North America and is quoted regularly in print. Jan is an adjunct professor at New York University.]

Suggested important files to maintain to keep in your line of sight on your desktop are:
ü  Writing – Follow-up
ü  Writing – Reading
ü  Writing – Research
ü  Writing – To Do
ü  Writing – Work-in Progress
Each file then contains an inventory sheet of what tasks need to be accomplished.  You know your files and needs best, please feel free to revamp the categories to suit your needs.

5.                  Follow-through: Lastly, it is important that you maintain your new filing system daily or at least weekly. This way you will not get piled under the dreaded mounds of paper.

By following these five tips on an ongoing basis your tidal wave of papers will surely cease to exist.

Bio: Donna McDine is an award-winning children's author. Her stories, articles, and book reviews have been published in over 100 print and online publications. Her interest in American History resulted in writing and publishing The Golden Pathway. Donna has four more books under contract with Guardian Angel Publishing, Hockey Agony, Powder Monkey, A Sandy Grave, and Dee and Deb, Off They Go. She writes, moms and is the Editor-in-Chief for Guardian Angel Kids and owner of Author PR Services from her home in the historical hamlet Tappan, NY. McDine is a member of the SCBWI. Visit


Shirley Corder said...

Donna, thanks for the suggestions. I have everything filed neatly in a cabinet - but I have no idea what is where. I need to start all over I fear.Thanks for the prod.

Donna McDine said...

Hi Shirley,

I spent Saturday morning going back through my files and throwing out the non-essentials. It was great to "spring clean" my files.

All the best,

Margaret Fieland said...

Donna, great suggestions. I love your list of file folders, which I plan to start in a new folder on my computer.

I keep my files online, by and large, as I have learned through sad experience that I am (1) hopeless with stacks of paper, but more important, (2) If it's on a piece of paper in a file, I rarely look at it.

Mayra Calvani said...

Wonderful tips and suggestions, Donna! Now I know how you get so much done! :-)

Unknown said...

Donna, Love the idea of action files. I need to implement that!

Donna McDine said...

Glad you like the file folder suggestions. Keeping them on your computer is perfect, just don't forget to back up your computer weekly. I put a reminder on my Outlook tasks to backup every Friday.

Donna McDine said...

Thanks Mayra!

Donna McDine said...

Glad to be of help!

VS Grenier said...

Donna you just know how to put things into perspective and keep all of us on track. I'm sharing this with my newsletter subscribers and blog roll.

Anonymous said...

Hi Donna! Great tips.

Karen Cioffi said...

Donna, an excellent article. I'm terrible at this. I went from highly organized accountant to unorganized writer. I'm going to try to work on your suggestions and get some organization going.

I love the idea of specific categories.

I'll be sharing this also.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Donna great tips. I find that to stay organized is a daily process. If I let filing build up, it becomes overwhelming.

Magdalena Ball said...

Great ideas Donna. I'd do all this online since I don't even have a shelf (that isn't already filled with books - mine as well as other people's!), but I really like the idea of having cross-work folders for characters, research, ideas, etc.

Donna McDine said...

Hi Virginia,

Glad to be of help. Thanks for the promo!

All the best,

Donna McDine said...

Hi Susanne,

Glad you found my article helpful!

All the best,

Donna McDine said...

Hi Karen,

Good for you! I approach my files like spring cleaning. Get rid of the old and so forth. Happy filing and thanks for the promo!

All the best,

Donna McDine said...

Hi Mary Jo,

I agree with you! My husband teases me that I clean up my work desk at the end of every day even though I work from home. It makes it for a much clearer start each morning!

All the best,

Donna McDine said...

Hi Maggie,

Glad you found my article helpful!

All the best,

Debbie A Byrne said...

Good ideas. I am still trying to organize my office.

How to Sell Your Book in Bulk

  by Suzanne Lieurance Did you know that studies have shown that most self-published authors sell fewer than 200 copies of their book?   Tha...