Organizational “Aha!” (Oh, the Irony)

I recently finished a novella that I’d been working on (and off…) for over a decade. One of my most daunting hurdles was trying to figure out how to organize the sheer amount of raw material I had—hundreds of pages in various scattered locations consisting of handwritten journals, digital diaries, random Word documents and saved emails.

My big organizational “aha” moment, however, came after I promised myself I’d finish the first draft of the book. Shortly after making that commitment, a freelance producing gig fell into my lap that paired me with one of the country’s leading creative directors. At the time—I didn’t see the producing gig as a blessing. Quite the opposite, actually… I was supremely grumpy at the notion of  working a 12 hour-a-day-job for at least three months that would, clearly, leave me with virtually no time or energy to work on my book.

And, the job I had been hired to produce, of course, was huge—consisting of hundreds of motion graphic deliverables that needed to be organized, redesigned and, ultimately, produced. As soon as I understood the scope of the project, I was immediately hit with the familiar “this job is impossible” panic that I always felt every time I sat down to work with my book material. But, the great thing about a paying gig is—you have to actually keep moving forward with finishing the job, even if you think it’s impossible… 

So, I begrudgingly put the idea of working on the book in the back of my mind and focussed on the job at hand. I showed up to work every day, did a lot of deep breathing—and continued to plod forward. And, when I found myself frustrated by my inability to organize the project’s creative material, I started paying close attention to the creative director’s method for mastering the task.

Using a “bin” system, he placed similarly themed material into separate sub-categories, and then edited out what he felt was less effective within each. The approach helped break down an overwhelmingly giant job into small, manageable pieces. And it, ultimately, allowed us to sort, literally, hundreds of seemingly disparate ideas into a single, organized booklet to present to the client. And that’s when it finally hit me…

I could apply this technique to the process of organizing my book!

All of a sudden, what seemed like an impossible task suddenly became manageable. I rushed home after 12 hour days at work and found ample energy to work on my book. Page by page, I culled through my writing, creating different documents for similarly themed material. When I was done, I had (6) three ring binders all neatly organized and sorted by theme, characters and potential story lines.

Using each category as a “strand,” I then started weaving story beats together with mind-mapping software that helped me visualize how everything could potentially come together. Then, I physically cut out color-coded snippets of dialogue and passages from the binders and started arranging them on my floor into a rough assembly.

It took 9 days of holing up in my bungalow without phone or email contact with the outside world, and a tremendous amount of support from my friends—but, I finished piecing everything together that was on my floor into my computer exactly one hour before the stroke of midnight. First draft—done!

And, the one thing I was convinced would KEEP me from finishing the first draft of my book on time—ended up being the exact thing that helped me figure out how to accomplish my goal.  

Oh, irony. How I love thee…