An Often Overlooked Writing Tool

It might occur to some people that writing requires that you know how to write, that you have familiarity with what you are writing, and that you have all the necessary tools to write well. But most people couldn’t tell you what those tools are beyond the physical ones (computer, printer, dictionary, etc.), so I decided to focus on a tool that every professional writer has and uses constantly, but that most people don’t recognize: Organization.

Organization begins in a writers mind, where they have to take random facts or events and string them together in a meaningful and comprehensive way. Writers are good organizers of facts and events, and good researchers and you can tell it by their desks.

A writer’s desk comes in one of two varieties (though they can also be thought of as shifting phases depending on how the job is going); cluttered and clean. The cluttered desk looks most reminiscent of the aftermath of an explosion or the accumulated flotsam and jetsam of a tidal wave. The clean desk is immaculate; plenty of open space for fresh copy or an open book, everything in it’s place and a place for everything. What both of these desks have in common is that they are both the epitome of organization.

Writers can’t write without organization, and that organization extends beyond the copy they produce. A writer needs all of the physical tools of his trade readily at hand and placed in such as way as to allow the most needed to be easiest to reach and the least useful, or most distracting, furthest away or at an angle that allows it to be used, but only with discomfort.

As an example; my desk is a six foot hutch with built in book shelves, file drawer and plenty of open space. It is a microcosm of my life, with all of the books inserted neatly or lined up on the top like soldiers on a firing line. The effect is ruined by the innumerable objects I have stuffed into the spaces between the tops of the books and the bottom of the next shelf up. Then there is the board and over-sized drawing tablet sitting on the very top – my plotting board and sketch pad–that look as if they are going to fall over at any moment. my writing and reference books are closest at hand and easiest to see. beyond those, and partially hidden beyond a wall of pamphlets, battery cases, post cards and notes so old that their meanings are as cryptic as any greek prophets declarations, are my graphic novels and software/game manuals and guides. The role playing games are furthest up and hardest to reach as are the video games.

On the immediate left of my chair is the file drawer with a largeish flat surface with my watch and eye glasses box (I collect pocket watches and always have spare glasses for parts and backups)  and covered with a collection of hard drives in cases,  DVDs and a few storage boxes of burned disks (mostly backups because I forgot where the original backups were) and blanks. On my right is a long, narrow-ish “bar” that holds my mouse pad (I wore out the veneer with the mouse, so I stapled a thick piece of cardboard to it from a 3 ring binder) there is also a corded PS/2 mouse, my Bluetooth headset, a wireless controller and a slanted stand I built to hold my laptop. I use the laptop for internet searches and for keeping a running chat with my wife and a few friends while I work. It would be very distracting if I did that stuff on the main computer, so I relegated it to the sidelines where I have to rotate 90 degrees to use it. Since the laptop also sits lower than my keyboard it is uncomfortable to use for any length of time.

Organization extends also to where certain things are and why they are there. My coffee cup sits to the left of my keyboard. if I have my fingers on the home row, I can reach out a pinky and touch it without much effort. It sits there so I can have a drink if I want to, but mostly so I can tell how long I’ve been writing, since I usually forget to drink my coffee if I’m going good.  The colder the cup the deeper I’ve gone before coming up for air. I’ve gone through a pot of coffee and had maybe three or four sips out of the whole thing. It serves its purpose.

My phone sits on the lower left side of my desk, on vibrate and covered with a hand towel. I can barely hear it when someone calls and that’s all to the good, because it’s distracting, yet necessary and every time I check the coffee, I check the phone. when the coffee is cold, I also check the chat with my wife and my friends; just to make sure I haven’t missed anything. Once everything is verified, I’m back to work for the next hour or two with a steaming cup of coffee on my desk and my fingers dancing over the keys in the hope something will come out worth the effort.

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