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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

The Paper Mammoth

Have you noticed the “Writers’ Rooms” link on the right side of the page? I’ve been daydreaming about a proper study-slash-studio since I was a teenager, and that weekly feature in the Guardian fuels my reveries. I love looking at other writers’ workspaces and reading about why they’ve chosen a particular location, piece of furniture, or wall decoration, and how each element helps (or hinders) them in their work. In my head I’ve painted the walls and installed (and filled) the bookcases and chosen the upholstery for the wing-backed chair in the corner, scoured junk shops looking for the perfect big old desk, and finally settled upon the perfect filing system. I’m so nerdy I even want to organize my shelves with the Dewey decimal system (um…no…not even kidding).

Of course–seeing as I live in a rented room, do most of my writing at the library, and have books and notes scattered between three separate domiciles–the only part of this fantasy that is currently relevant is the bit about the filing system. I do a lot of talking about “getting organized.” You could say that my chaos must be functional enough if I’ve managed to produce a few publishable manuscripts out of it, but that’s not good enough.

It isn’t so much a matter of every book, print-out, and notecard being in its proper place as much as having an effective system for filing ideas. I have lots of notes on receipts and torn bits of notepaper, and I do manage to hold on to most of it, but it’s all very inefficient. You can just write every random thought down in a notebook, but then each of those individual ideas are eventually going to need sorting according to their respective projects (in a single notebook I could have notes for the project at hand alongside ideas for future novels and stories, notes on a local restaurant I want to write up for the second edition, lists of books to read, and even sketches of sweater designs I’d like to use as inspiration once I have the skillz to knit it). So how to sort it all while keeping it portable?

At first I thought index cards were the best way to go…but then how would I sort and store them? I’ve tried recipe boxes with tabs, but that seems to work better for sorting ideas within a single project. And if the idea could be expressed in only a word or two, it seemed a little silly to devote a full-sized index card to it. I also started using Stickies as virtual index cards, but then my hard drive crashed and I lost it all. (Incidentally, the Mary Modern folder was the only thing the tech guy was able to retrieve. KISMET!)

Then I had the idea to sort all ideas:

I had asked my dad for a Rolodex a couple Christmases ago, but then I realized I’m too nomadic and didn’t know enough people to bother actually using it (and yes, the address book on my iBook dock makes a Rolly pretty much obsolete, but see previous paragraph for why I don’t use it much.) I’ve got tabs for words and phrases, witticisms (“If you had a penis you’d understand” —guess who), witchy business, WWII flashbacks, and so forth, and another tab for everything that isn’t Petty Magic. That stuff can be sorted later. So far it’s working out pretty well. The only annoying thing is that Rolly cards are actually rather expensive, and I need to find a hard case for when I travel with it.

I know: I’m a total nerd. A pedant, even. Call me what you like, so long as I can keep it all straight.

2 Comments to The Paper Mammoth

  1. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    July 3, 2008 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    I love how you have label entitled “nerdiness.” As for the dewey decimal system, I’d like to see how you would organize your books and put that together.

  2. Ang's Gravatar Ang
    July 8, 2008 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    don’t you know, it’s “hip” to be a “nerd” now?

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.