How To Organize Writing Files In 4 Easy Steps

I wonder how many of you felt the urge to run away screaming when you read “organize writing files”. Here’s a story: once upon a time, I used to write everything by hand. And I had drawers upon drawers of piled up material. That was when writing wasn’t even my primary occupation.
I made the transition to Word documents. But I didn’t learn the lesson – physical piles only became digital piles, and most of the time I had no idea where my files were, what I had completed and when… and it quickly became A LOT of work for me to organize writing files.

Now, I’m saying this so you would know that we’ve all probably been there. Switching your work environment from chaotic to organized is a lot of work. It’s hard, especially if you’re already set in your ways. However, it can be done. But you have to want it.

How To Organize Writing Files In 4 Easy Steps

Why should you organize writing files?

It takes a lot of time to become organized, so why not just keep on doing things the way you always did? Spend the time it takes for sorting your files on something useful, like writing, right?
Nope. It’s not “wasting time”, but rather, “investing time”. In the long run, knowing your way around your writing files saves you time (and a lot of frustration). If the task seems daunting, well, that’s because it is, but it’s worth doing it. And you don’t have to do it all at once. Here’s how.

Step 1: Locate your documents and create a master folder

You had to have been saving all your documents somewhere, but wherever that was, locate them. If you’ve been saving them in different places, find the biggest batch of files first and put it in one folder. Don’t forget to name it! “Writing” would do, or “The pain of my existence”, either way, you have now created your master folder.

You don’t have to do this all at once. Whenever you come across something you’ve written that isn’t in your master folder, toss it in there. (And toss everything new you write in there, too.) Soon enough you’ll have all your writing files in one place. It’s still unsorted inside, but an infinitely better situation than having it scattered everywhere.

Step 2: Delete anything you deem unnecessary

I’ll admit I am bad at this, but you don’t have to be. When your master folder is all set, take 5 minutes each day to go through it, or a part of it, and organize writing files by deleting and categorizing them in your head. Chances are you will have some ancient writing projects in there that you deemed unworthy and unsalvageable, that might be good candidates for deletion.

Even if you feel you need to keep every single document, there’s still organizing to be done. So if you’re like me and you think that nothing is beyond repair, feel free to skip this step.

Step 2.5: Name your documents

This is only for those of you who have a bunch of documents with names such as “New Microsoft Word Document (25)” or “an idea”. The whole point of going through everything in your master folder is so you’d get a good idea of what’s inside. If it’s a story, give it a name. If it’s some random ideas or notes, write what they’re about. You can do one document per day if you like, or get it all done at once if there aren’t many. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming to organize writing files.

Step 3: Create subfolder categories in your master folder

Now that you know what you have in your master folder, it’s time for the next step. I suggest a general division in this first set of subfolders. For example, two categories that would be easy to determine are “Work I finished” and “Work in progress”, if your writing files are too random to categorize differently. You could also divide it by projects that you have going.

When you organize writing files it's not bad to be creative about it

For example, mine are Website, Freelance, Creative… and Keeping track of my shit.

Whichever way you choose to organize writing files, this first set of subfolders needs to have a clear distinction, and when you write something new, it has to be easy for you to place it in one of them. Again, this is something that you don’t have to do all at once – you can add more as you go along.

Step 4: Add as many subfolders as necessary

When you want to organize writing files, subfolders are your friends. Without additional subfolders in my “Freelance” category, for example, I’d have about a hundred of unsorted files. In other categories it may be less, but you know what happens if you work on a project for a long time.

To further clear up my “Freelance” situation, my next set of division was by client, and after that, I organized my writing files by month when I wrote them (so I’d have an idea of the earnings I can expect each month for each client).

This is the part where you adjust the system to suit your needs. Always aim to make your division useful and practical – ideas, drafts, character sketches – it should all be there to make the process easier for you.

If you properly organize writing files, it can make your writer life easier. You can apply these steps even to physical files and papers, or whatever setup you already have going. Just remember to take it slow, and that it doesn’t have to be a long and tiresome toil.

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Jana Glavonjić

Writer, freelancer, editor, avid reader of fantasy and the best sister in the world.

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