Friday, January 31, 2014

Terrible Non-Tips for Organizing Your Writing

Today my brilliant friend C. sent me an awesomely flattering message – she’s read my entire blog! geez, even I only read it when I wrote it! – and she asked me an interesting question (I’m paraphrasing just a smidgen): “O most exalted one, most sage and splendiferous scribe – how, praytell, do you keep track of all your stories, blog posts, Facebook Notes, book reviews, e-mails, haiku, etc.? I notice that you seem to reference and link to these pieces a lot on your blog. Any tips for organizing my own writing that you could share with me?”

Why, soytainly!

Let me preface what's about to come by saying that these quote-unquote "tips" are merely my honest answer to her question and as such are not meant as recommendations of my quote-unquote "methods."  

Christie’s Tip #1 is to be incredibly egocentric. You’ll note that I didn’t just say “Tip #1” there – no, I had to go and stick my name in it. If you believe deep down in your gut that your words are refined and gilded embroideries that elucidate the foggy muck of human existence, you’re more apt to view anything you’ve ever written as a precious resource – nay, a national treasure! – that must be lovingly preserved and handily stored for later retrieval (and linked to whenever you or anyone else ever says anything even remotely apropos).

Christie’s Tip #2 is to save everything in Gmail. Really. You wanna know why? Search function, baby. My brain is too booze-addled and riddled with black holes to remember everything that I write. It doesn't help that I've developed the obnoxiously pretentious habit of giving my stories "difficult" (i.e., non-obvious) titles that I often later forget. Sometimes all I can remember is having used a quaintly archaic word somewhere, or a character’s name – if I had to rely on searching by title or file name alone, I’d never find anything. I refer to my Gmail account, in all seriousness, as my back-up brain. (Note: Yes, I address hackers in this blog post, smartypants; you'll have to read on to get to that part.) 

Also, I can access my Gmail from a web café in Zanzibar, or from a hotel-lobby computer in Kyrgyzstan. I’ve never been to either of those places – but if I had, I could have simply logged on, far away from home, with nary a laptop or other clunky and fallible detritus in tow, and I’d have had everything I’ve ever written right there on the dang screen. It's there for me in Internet never-never land, even if my home laptop gets stolen or struck by lightning or sat on by an elephant. 

I’m kind of weird, so I often start (and finish) writing stories and blog posts in a Gmail draft as opposed to, say, a Microsoft Word doc or directly onto the blank white field of a “New” blog post. Admittedly, this started back when I had boring desk jobs and would sneak onto Gmail to write a short story instead of whatever inane newsletter article I'd been assigned. But the preference is also aesthetic, or philosophical  I like the seamlessness of having everything online, all in one place, magically available to me wherever on the planet there’s Internet.

Christie’s Tip #3 is to live a life of strict intellectual compartmentalization, a life in which various spheres and realms of knowledge are hopelessly segregated from one another, a life in which unity and wholeness is but a dream.

Here’s how this works for me: You see, I am a woman of infinite complexity, a woman with multiple and at times incongruent personae. I “wear a lot of hats” as they say in the workplace about multi-tasking individuals. Sometimes I wrote stuff that’s wrist-slittingly bleak. Sometimes I write stuff that I pretend is quite chuckle-worthy. I frequently write stuff that’s too edgy for your average granny (but not too edgy for a really cool granny).

Although I produce a ton of content, in my mind every discrete piece falls under one of just a handful of broad categories. If it’s fiction or a one-off non-fiction prose piece, it goes on my creative-writing site. If it’s a blog post (i.e., something more recent and purely autobiographical), well, duh, it goes on this blog. If it’s “funny-sad” and batshit, I send it to my pal Oliver and it goes up on the online literary-magazine microsite (a sub-page of The Good Men Project site) that he manages, The Moustache Club of America; he's also posted a couple of serious writings of mine, one about drinking and one about my granny passing away recently. If it’s a book review, it goes on my husband’s sporadically updated BookStalking website.

And I keep all my e-mail correspondence – that’s the other good thing about Gmail (I swear Google didn't buy me off): seemingly infinite storage space, especially if all you’re doing, like me, is sending and receiving text-centric e-mails that don’t have a ton of crazy attachments to them. So if I ever need to find some terribly poignant missive that I once fired off to an ex or some terribly poignant cover letter or some terribly poignant "please unsubscribe me from this e-mail list" message, I simply search for the term and up it comes.

Christie’s Tip #4 is to temper all of these other tips with a Zen-like acceptance that you can’t save or remember where you saved everything – you will lose stuff, good stuff, sometimes. “All we are is dust in the wind,” and so are words. That’s why you should just write write write like a crazy whirling dervish at the keyboard, so that you always have good stuff around, even if some sci-fi smartbomb of the future wipes out the Internet. In this ephemeral world of ours, writing writing writing is my grab at immortality; it’s my fuck-you to oblivion.

Bonus! Here are some things that you might think work for me but in fact do not:

-Creating happy little folders on my laptop's Desktop and sticking Word documents in them (i.e., each Word document being a specific short story or other piece). Yuck, no thank you. For one thing, unless I drag my laptop with me wherever I may roam (I don't do that), those suckers are inaccessible. Let us say that I’m feeling capricious one day and decide to fly to Zanzibar, unfettered and unburdened by belongings, footloose and fancy-free. I get there and am thunderstruck by a great idea for a story. But – doh, my laptop is at home. Or an elephant sat on it (again). Oh well. Guess I’ll have to wait till I get home to write it. Guess I’ll have to let inspiration wither and rot on the vine. Guess I'll have to die with my regret. 

But wait! If I just dump everything into Gmail all the time anyway – no worries; I just find myself an Internet café and crank the story out while it’s hot. Then when I get home from my world travels – there it is, in my inbox on my laptop! What manner of sorcery is this?! (OK, so I could also compose the story in a Gmail draft in freaking Zanzibar and then paste it into a Word doc when I got home. You think you’re so clever, with your sensible ideas, don’t you?)

So maybe the real reason I don’t work in Word docs is that it's more of a drag to search the files. I mean, I know there’s a way. That little cartoon dog or anthropomorphic paper clip or whatever pops up and pretends to give a shit about helping you find what you’re looking for. But it’s easier for me to search for stuff in Gmail. I reckon the bottom line here is that I’m a creature of habit, and also that if Google ever goes out of business or decides to do away with Gmail, I am pretty much totally screwed. (Also, if some hacker jerk were to ever get ahold of my account -- well, you're welcome, asshole; you just hit the jackpot... if you measure your riches in terms of agonized-over and lovingly chosen words. Which, OK, you probably don't.)

-Keeping stories around in hard copy, be it on a disc or actual printed-out pieces of paper (remember those?!) in a black folder that’s bursting at the seams, like some poor goose whose destiny is to have his liver end up on your plate as foie gras. I did this for a while, back in my twenties when I was too poor to have Internet at home. Nearly everything I wrote in my twenties is only printed out on pieces of paper and therefore not exactly linkable, which is why I never share anything from back then (well, that and I was mostly working on this truly cringe-inducing autobiography-in-fragments called "A Despicable Woman"  a bucketful o' sunshine, as you can tell from the title).

The big problem I have with print – be it a printed-out old story or even some famous author’s book – is that writing evolves. Who’s to say that a story or a novel that goes off to be printed is done? Didn’t the writer agonize over word choice, dialogue authenticity, on and on, for months if not years before that point? If other writers are like I am, the second you look at your own words on a page or a screen – that’s the second you see about a million tiny or not-so-tiny edits you want to make to them.

For this reason, I’ve often thought that – as nifty as it would be to hold a book in my hands with my byline on it – I probably ought to be a digital-only writer, unless I want to spend my days yanking out my hair in frustration. I love having my stories online, on a site that’s all mine – I have complete control, and can change things any time of day or night. I'm the tempestuous emperor of my tiny virtual world. 

1 comment:

  1. I use gmail too the same way for the same exact reason!! Well-said. <3

    ReplyDelete