How I organize my writing

This is a brief look at how I keep my writing organized, because I like hearing how other people organize their writing.

Also, did I say brief? Haha. Let’s not take that as a guarantee, okay?

Tools I’m using

I use Ulysses and I love it with all my heart. It’s smart and easy to use, streamlined but powerful. I can publish directly to WordPress, write in Markdown, export to PDF or text or ePub or DOCX or HTML. I can drag my images in there beside my text files and tag things with keywords and have folders (groups) and drag and drop files and folders to rearrange them and have a million nesting folders and back it all up via iCloud or Dropbox, and all with a simple interface that is never overwhelming or unnecessarily complicated.

Okay, so, now that I’ve sung my little love song for Ulysses (I like their blog, too), let’s move on.

Sets of folders

I have three sets of folders:

  • A set of folders for inputs
  • A set of folders for in-progress outputs
  • A set of folders for completed outputs

I also have an archive folder, which is where things go to die. Anyway.

Here’s what those sets of folders look like:

And expanded:


The input folders

My input folders are Ideas, Lists, Reading, Reference, and Swipe. The names are a kind of obvious giveaway as to the contents, but I’ll go through them anyway.

  • Ideas: where the ideas go to live until I pick on and start working with it; when I do that, I drag it to my in-progress folders. I separate “all the ideas” from the actual, chosen, in-progress ideas because there are always more ideas than time. I want to capture the ideas as they come in, but I don’t want to think of them as undone tasks, sitting there in my in-progress spot, making me feel guilty. So this input folder for Ideas is the holding place, the potential, the place where all the maybe-possibly ideas go and live (and sometimes die).
  • Lists: I like lists. I make a lot of lists. Sometimes I use the lists for reference, sometimes I pull a list or part of a list into something I’m writing, sometimes a list is part of a project, sometimes I want to get it out of my head, sometimes I don’t even know…
  • Reading: This is a folder of folders. The folders inside the Reading folder are PDFs, Highlights, Beta Reads, Book Notes, Research Notes. I keep PDFs I want to read (but don’t have attached to any particular piece of writing or research project here) in here, along with highlights from my reading, and notes on what I’m reading (some of which turn into book reviews).
  • Reference:I use the inbox for temporary notes and clear it out regularly. I use the Reference folder for notes that have some sort of info I, well, reference periodically. For example, it has several versions of my bio that I can use as needed for guest posts, a note with code snippets that I’ve used when tweaking the CSS on my website (something I probably shouldn’t do), and my blog’s taxonomy.
  • Swipe:The infamous swipe file. Anything from posts to book covers to excerpts to articles to … well.. anything I find that I like and want to remember, emulate, copy, steal, be inspired by.

The input folders are pre-writing, really. They’re the neat stuff, the cool thoughts, the bits and pieces that flow into my life from various sources and percolate in my brain and, sometimes, coalesce into interesting outputs.

The in-progress folders

This is where the writing happens. Here are the in-progress set of folders:

Organizing in writing stages

I think of writing as happening in four stages:

  • Stage 1: Develop ideas (researching, outlining)
  • Stage 2: Draft material (organizing, creating)
  • Stage 3: Improve quality (editing, revising)
  • Stage 4: Preparing format (presenting, publishing)

I like to have my writing organized in these four stages.

There are many times when I take one piece of writing through all four stages in a single work session, and don’t need to drag the file through each of the 4 folders.

No problem.

In those cases, I simply drag it from the stage 1 folder to the stage 4 folder (or to the appropriate Completed folder). Usually, I have lots of different pieces in various stages of the writing process. Since I like to batch process whenever I can, it helps to have these pieces sorted out by what task I need to do next. That way I can decide It’s time to batch process some outlines, baby! (as one does) and then jump into my stage 1 folder and start turning those ideas into outlines. Exhilarating! Wow. I need a mint or something.

The basic process

In 1-Dev/OL (Dev = development, OL = outline), I either create a new file, or drag an idea from my input /Ideas folder.

I start tinkering with it: write an outline, pull in research, write some thoughts and notes, whatever. At some point, usually when I a) have a complete outline or b) find myself typing paragraphs instead of bullet points, I drag it to the 2-Draft group. It stays there as long as I’m working on the draft, until I feel it’s complete enough to move on to editing.

Some files languish in the Drafts folder for a long time.

Anyway, once I’ve got the material down on the page and think it’s done enough, I move it to the 3-Edit folder. I put it through some sort of editing process (which is probably never enough) and then move it to the 4-Format folder.

At this point, if it’s a post for my own blog, I’ll proof it one more time for headings, spacing, links, images in the right place, and then push it to WordPress directly through Ulysses. I always push it as a draft to WordPress (not published) because I like to check the formatting one more time before I schedule or publish it. Sometimes I need to tweak an image size or I’ll add another link or something.

I love being able to push the post directly to WordPress from Ulysses; it is so much faster to have it all upload automatically, images and all, than to do it manually.

If the piece is for a publication, or a guest post, or is part of longer project (such as a lesson for a course),  I revisit the style requirements, if they exist, then format and save in the appropriate file type, and send it wherever it needs to go.

The file that’s still in my system gets taken down to the last set of folders: the completed outputs folders.

The completed outputs folders

This is simple: it’s a set of folders for my primary publications or content types. For example, the AM-Content is for what lives on my blog. I have a folder for Courses, one for Guest Posts, and then one for other publications I write for regularly and for any bigger projects.

That’s it.

This post may make it sound like I am super organized with my writing, but the truth is that I have about a million files in other parts of my computer, and another thousand in Google Docs, and some other hellishly large number in DropBox that aren’t all categorized and sorted like this. It’s taken me a long time to figure out how I like to work and how I understand organization. There are many approaches to organization, but not all of them make sense to me. I need something that I get, that is intuitive and meshes with the way I process information and understand my own working process.

Is this overly complicated? Probably.

Have I thought too much about it? Definitely.

Does anyone care? Most likely not.

Did I enjoy writing this post anyway? Yes. Yes, I did.

How do you organize your writing? I am obsessively interested in workflows, in general, and in writing workflows and organization in particular. Tell me (Twitter or email works best) how you do the organizing and workflowing for writing (or whatever).