Organizing your writing life

Friend and fellow poet Steven Reigns asked me an interesting question this week: how do you organize your writing on a computer, laptop or device? Here's how I organize mine. It's not necessarily the best system, but it works for me.

With the publication of Midnight in a Perfect World coming later this year, those poems are now in their "final" form and live in a Word document that will be transformed into the printed book. That document (in both printed and computer file format) will be preserved for my archive. The poems pulled from the manuscript have been cut and pasted back into a Word document that is currently 232 pages of unpublished poems or various drafts that need more revision. Yes, that's a little unwieldy at times, but it's also easy to search by title and keywords throughout the document so I can keep up with it.

I also have an additional document that acts as a spreadsheet that holds nearly 20 years of acceptances, rejections and withdrawals from various journals, contests, anthologies, etc. There's also a separate part of the document where I keep a running list of open submissions. Since many journals use Submittable these days, it's a good backup for keeping up with poems that are looking for a home.

Every few months, I go through the various folders that live on my desktop and consolidate documents and drafts. I also back up everything to the cloud for additional safekeeping, which is where digital copies of previously published manuscripts (like The Venus Trilogy novels, Better To Travel and Render) also now reside. Various printed versions of those manuscripts – early drafts and those corrected by me and my editor – are currently in my file cabinet, but will soon go to the archive at Georgia State University Library Special Collections & Archives.

For the last couple of years I've been sorting more than 30 years worth of correspondence, papers, periodicals and other ephemera related not only to my writing but to Atlanta and its colorful LGBT history that will also be going to the GSU archive. Last night while doing some more of that sorting, I stumbled upon a folder mashed into the back of one of my file cabinets that contained printed copies of poems that eventually found their way into Better To Travel. Also in that folder were two handwritten poems – hastily scrawled on the backs of printed poems – that I had totally forgotten about. One of them is sonnet called "The Seer" from a long-ago workshop I took with Cecilia Woloch. The other is called "I believe..." and is an interesting little manifesto that references River Phoenix, Princess Diana and living in London. I also found – and this is the one I'm most intrigued with – a printed poem called "The empty bed," which, if memory serves, was destined to be part of Better To Travel but was pulled at the last minute. It has a killer closing stanza, but the rest needs some serious revision, which is probably why I pulled it from the book. There's no date on the poem, but hazy recollection puts it at around 1994 or 1995. Sometimes being a packrat pays off.

I'm curious how you, fellow poets and writers, organize your writing life? Do you use a program or an app? Do you print everything up? Keep handwritten drafts in notebooks? Share your secrets and tips, please.

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