Taking Care of Business

This month, I have descended into a project I’d put off for at least four years (if not longer): filing.  Yes, writers need to keep all sorts of files which requires a certain level of organization.  Filing occupies the business side of the writer’s life, along with marketing, sales, office equipment and supplies, taxes, etc.  All these things must have files also.  Over the years, I’ve added files for computer, work calendar, planning, and editor (for my writing), publishers, agents, and online networking. 

The files overflowed my two, two-drawer file cabinets long ago and I put them in storage boxes and in storage.  The plan was to clean out my cabinets each year, store those files I needed to keep and throw the others away.  Nice plan, but I failed miserably at following it.  I kept everything.  Files filled with interesting articles to spark ideas for stories, files filled with articles about writers, musicians, different countries that interested me, files of writing reference articles, and so on.  It occurred to me late last year that all those files in my storage unit were not being used in any way, and I could probably throw out a lot of them.

Thus began this filing project.  I’ve hauled one storage file box after another up four flights of stairs, acquiring sore muscles along the way, and went through each box.  I have filled nine garbage bags with outdated and unwanted articles, writing, references, etc.  I finished the last two boxes this morning.  Now I have stacks of files in my kitchen. 

I’ve catalogued them, and the next step is to organize them into stacks according to the categories I’ve established.  Then I’ll fill the storage file boxes back up with the organized files and take them back down to my storage unit.  But this time, I’ll type up a list of the files by storage box number so I’ll know exactly what I have in each box.  After each file, I’ll note a discard date also.  Some files will need to be kept longer than others.  But I’m determined to not allow myself to be in the same position with files that I was in before this project. 

Writers need to save anything involved with money — expenditures related to taxes such as home office equipment, royalty statements, contracts, etc.  For each story, novel, essay or screenplay, they also need to save enough of their drafts and work on them to prove authorship (if it ever becomes necessary).  Keeping a detailed work calendar as well as a written strategic plan prove that a writer is working rather than pursuing a hobby.  I found the files I kept while I was a freelance copywriter and was quite impressed with how organized and thorough I was with keeping track of contracts, invoices, payments, and projects. 

Next week, I plan to finish this filing project (and reclaim my kitchen for more food-related matters) by returning the file boxes to storage and organizing my five file storage boxes full of the files for the Perceval series of novels.  I cleaned out my file cabinets before I began the storage boxes, so they’re in good shape.  I just need to find a place for my job search files (which, I swear, propagate when my back is turned). 

Getting organized clears the mind for more creative projects such as actual writing….


2 responses to “Taking Care of Business

  1. When working in the pharmaceutical business, the company is required to have a document control system. When my last employer implemented this in a formal way, the first step was to identify every type of document I – as a manager – had in my possession. Then, determine who else might have a copy. Then determine how long I would need to keep it. It was a pretty complex system, but very logical. Contrary to what many assumed, not everything needed to be kept forever. Very few things should be. As the environmental health and safety manager, I was well-served by the fact that many regulations specified how long to keep the supporting documents. A fact which saved me quite a bit of arguing with the documents person when I said “keep them forever”.

    You might consider applying your personal document control system to the electronic world, as well. Identify what needs to be backed up, come hell or high water. e.g. those drafts-to-prove-authorship. Then, when considering money, you can use the list to triage expenses, which need to address electronic records, as well as physical hardcopies.

    Good luck!
    p.s. any time you want to feel good about your progress, come over for Kaffee und Kuchen and you can contemplate my “office” area, a.k.a. document disaster zone. 🙂

    • Most businesses have document retention policies. When working as an admin, I’ve been the one responsible for organizing, cataloguing and sending the files into storage, using the guidelines that had already been established at the company. I’ve had mixed feelings about this task. I love to organize, and I’m organized, but the task itself is rather boring, time-consuming, and rarely fun. With my own files, it’s been fun to discover things I’d forgotten about, and how many essential files I had saved, and just how much material I have for an autobiography (if I ever decide to write one). I’m happy to have the job done, although I didn’t really free up any space in my storage unit because I’d added files that hadn’t been in storage before. Now I’m typing the catalogue to have for reference, something I’ve not had before either.

      As for electronic files, I have all my computer files on a flash drive which I update every month or so. I also have older files on CDs, especially earlier drafts of writing projects. There’s nothing like having hard copies of crucial files, such as financial or legal documents. So, I also have hard copy proof of authorship that I now have catalogued.
      My next project involves selling things I no longer need that are in my storage unit. You wouldn’t, by any chance, want to buy some vinyl LPs or a genuine Kente cloth framed picture from Kenya?

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