Resurrecting the Dead Elephant

I might have to revamp my writing file organization system.

Yes, gasp if you will. After 15 years of using the same system, I’m now discovering it doesn’t quite fit the writer I am today. I’ve kind of outgrown it, which is both thrilling and daunting.

Okay, you all know I’m a fiend for organization. It’s that little bit of Virgo easing up on my Leo cusp. If you’re just reading so you can make fun of me, well… okay. But if you don’t have a bit of Virgo, you might get bored.

I keep email folders and then organize my files on the computer into folders with the same names. For lo these fifteen years, I’ve been using three major categories for my writing work: In-Progress, Ping-Pong and Published. In-Progress is divided into Incomplete and Draft, and all have further sub-folders for individual works. My Ping-Pong folder is for works under active submission. I read an article in Poets & Writers when I was first starting out that suggested viewing the submission process as a game of ping-pong. You hit the ball out there, they reject it and pop it back, you send it right back out again. When the ball doesn’t return? Score!

This system worked great when I started out because I mainly wrote essays and short stories, submitting them to popular and literary magazines. It was a fairly straightforward process that moved at a lightning pace compared to the geologic time of submitting novels.

This might be spreadsheet TMI, but I keep an Excel workbook, called Progress Count, which has a tab for each manuscript I’m actively working on. I also have a Submission workbook. When I finished drafting and polishing something, I transferred that one spreadsheet to the Submission workbook, where I’d then track the submission process. And I’d move the folder for it, in both email and on the hard drive, from In-Progress to Ping-Pong.

And yes, it made me happy. I’ll even confess to a special thrill when I moved the folders to Published.

Well, now it’s not so clear.

See, for my first novel, Obsidian, it moved nicely from the Incomplete folder to the Draft folder to the Ping-Pong folder. After being kicked around the gutters of NYC, it came limping home, a battered and dented ping-pong ball. It needed rehab, in a big way.

I should have moved it back to the Draft folder. But I didn’t. I never had gone backwards. It stayed in the Ping-Pong folder, but – and this is a big BUT as all your organization fiends will recognize – I had to move the working spreadsheet back to Progress Count, so I could track the revising. You all recognize the problem here, right?

Right. Non-synchronicity of the filing system.

You can pause to steady your breathing – I totally understand.

I revised. The word count changed hugely. I gamely sent Obsidian back into the volley again. I think someone in NYC stepped on the ball because it just stopped coming back. No score.

Sad, I just left it all in the Ping-Pong file, when really I should have moved all the files to some kind of Elephant Graveyard folder. I started a New and Better novel. I put the past behind me.

Well, now someone is interested in Obsidian. (I know – tentative yay!!). I have detailed notes for revision. I hauled the files out of all the various folders I’d left them moldering in, but I feel like I have no place to put them. Resurrection folder, perhaps? Frankenstein’s Lab?

It lives!

I know this is likely all a bit much, but the upshot is that I’m finding there are more gradations to being a published writer than draft, submission, published. And there’s a certain maturity in recognizing that.

I’m off to create a few new folders.

Yeah, no one knows how to have fun like I do!

7 Replies to “Resurrecting the Dead Elephant”

  1. As a Virgo, I am all prickly with angst about the collapse of your filing system. ~fans self~

    I keep my files organized by genre then story; within story I have many subs, which include status — though none are labeled ping-pong (great folder name, btw).

  2. I'm a Gemini and totally anal. I have a folder called WIP. In that folder, I have folders titled with things like "Jousting" or "Magic" or "Phoenix" etc. And THEN within THOSE folders, if it's a series, I have them named by the title of the book. I won't even go into what I have inside THAT folder. 😉

    I don't do progress spreadsheets, though I confess I have a Submission folder for each work and within that I have a folder for who I submitted to and what the response was.

    Hm. I think I like folders…

  3. I love the pingpong analogy – I think I need to update my points system to make it show scores!

    I want to know what folders you ended up with! (My folder system is deeply detailed and embarrassing)

  4. You know, Sylvia, I used to do something like that. I calculated how many submissions it took before I got an acceptance. This was *much* easier with short works!

    And I totally made Frankenstein's Lab and Elephant's Graveyard folders, to supplement the others. Using them, too.

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