Organize your story drafts: a 3-step tutorial.

Julia Joppien on Unsplash

When you're writing short stories or essays, your work exists in pieces and layers. There's your freewriting, your first drafts, your second and third drafts, your semi-finished drafts, and your submitted and/or published stories. You with me?

Where does all of this live in your computer? How do you keep from feeling overwhelmed when you sort through it?

It’s time to build a filing system for your work-in-progress.

This tutorial will show you how to create a tidy, powerful, and (dare I say it?) FUN filing method that will clean up your computer, make writing easier, and get you published faster.

Why published faster? Because you stop wasting time when you have an organized system. You work smarter.

This particular file naming idea was given to me a long time ago, but I can't remember the source (if you know who thought of this first, let me know). It works. Plus I love the cooking verbs. You can use any kind of metaphor you like, though.  

 

Step one: Make new folders + give them good names.

1. Start by creating and naming a big folder to hold everything. I call mine WRITING. I made it bright red, so it shouts when I see it.

2. Save this folder using Dropbox. (Presto! Now your writing is backed up.)

3. Inside your WRITING folder, create the following 5 folders: Fresh Ingredients Cooking Ready Published Leftovers Use colour to highlight the important ones. Fresh ingredients and Cooking are the ones you’ll use most often — tag those folders with two sassy colours. Here’s how it will look:


folders-1


 

Step two: Put your work in the appropriate folders.

Fresh Ingredients: This is where your work goes when you first transcribe it from your notebook into a Word doc. This is for raw materials, nonsensical freewrites, ten minute daily prompts, and random story ideas. The Fresh Ingredients folder is beautiful because it is full of possibility and amazement: there is no judgment or criticism allowed here. It's a farmers' market — it's where you go shopping when you want to write something new.

Cooking: For your story drafts. When your raw material becomes a piece of writing with some form or structure, substance and weight. When you have given a piece of work its first title. When you've sent a story to a reader or workshop for a critique and you are working through the edits. When your story needs to be shelved for a few weeks so you can get some perspective. This folder is for your story drafts. You'll probably be working within this folder most of the time.

Ready: Finished work. When you've worked on a story so long that you know it's as good as it gets. When it was in the Cooking folder for a few weeks or months or years, and you came back to it and still thought it's the best it can be. When you've submitted it to a magazine and you're waiting for a response. When your story is ready, file it under Ready. This is a fun folder! It's like a cooling rack for your bundt cake.

Published: Stories that have found a home. This is where you put your work after you get an acceptance letter. If you don't create a folder for published work, how will your stories ever get published? This was my logic when I created my first Published folder. If it's empty at first, that's fine.

Leftovers: Stories and edited pieces of writing that don't have fresh energy anymore. You don't want to look at them right now, but you don't want to delete them either. They live here. You might never look at them again: that's okay.  

 

Step three: Maintenance and sub-folders.

Fresh Ingredients: Create a folder for every month of your freewriting and collect the bits there. If you are doing daily writing prompts, create a new document for every piece you write. Title these daily pieces by subject, and file by month. Say you’ve been writing every day this week. You’d have four pieces so far. Give them wee titles, like this: pincushion list of stars canary Zelda Then put all of those into a folder called [MONTH] [YEAR]. It would look like this:


folders-2


Even if you file your Fresh Ingredients away for years and forget everything you wrote, you’ll be so curious about those little freewrites later, when you come back!

Cooking: First create a folder and title it for your story. Say your story is called GOOD LUCK. The first folder you create inside the GOOD LUCK folder is called DRAFTS. This is where you put every version of your story except the current one. Title each draft of your story by date. When you work on a draft and make changes to it, click “Save As” and give it a new date. I keep my most recent draft outside the DRAFTS folder so it’s easy to find.


folders-3


Ready: This is an easy one. When you get an acceptance letter, just click your story folder from Cooking and drag it into Ready. Done.

Leftovers: This one’s easy, too. When you’re tired with a draft and want to archive it, click the folder and drag it here. If you cut something out of a draft, create a new document for it, and then drag it here. I don’t date my leftovers — but that’s just a personal preference.

That’s it!


Please invest a bit of time to organize your work in progress. This nifty little system will last years and save you headaches and overwhelm. And when you get your acceptances and confirmations, you’ll know just what to do.

Novelists must have similar issues with their chapter drafts, but I'm no expert on novel writing, so I've just given you my short story folder method. It might work for novel chapters too -- novelists and memoirists, please leave me a comment and let me know!

Now it’s your turn. Don’t just read the tutorial — do it! Leave me a note in the comments and let me know if this system works for you.

Also, can you help me think of another cooking term for “Published?”

xo,


Photo credit (top): Julia Joppien on Unsplash


What will happen if you don't write?
How do you keep track of your submissions?

25 comments

David Anderson

Really great article and system, Sarah. This will be an excellent way to organize all those 'little bits' I've got in my Moleskine and gives them something to aim for! Thanks. As for the cooking term for 'Published', you could simply go for "On the Table", but how about "Savoured" or "Devoured"? ;)
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Great tutorial, thanks! As for a cooking word for 'published', how about 'digested'? Hee! Or a gourmet word for 'eaten'? :)
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Lori McNamara

Many miles of thanks to you for helping the fledgling (ME) along
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Title for "published": Dessert. It's your reward for all the hard work, the best part of the meal!
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For published - Hot off the grill. Like hot off the press?
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For "published" how about: feast. defined as: something highly agreeable
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Dhana Musil

Thanks so much for this.Have been searching for a most excellent way to file my stories. Will give it a whirl. I am down with the dessert idea.
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"Served"! :)
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Sarah Selecky

Thanks, everybody! Glad the system is useful, and I'm loving the cooking terminology!
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Brooke (Books Distilled)

This sounds so helpful! I'm writing a novel, but I have a lot of other stories-in-progress cluttering up my folders. I'll play around with this for my novel drafts, too. For "published," what about "consumed"?
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Excellent ideas. time to start getting organised. Thank you very much
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Gabriele Kohlmeyer

Love this, too, can't wait to use some sassy colours, too. Thanks Sarah! How about "done" for published?
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Michelle Roche

Can you use this method also for short stories collections? Cheers, Michelle
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brilliant! this really made my day! thank you very, very much :-)
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How do you get the whole row to be highlighted?
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Sarah Selecky

Hi Michelle! Yes - this method is *especially* for short stories.
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Sarah Selecky

Hi Susan -- I work on a Mac, so those images are from my desktop. If you're on a PC, I don't know how it will look, I'm sorry!
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I absolutely LOVE this, and it came at just the right time. Thank you so much!
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Sophia Bonnie Wodin

Thanks for much for citing this filing system in yesterday's letter. It's a great concept and one that never crossed my mind! After all these years, I finally have a way to organize my writing. I am SO juiced!
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Thank you again Sarah, the genius is upon you and thank you for sending him to the side of alot of us writers. I think WELL DONE would sound good in replacement of published as it would have the cooking theme along with the pat on the back when a job is well done. Well, it's an idea. Hugsxo Peggy
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Al dente gets my vote =) just the right bite to the piece.
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Emile Oude Wolbers

Dear Sarah. A friend of mine let me read your story system. Glad I did, love you for sharing it. This is going to help me a lot. Grateful regards (perhaps somewhat old fashioned? ), Emile.
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I am very glad to have discovered your site. Organised creativity is so essential !!
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Chris Manion

Thanks for the help in organizing. In my WRITING folder, I have subcategories of folders: poetry, current working manuscript, blogs, as well as folders for marketing, publishing, and a few writers groups. Each of the MS I'm working on has its own folder. Those will be where I can apply your cooking folder themes. I first thought of dessert for your Published folder. Mine will be titled That Was Delicious. It will be fun to put something in there. It's what I love to hear when someone has liked what I cooked.
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Jenelle Pointer

Cooking really is my "hard skill", how I make money. Writing stories-my "soft skill", how I spend most of my time. Who would have thought I can metaphor/simile one into the other! Thanks so much!!!
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