The Organized Writer: A Creative Planner

by Jeff Abbott on January 18, 2011

I want to keep my working brain mostly stuffed with ideas for books. So I get all the everyday stuff out of my brain and into a planner. I use a Filofax as my portable brain.

I’ve tried the electronic-style planners and for some reason paper just works better for me. I don’t have to worry about maintaining a sync, I don’t have to worry about lost data. I can look at multiple pages at the same time. Also, I can doodle in it. Never underestimate the power of doodling.

In my Classic A5 Filofax (this is one of the larger sizes, but they have ones that are smaller if you like) I keep  my calendar, my to-do lists (of which I gave a sample of in a previous blog), my project notes (which are different than book notes, this is more for nonbook work or books/stories that are only sparks of ideas yet or for lists of books to read or movies to see or to-dos that are related to a specific project). I really try to keep the Filofax simple.

I use the week on one page calendar, with a facing page for notes. Each week I put on the Notes page what I want to get done, using the project notes (which are often just a really long todo list) as a guide. And of course I add things as the week goes on and new issues crop up. This way I don’t have to do lots of rewriting of a to-do list. I don’t need tons of space for each day, just appointments and writing down word count for my own benefit. This is from a few weeks ago, when I was working on galleys and spending vacation time with my family.

I also have a full, foldout year calendar where I can record the day’s word count and mark due dates so I can visually see my progress over time and have my freakout panic attacks in an orderly fashion. (this is not filled out yet, I have to do that this week).

In the leather slots on the inside cover, I have notecards and coffee shop frequent user cards and gift cards. (COFFEE. It’s important.)

I have a Ziploc-style bag where I can put in inspiring images a la Gala Darling’s Filofax (her blog describing her setup for a creative person’s Filofax  caused a complete sellout of her style of planner for weeks), or have notecards at hand or keep my Southwest cocktail coupons. Today’s inspiration is a Drew Brees trading card my sons gave me, to never give up, because Drew never gives up. I’ve also put in family photos or sketches on notecards that remind me or rally me to do my best work. I know this will seem silly, and I’m not the kind for a lot of affirmations, but a little visual reminder to hang tough or to feel inspired never hurts.

I have five tabs in mine, behind the calendar. Projects, Do, Ideas, Lists, Maybe, and Reference.

Projects lists everything I’m working on.

Do is what has to be done to make those projects complete.

Ideas are any ideas I have, maybe for new projects, new books, new stories, new features for the website, and so on.

Maybe is for items that are a bit beyond the idea stage; maybe I’ll want to do them, one day, but not now. Keeping notes here on them makes sure I don’t lose any good ideas related to them.

Reference is reminders/data that are useful to have: when did I last have the car serviced and what was done, if I have to call Apple about my computer, here are the notes for it; expenses for when I’m on book tour, etc.

I keep blank paper in it always for notes. Mine is an A5, so it’s bigger, and usually stays on my desk. It is not so big, though, that I can’t take it with me.

My wife asked for a Filofax for her birthday, and she loves hers so far. She needs much more space for her calendar than I do, and so she uses the one week spread across two pages format. This is the beauty of Filofax; you can make it work the way you want to work.

If you like a bound planner, instead of a loose-leaf one, Quo Vadis and Moleskine make very good products. I think the important thing is to pick one and stick with it and make it the best repository for your schedule, your work, and your random ideas that it can be. I like the Filofax because it’s flexible and easy to maintain. It lets me get my head clear to do my best work.

Next up: how I use Circa notebooks for all my book notes: tracking characters, plot, imagery, research, random ideas, and more.

    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    Jackie Wilson June 7, 2012 at 3:49 am

    Did you ever write about Circa? If yes, where is it? If no, why not?

    Jeff Abbott June 7, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Jackie, the entry about Circa was the very next entry in the Organized Planner Writer series. Click on the Organized Writer tag and you can see them all in order.

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