Monday, December 17, 2012

"Creative Habit": #5 Start with a Box

As the new year approaches, I feel the need to get organized.  Often I spend the early days of January cleaning out my closets, cabinets and cupboards.  But now that I live in a loft space (meaning one big room, with only one big closet) the need is not as great.  I do find that I stay more organized throughout the year now that there are less nooks and crannies to stuff things.

But, I do wonder if I need a different organizational strategy for my writing projects.

Right now my various projects live in WIPs (Works in Progress) folders on my laptop.  And although these folders are on visible on the desktop, I still feel a tad disconnected from its contents. 

I wonder if a more tactile approach would work better for me.  Twyla Tharp discusses her approach to organization in Chapter 5 of "The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life".

"Mine (organizational system) is a box, the kind you can buy at Office Depot.  I start every dance with a box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance.  This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.  The box documents the active research on every project.  There are separate boxes for everything I have ever done."

This idea of a box of inspiration for each project really appeals to me.  If working on a particular project meant opening a box, instead of choosing another "folder" on the computer, it seems to me to be a very tactile way of determining the days work to be done.  Its a very visual indication of the various projects I have going on at one time.  Its a bolder depiction of each project that begs attention.

Now I know that most of my work...being creative writing...would not fill a box.  In fact, I can't tell you exactly what would go into the box.  And many of my fellow writers might say that they use Pinterest for this vary reason.  But this box idea is so intriguing to me.  I wonder what my equivalent would be. 

Twyla says that she starts each box with an idex card which states the project's goal.  "Sometimes the goal is nothing more than a personal mantra such as 'keep it simple' or 'something perfect' or 'economy' to remind me of what I was thinking at the beginning if and when I lose my way.  I write it down on a skip of paper and it's the first thing that goes into the box."  How awesome is that?  I can't count how many times I have set out to write a certain story and then I lose my way.  Its important to remind myself WHY I am writing, to state the beginning goal.  After that, anything that inspires or informs the work goes in.

Twyla warns, however, that "sadly, some people never get beyond the box stage of a creative life.  Weeks, months, years pass and they produce nothing.  They have tons of research but it's never enough to nudge them toward the actual process of writing.  My solution for them:  This isn't working.  Free yourself.  Get out of this box.  Put it away for another day and start a new box.  But do so with the faith that nothing is lost, that you haven't put in all this effort for naught.  Everything you've done is in the box.  You can always come back to it."

I am inspired to spend some time this week looking at some different, more tactile and concrete, ways of organizing my various writing projects for the new year.  What do you use?  All suggestions are welcome.


  1. Ran into your post amid the disorganized junk on my computer and it is just what I need. Now home many boxes will I be working on at a time? Love the index cards as well.

  2. I am satisfied with my work living in the computer. A printed story in a box (or even a physical file folder) would discourage revision and editing, I think. I like knowing my work is sitting there waiting for me to come back and play with it. When it's printed, I feel like it's finished and ready to roll.

  3. I've been working on a biography, so I've been collecting many picture book biographies that I like, plus articles about the person. So a box would be a good idea for me. Thanks! I do like having the folders on my desktop, but if I had the money, I would buy all the books that inspire me on a particular subject, like friendship for example. (As you know, the libraries don't have all the latest books.)