December 13th, 2021

Dreams & Confessions of a Disorganized Writer

by Jenny Hansen

I dream of being an organized person. Heck, I'd settle for being an organized writer. Fortunately for me, I married my organization gene, and he's a keeper! But every year, as December goes into full swing and I'm hip-deep in wrangling the family holidays, I dream of being more organized.

And before all you Planner Unicorns start eagerly reaching for your Pomodoros, I've tried to be one of you. And I have failed. I lose the planners, the cute stickers, the schedules, and the list of resolutions...and it makes me feel like a failure.

I've had a bit more luck using technology to corral my ADD tendencies because my computer files are completely organized. Those suckers are pristine and on OneDrive where I can get them from anywhere, which I find very comforting. Also, Google calendar puts reminders right in my face, from both my phone and my computer, which means I actually remember my meetings and get to them on time.

I love technology.

Fun Tangent: here are some great posts from some of the bloggers at WITS on using technology to increase writing productivity:

What Holiday Disorder Looks Like at My House

All my organized friends are about to cringe and peek at these next paragraphs through their fingers. (Sorry in advance!) But this post is about providing comfort to the rest of the readers here. The ones who often feel overwhelmed by life and responsibilities. The ones who jot down book notes on their utility bill envelopes because they can't remember where they put that notebook. The ones who read the paragraph below about my garage and send me a virtual fist bump.

If you often feel like you'd lose your head if it wasn't attached, this section is for YOU. Hopefully, it will help you realize you are not alone.

My Disorganization Gene has a sub-category I'm reminded of every holiday season.

That's when I lament that I am also in possession of the Stuff Disorder gene and the Oh-I-Forgot-I-Had-That gene. Thankfully, I married my husband, aka Mr. Disaster Recovery, and he passed the Supreme Organization gene on to my daughter.

Around the holidays, I depend on my hubby like a blind woman on her guide dog. I thank God for him all the time, but over the holidays — I’m just gonna say it — he saves my bacon every year.

Holiday time shines a strobe light on this not-so-secret shame of mine...

I suck at keeping my stuff organized.

For example, when my husband we unpacked the Christmas stuff from the garage, I found scads of things I’d forgotten about:

  • Cards I meant to send last year.
  • Presents (including calendars) that were for 2017/2018 not this year.
  • 27 boxes of Christmas cards
  • 11 stockings (there are three of us)
  • 19 rolls of wrapping paper
  • 6 things of tissue paper (the jumbo kind)
  • 2 jumbo packs of Scotch tape
  • And NO blinky lights for outside (because we missed that after-holiday sale last year).

Hello? I’ve got enough Christmas cards for the entire block. Literally, all of my family and friends (and their friends) could come to my house to wrap their holiday gifts. And when I'm pressed for time, I end up using gift bags anyway (which is why the graphic at the top says "wrap a present").

True Confessions

I’d be crushed by my mess if I hadn’t married the King of Organization.

Confession #1

I’ve stopped trying to get my cards out at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Nowadays, we just order New Year’s Cards. (In really bad years, they’re called Valentines… One really terrible year, I had St. Patrick’s day “hellos.”)

Confession #2

Most of the time I buy the cards and presents on time, forget where I put them, and have to spend valuable time digging them out. Sometimes I've had to re-shop. One year, for my Baby Girl’s birthday party, my husband asked if I would consider just wrapping and labeling everyone’s unsent presents and putting them on a table by the door so they could TAKE THEM HOME.

Confession #3

I have started combating this organizational deadlock by mailing gifts through the Fall, or even the moment I buy them. I label the package with an “open date.” I comfort myself with the thought that even if these gifts miss the proper occasion, at least it wasn’t because I was a slack-a$$.

On the upside, I started making many of my gifts these last few years. When I'm not buried under deadlines, I bake, paint, create and knit my way through the holiday season. It gives me joy and my gifts have that personal touch of love, even when they’re not usually timely.

We had The Year of Hats a few years back.

Something else I'm thankful for as I come skidding into the New Year all battered and bruised: I have two organized friends who share their Organizational Rockstar gene with me as holiday and birthday gifts most years. They help me start the New Year feeling hopeful that maybe this year I can be more organized.

My Holiday Writing Dreams

I not only dream of being an organized person, I also dream of being an organized writer. I have pals like Laura Drake who finish their shopping by the Fall and write all their books in a lovely linear fashion. She gets up every day at about 3 am to write for several hours. Honestly, I'd hate her if she wasn't one of my fave peeps.

In my organized writer dreams, my life looks far different:

  • I have a set writing time every day.
  • I have an actual office space. With a desk and a big storyboard of my current works in progress.
  • I have an organized wall calendar.
  • I know where my planner is! And it has cute stickers in it.
  • I have an assistant who herds me along toward my goals. And mails packages.

Because let's face it, without the last item on the list, I'd either forget about all these goals for weeks at a time, or I'd keep moving along in the same fits and starts that plague me now. And for sure, I wouldn't have that cool wall calendar.

I'm blessed with lots of superpowers - I couldn't be successful at my job or running WITS without them - but being organized isn't one of them. On the upside, I've already made the almond roca this year.

Confession time! Did you inherit the Stuff Disorder gene or the Supreme Organization gene? Are you shuddering right now or nodding your head in agreement? Do the holidays shine their twinkly lights on your greatest strengths or your greatest weaknesses? Please tell me your story down in the comments!

* * * * * *

About Jenny

By day, Jenny Hansen provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Facebook at JennyHansenAuthor or at Writers In The Storm.

35 responses to “Dreams & Confessions of a Disorganized Writer”

  1. LauraDrake says:

    You know I am anally organized. No kudos, because the downside is, IF you survive the Holidays, you're exhausted and feeling used and underappreciated. And I hate myself for feeling it.

    See? Neurosis on both sides. Be you. We love YOU.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      It IS nice to know that the angst lives on both sides of the organization divide. Don't feel unappreciated, my friend! I made you some almond roca. I imagined yours and my brother's voices in my head and powered through two batches today. 🙂 Now if I can just get it mailed... (LOL)

  2. I love your confession, Jenny. Here's mine: I can stay somewhat organized as long as no one messes with my system. However, I married the Duke of Disorganization and he's in denial about his, um, problem. Fortunately, he can't get his hands on my writing files!

  3. I feel your pain. But I don't experience it! Age has many downsides, but one of the upsides is that over time I've become more organized. I ordered my xmas cards (after I 'made' them on Shutterfly) and got them out a week ago. I bought my grandkids' gifts (I have six - my organizational skills increased by grandkid 3) and mailed them two weeks ago (those to CA) because we were told mailing would take weeks. They got them in 3 days. (Believe me, I paid for it - literally - but worth the lack of stress). I've had two different grandkids over at different times to make xmas cookies. Bought tickets four months ago to take granddaugther to The Nutcracker next week. Am I patting myself on the back? YES. Except... my writing goals/organization are not good. Not good at all. I have half a book written - started in 2017. Whoops. I should set a timetable for the other half. I really like the first half. January 1 - one chapter a week thereafter. Hopefully. Maybe. Fingers crossed.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Oh this is excellent news - perhaps organization will filter in to me more and more the older I get. That would be aces. And BRAVO to you on all that mailing and shopping and timely holiday card action!!!

      I tend to gamify things on the writing front. Ex: I do sprints with friends, make accountability check-ins, make interim projects on the NaNo site to track word count even when it's not November. It's true that I can forget about everything but work, or a family project, for weeks at a time, but usually technology and the aforementioned accountability partners help with that.

  4. Kris Maze says:

    Hi Jenny! Thank you for the writerly props. But since this is a confessional post, I can say my dry erase wall calendar is still on July and my 'writing space' is a gift wrapping explosion. Good thing my writing style can work wherever I have headphones!

    I'd love to hear your tips for making organized files and what cloud resources writers are using. My computer files sound like your garage! Is that my taxes? Nope, an old corsage. *slinks into the corner*

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      This makes me feel so much better!!! One thing I will say, it was easier to organize my life before I had a child. Not only is your attention forever divided after that, but you're corralling their mess (in addition to your own) forevermore. And you have more kids than I do. Just sayin...

  5. Lynette M Burrows says:

    Oh, Jenny, I'm so glad you confessed. If you could see my house and office right now...ugh. I tend to make meetings on time because of technology but only just barely. There's always one more thing that will take "just a minute" until I'm running out the door and pushing the speed limit.

    Christmas and birthday presents? Um, they usually sit on my table--unwrapped, in the box or bag they came in--until they become one of those things that will take "just a minute." Christmas tree? My son came over and put it up, plugged it in....and I've fluffed a few of it's artificial branches...okay two--two of it's branches.

    And let's not discuss my computer desktop and files. Like Kris, I'd love to hear your tips for making organized files.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Those "just a minutes" add up! And they're exhausting. It's the bigger items that tend to daunt me - the "just a few hours" projects. Those tend to go to the back of the line because I "just don't have time" for them. That's one of the reasons why I organize my computer files so ruthlessly - when I have time for the "just a minute" task, I don't want to spend the minute looking for the file.

      On the writing front, the size of a novel was prohibitive and scary for me, so I had to stop thinking in NOVEL and start thinking in SCENE. That made a huge difference in me getting my writing done. When my thoughts narrowed to, "all I have to finish is this one scene," my writing productivity when way up.

      Interestingly, my writing files are less organized than my work files. Perhaps that will be my January project...if I can remember it. 🙂

  6. Anna says:

    My Christmas gifts are waiting to be wrapped and mailed. My Christmas cards are waiting to be addressed, signed with individualized messages, and mailed. My notes about books to read, tasks to do, updated passwords, websites to investigate, people to get in touch with, and possible venues for my writings still in draft are piled high and deep in various places around the house. Some of those people have died by now. Some of those publications have also died, or their deadlines have passed and they are closed to submissions for the next two years.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Good on you, Anna! Confession is good for the soul. If you're like me, thinking of all of that together is a huge depressing downer.

      I have to do one of two things to stop feeling paralyzed under the mess:

      1. Beg a friend to help me corral everything into 5-6 categories. This is scary because it jumbles all the piles together. (My brain screams: "who knows if I'll ever be able to get them organized again...OMG!")

      2. I put each pile / jumble / room area into its own grocery bag, and clean the room. Seriously make it sparkle. Maybe add flowers, and be sure to admire the clean room.

      And while I would want to put all those bags out of sight and stop worrying about them, my husband instead holds me to the one back per weekend rule. Seeing those bags disappear, or turn into computer files is very empowering.

      Downside: I have to try not to hyperventilate over the other bags. When I can't stand the thought of "all that important information being lost or going to waste," I go admire the clean room.

  7. I feel your pain, Jenny.

    I'm very organized for some things but in other cases I am the reluctant organizer. I know what I need to do but just don't feel like it. That's when the last minute rush begins.

    I love your hats!! My grandmother tatted lace and my mother knitted and crocheted. I tried multiple times to knit. No talent there. However, my ability to swear increased dramatically.🤣

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      "I don't feel like it." <-- HA! I love that you give yourself permission to just say, "I'm not feeling it." I learned how to knit in a rather fun, sad way. Back in 2008 or so, I had a terrible boss. He was abusive and sucked nearly all of the creativity right out of me. I was so stressed out I couldn't write, and I was so stressed out I had to create SOMETHING. I walked into my local yarn store, all twitchy and overwhelmed, and told the woman at the counter I needed to learn how to knit. She handed me their class schedule and I pushed it back to her and said, "No. I need to learn how to knit TODAY." I don't know what she saw in my face, but she sent me to the yarn section for supplies and met me at the back of the store for a 15 minute quick and dirty knitting lesson. Knitting terribly for the next month saved my sanity. And eventually, I got better. And then I left that boss.

  8. Oh how I understand, Jenny. I stumble through and get by, all the time wishing I had an organized assistant. I think I quality as a disorganized organizer. I'm a patchwork of organized and not. I suppose the fun element is that when I need something I never know if it'll be easy to access or a test of my patience. Thankfully, my projects within Scrivener tend towards extremely organized. After that, like I say, hit and miss. I have notebooks that haven't been updated for years and that have stacks of papers on top. My computer is much the same with some files pristine and others a grab bag of documents.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      An organized Scrivener file is a glorious thing, isn't it? I am so happy to hear that I'm not the only one who dreams about having an assistant. I would absolutely LOVE one.

  9. pp48 says:

    I'm pretty sure I'm your twin. I have my Virgo moments of course, (and I'm a scorpio) but I'm also like the other Ellen commenting: I know what I need to do, I just don't feel like it. LOL! So, throw procrastinator in the lovely mix. Ah well. We are who we are, right? And I love your hats too! I have ZERO patience for that, but then I bake dozens of Christmas cookies for my neighbors, and lots of people cringe at the idea. Soldier on, fellow ADD writers!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Hahahahaha, pp48! We just might be twinsies. I too am a Scorpio, and I was raised by a pile-making Virgo, who left all her organizational prowess at work. It's making my day to find people like you and Ellen who just OWN IT.

  10. Eldred Bird says:

    I hear you, Jenny! I married my organizer as well. Give her a spreadsheet and she can rule the world. We divide the duties in our life. She's the brains and I'm the brawn. She organizes things and I make them happen. It's worked for almost 40 years, so there's no point in missing with the system. I just wish it extended to my writing life. Well, actually it does...she's my primary editor and most honest critic.

  11. Barb DeLong says:

    Jenny, you are a rock star in my eyes! We tend to focus on what we're not good at instead of celebrating where we shine. Like you say, you are blessed with lots of superpowers. We all are. Break out the champagne and part-tay!

  12. Dover Whitecliff says:

    I'm a wood dragon on the Lunar calendar so I have the organization gene with blind spots. We moved in and filled the garage with boxes in 2006. It was too much. Couldn't wrap my mind around starting for 14 years. Only thanks to the 2020 lockdown (and sorting just one box at a time and then walking away) do we have a garage now. For writing, it's the opposite. I get lost in the organizing, each teeny tiny thing that could weave into another thing three books later. It's a joy. I love it! But I need to apply the garage principle to the manuscript. Just one paragraph of plot. Just one. Then another. Less daunting that way. I'll try that. Maybe after I finish creating the post cards that will be sold in the diner where my MC works...

  13. Jae says:

    I think it depends. Sometimes I can get really organized and make life easy for myself and others... not so much. Glad to know I'm not the only one that struggles. 🙂

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You are 100% not the only one, Jae!! There are lots of us here. If you read the top comment, even the ones who are not on the disorganized side of the fence have angst about it.

  14. Julie Glover says:

    I am the maker of lists! So many lovely lists and great expectations, but not as many checkmarks on those lists as I'd like. Oh well, I have found some options that work reasonably well for me, and apologies to everyone around for my forgetfulness is just a feature of my life. 😉

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Juuuulie! As someone who has watched you organize a whole room of writers, I love your lists! At least from the outside, they work great. 🙂

      And aren't ALL writers forgetful?

  15. deleyna says:

    This is beautiful and joyous, Jenny. I'm not sure where I fall. It depends on if you open the closets or not.

    Sometimes I'm organized. Other times I get overloaded and then all bets are off!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      It's so funny - closets are not my kryptonite. Bins, bags and garages are my kryptonite. I think my sorta-kinda-neat closets come from 2 places. (1) our closets are all open and visible. (2) In a jumbled closet, I might accidentally shake hands with a spider or some other spooky bug. I don't like in-house spiders or surprise bugs. I get completely wigged.

  16. dholcomb1 says:

    organized chaos: my cards went in the mail on the 27th (they arrived later than originally promised by shutterfly, but I was also late in designing them), and I sent the thank you notes at the same time.

    but, my Christmas stuff is organized in labeled (sharpie) bins and they have a designated spot in the basement.

    denise

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