organization of a Creative Life... Part 2: Finding Your Way

I came across this great photo and quote in Real Simple magazine.  It reads, "One person's mess is merely another person's filing system."  (said my Margo Kaufman).

I cannot say how true that is and something I need to remind myself about, especially while having a smaller person in the house with me.  What I see as a mess, she sees as a creative project.

I think we all have our own creative projects that others see as "messes."  And in our own lives, we need to create our own filing systems and our own way of keeping track of things that we can keep up on.

For example, I used to track poetry submissions with an Excel spreadsheet and I hated the process of it.  Yes, it was accurate.   Yes, I could see sort it if needed, but oh, after spending a day on the computer, the last thing I wanted to do was type in poems I submitted!

I came up with another system for myself.  It's a little redundant, but for me, it's easy and doesn't require a computer.

I keep the titles of each of my finished poems on index cards.  I keep those in the back of an index file box on my desk.  When I want to submit poems, I browse through the stack of poems and set aside 3-5 of my favorite poems, ones I think the journal I'm submitting to will like.

Beneath the title of the poem on the index card, I write the journal I'm submitting to and the date.  Many of these poems have been submitted before so there are other journals above it with X's by them (it means they've been rejected) and dates (so I know not to submit the same poem to a journal that already rejected it).

Now before I file these index cards back in the box, I record the date & name of the magazine I submitted with the 3-5 poem titles below it in a journal I keep on my desk (this is the redundant part).  I do this so I can browse through my journal to see what magazines have my poems and what is in each batch.

Here's what my file box looks like.  I currently do not have many poems out, but promised a friend to have 4 submissions out by the end of the month (which I will do).

I know this is ridiculously old school, but I love it and it works for me.  Sometimes I'll even write the date of when I finished the poem in the upper right corner of the index file as it's interesting for me to see when it was written vs. how long until it gets published.

Duotrope has an online submission tracker that many poets us.  You have to be signed up with Duotrope to use it, but it's free.

I think the key to organizing the creative mind is to find what works for you, fine tune it, then follow through with it.


  1. I've been using the google docs excel program for years now but I really miss having it down on paper. I'm toying with starting to record it in a notebook again. I feel more centered with paper :)

  2. You're much more disciplined than me. If I had to write out my submissions on a card or physical paper, it would never get done. LIke Jessie, I have a Google doc where I keep a list of all my submissions, acceptances and rejections. I need to check out the Duotrope submission tracker.

  3. Thanks for sharing your card filing system, Kelli. I loved seeing the little blue/white candy cane that holds your place amidst all the file cards.

    I have a giant manila folder labeled Pending Acceptances (yes, I am an optimist). In here I put a copy of each submission's cover letter w the names of the poems I sent to a particular editor scribbled on them.

    Works for me.

    I also love lists. I make them in my writing journal, mainly.

  4. I have a card file fairly similar to yours, although I also make a card for each journal. Once upon a time these cards had tons of information on them; now they usually have little more than a URL, possibly notes on whether previously published or sim subs are accepted, tally marks of how many of my poems they've rejected/accepted, and a note of when the last time I tried them was (so I don't accidentally keep hammering the same journal five times a year or something).

    I also have a spreadsheet, which helps me keep track of dates and such, but it's hard for me to see at a glance things like "is this poem currently out anywhere?" or "have I already sent this poem to this journal?" The card file works better for that. But the spreadsheet lets me get statistics, which are interesting so long as I don't let myself get obsessed with them.

    I've recently started using Duotrope, and for the most part I like it. Mostly I like getting a realistic idea of response times, and I'm using it partly for my own benefit and partly to contribute to the pool of data (because the more the better).

  5. Oh! The other thing I like about the card file: when I'm figuring out what to send where, I make little stacks of cards and shuffle them around. Having this sort of physical representation of the packet makes it easier for me to pick out my little groups of three or four or five poems, and then put them in stacks with the cards that represent the journals. It makes a little game out of it, which helps me get it done.

  6. The first time you described your card system, I knew I had to try it. I love it. I still use Duotrope, because I use them for tracking deadlines and searching for themed issues, but I love my card box. It's so easy to mix and match piles of poems when considering submissions. I also like being able to see at a glance how long it's been between one journal passing on a poem and me sending it to another - that lets me see when I'm slipping into a greater than the every day fear of rejection phase.

  7. Thanks, everyone! Glad this was helpful.

    Anne: RE: The other thing I like about the card file: when I'm figuring out what to send where, I make little stacks of cards and shuffle them around.

    ***YES! This is exactly what works so well for me. To physically put the poems in stacks as I create submissions and to shuffle around. I love that.

    Jennifer-- I'm glad it's working for you! Thanks for your note.

    Marty--I am going to have to steal that PENDING Acceptances title. Love it!

    Collin- I think it's whatever works best for each of us. If you do try out Duotrope, let me know what you think. I tried it once, but never kept it up, but I could easily see its benefit.

    Jessie-- I definitely understand the "more centered on paper thang." I was in bookstore and a paper calendar/schedule for my purse and I had to resist buying it, though there is a part of me that wants to return to paper. My life has been so busy this year though and I've been making dates for readings in 2011! that I find Google calendar has been very helpful for these yearly events. Still, paper...ah!


Post a Comment

Always love to hear from you...and the anonymous option is open for those feeling shy.