By Mary Walsh
After many years of secret writing, I used to just keep my poems in a drawer; many never saw the light of day again. Then I discovered the brilliant Pen to Print organisation run by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. They offered free workshops to help improve your writing.
I started taking part in the many workshops on offer and got used to sharing my poetry with others, reading it aloud, and gaining the confidence of actually sending it into competitions and magazines. It was when I decided to collate my poems into a collection that I began to realise I should have kept a tighter rein on filing.
Writing is challenging enough, but keeping organised while juggling everything needed to write can cause anyone to get frustrated. The slips of paper, journals, spreadsheets, 32 open tabs on the computer, phone notes app and reference and grammar books cluttering your workspace, may make you feel like you’re writing from inside the eye of a hurricane.
My poems were scattered everywhere. That could have been a bad thing or a good thing. One of the good things was that I found work I’d forgotten I had written. Like me, you probably have notebooks you’ve scribbled in, as well as keeping notes on your phone, for when inspiration strikes on the move.
So, where to begin? It looked like a mammoth task.
I started by searching my desk, lots of notebooks, some with bits of poems in, some with lots of poems, some just with thoughts to make a piece of writing later. All handwritten!
I looked at my computer files. There was ‘Mum’s Poetry’, ‘Spanish Poetry’, ‘Underground Poetry’, long poems, short poems, haiku and children’s poetry, poetry I had written for birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, colleagues leaving and the Love Letters To The World initiative. I also looked at my Facebook page, as I’d published some of my poems there.
The list was endless. Everything I’d written over the last 46 years waiting to be organised. But where to begin? I found that, even though I had folders for themes, these contained duplicates of poems in the master file. Also, I’d forgotten they were there.
In a perfect world, I’d have entered the date the piece was written to make it easier for me to follow when I was transcribing. I found some with dates and some without. I could guess a year. Now, of course, I put the date at the end of the title when I save the poem, e.g. File name: Leaves 01022022.
Once I’d found all my notebooks, I looked at the computer files. I tried to find poems with the same title as the notebook poems. Here, I came across another barrier. When I transcribed the poems, I’d changed the title, so they were not easily found. This meant I had to go into each document and see if it matched. This meant trying to match the notebooks with the computer files and then transcribing the poems that were missing.
Eventually, I was able to transfer all the different computer files into one Microsoft Word File and order it alphabetically.
I put dates on the page in the body of the document and, if I knew what it was, I added the year.
I mourned the lost poems I’d written for colleagues at work or holiday apartments and hotels, and not copied them into my notes. I even wrote one as part of a tip when I had breakfast in a café.
Finally, I had a list of 580 poems, ordered alphabetically, which only took three weeks to complete.
It was then I remembered the poems and other pieces I’d written, submitting to Pen to Print and other poetry competitions.
So, how do you keep track of your writing, whether it’s poetry or short stories, novels, or articles?
I looked up some hints and tips for keeping track of your work and also asked some of the Pen to Print volunteers. Here’s what they say:
File your poetry by year, each on a single word document. This makes it easier to find them for competitions or submissions.
Group your poetry by book. Each has its own folder with all the poems within and each poem on an individual word document. For instance, Poetry/Little Book Of Love/Poems/ and then file all your poems this way. If you don’t yet know what book they will be published in, group them by genre or subject.
File them in alphabetical order in one master Word file that’s listed alphabetically. These can then be copied into folders by theme if you’re collating for a collection.
Try to order them in folders you think will work together as a potential collection. Email the docs or folders to yourself, so that if your computer dies, you have them in two E-Spaces.
All agree on one thing, and that is that each poem should be on its own Word document, so they can be easily copied for competitions or submissions.
If you’re able, you can keep a catalogue or index of your works and their progress using an Excel document to keep track of what, when, where and how. See the example below:
This can be filtered to show you your work by date or theme, etc.
For writing novels or flash fiction, I find it useful to also use version control. So, My Novel June 2020 V1.0 for the first draft, July V1.1 for the second draft, etc. I like to keep all the drafts for tracking purposes and the dates.
It’s essential to find some type of system that enables you to find what you need quickly and efficiently and, I guess, how you keep track of your files and writing is ultimately up to you. However you do it, remember to back it up to the cloud, OneDrive, DropBox or copy onto a USB. I have a hard copy print of mine, too – old-fashioned, I know! While my way works for me, it may not work for everyone, of course.
Poets are generally blue-sky thinkers. We’re usually more interested in observing the world around us, rather than dealing with the technical details. However, our art is just as important as the Old Masters, who carefully catalogued and registered their works. Don’t let yours get lost!
You can hear great new ideas, creative work and writing tips on Write On! Audio. Find us on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Google Podcasts and Spotify. Type Pen to Print into your browser and look for our logo or find us on Anchor FM.
If you or someone you know has been affected by issues covered in our pages, please see the relevant link below for information, advice and support: https://pentoprint.org/about/advice-support/
Our art is just as important as the Old Masters, who carefully catalogued and registered their works. Don’t let yours get lost!