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Organizing My Home Office

By Cheryl Bolen

Authors more computer savvy than I may not need to organize their offices because theyíve got everything they need digitalized on their computer, all their research sites bookmarked. But Iím not one of those goddesses. Being a historical author, Iíve got one foot firmly planted in traditionalism. I like paper. Lots of it. A hold-in-your hands calendar beats an electronic one in my book any day.

But because it would be easy to get buried under a mountain of paper, I adhere to the everything-in-its-place philosophy.

I even take that a step further. I want everything I need for my writing to be located in my home office. About a year ago I took my contracts and royalty statements from the filing cabinet in my home office to put in one of those fire-proof boxes we store upstairs with other important household papers. It didnít take long before I realized I hated climbing the stairs to get them. I need my royalty statements where I can roll over to them in my desk chair. In fact, I like all of the following within a few feet of the desk in my home office:


Rolodexes arenít just for storing addresses, e-mails, and phone numbers, though they are my favorite method for storing that information. I keep blank cards easily accessible in my top desk drawer to make new entries as needed. My Rolodex is a small one I keep next to my phone ó on the desk top, of course.

What I really love about my Rolodex, though, is using it to quickly retrieve PIN numbers and passwords which I file under the site or organizationís name. For example, when I need my PASIC membership number, I got to "P" and there is a card which says "PASIC member number."

"The Notebooks"

Because I write historicals, Iíve amassed a fairly large library of research books and materials, all of which I like to keep in the large bookcases located in my home office. A couple of tall shelves there are dedicated to my white three-ring notebooks where I keep works in progress, research, archives of articles, publicity, and letters. On white cardstock, I print the name of the notebook and insert it in the clear plastic attached sleeves, particularly on the spine for quick reference. On my work buffet (yes, itís an old dinging room buffet I painted white to go with my decor) next to my desk, I can always find my three-hole punch.

I have one notebook for every book Iím working on. Within these, I use dividers for each chapter, for characterizations, and for timelines.

I have a couple of fat notebooks for regency research, with dividers for things like clergy, food, flora, sports, money. These notebooks hold information Iíve saved from specialized periodicals like The Regency Plume or Beau Mondeís Quizzing Glass, web sites, or the Beau Monde email loop.

I have one notebook for English geography, another for rejection letters, and another for copies of letters Iíve sent to editors and agents, as well as prospective editors or agents.

The notebook marked "Reviews" has a divider for each of my book titles and holds all the reviews Iíve received for each novel.

Another notebook stores press clippings and news releases that pertain to my writing career, and another gives me quick reference to articles Iíve written.

I used to keep notebooks for all my chapter newsletters, but this got too cumbersome.

References at Your Fingertips

Call me lazy, but I like to be able to access frequently used references without leaving my desk chair. Therefore, to my right is an 18-inch desk-top book shelf where the books slant into a wooden v-shaped receptacle. References included here are a dictionary, a speller, familiar quotations, synonym finder, tiny atlas, foreign phrases, a fold-up map of England, desk encyclopedia, slender looseleaf notebook with rosters for the writing and non-writing organizations I belong to, and a calendar.

To the left of my desk is a small filing basket to hold folders of information I currently use. The content of this basket varies according to what I happen to be working on. For example, right now Iím getting ready for the release of a new book, and I need to frequently access the folder of information about that bookís reviews and a listing of the bookís promotional plan. Other information I keep in the vertical basket includes a submissions log and an accordion-style folder (top severed for easy drop-ins) for writing receipts.

File Cabinet

I prefer a two-drawer horizontal file cabinet. Mineís an inexpensive one made of faux mahogany (which I painted white and replaced knobs to match my decor). Without leaving my desk chair, I can view all the files. Its surface can store a printer, copier, or fax.

The files I store here are divided into broad areas like Promotion (various folders for advertisers, printers, bookstore addresses), Business (contracts, royalty statements), On Writing (notes from conferences and workshops), My Talks/Workshops (handouts on talks Iíve presented).

"Cubby Holes"

I was fortunate to find at a flea market a wooden structure I call "cubby holes" which reminds me of the teacher mailboxes at the school where I used to teach. Mine is about two feet wide and nearly three feet tall and has 20 square or rectangular boxes. I painted it white and keep it on my buffet work station, and in it I store the following: envelopes, mailers, a variety of labels, bookmarks of my books, various kinds of paper and envelopes of different sizes. I never have to hunt in drawers because everythingís right there in plain view.


Last but not less important is my labeler. (Of course, those who are computer savvy probably know how to make all sizes of all kinds of labels, but Iím not one of those persons.) I use my labeler for the myriad of tabs on the dividers in my notebooks and file folders and to label the cubby hole squares. For example, one slot in the cubby holes will say "Bond Paper," while another may say "Colored Paper."

Taking a little time to get organized more than pays for itself in time saved looking for elusive supplies and references.

 This article first appeared in In Print in November 2005.

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