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Question from a blog reader

June 29th, 2011

A blog reader who is a faculty member at a university in the DC-Baltimore area asks: I’m curious what advice you would give to someone embarking on their first nonfiction book project about staying organized and on track.  For example, do you recommend Scrivener, DEVONThink, or another specific data-management program?  Are there particular tips, tricks, or programs your writers find helpful in managing a project’s schedule and logistics?  Selling the book is not an issue; this question is about producing the manuscript.

Faculty in Booklab have reported their experiences with various types of organizing systems, and the clear winner was DEVONThink because two people recommended it versus one-time recommendations for other programs. From my observance most don’t use any system at all. Also, it depends on the type of book you’re writing, and how many bits of things have to be organized.

I’ve been a longstanding fan of Franklin/Covey, and I did a one-day “Focus: Achieving Your Highest Priorities” seminar in 2006 when I started this job as a way of learning how to organize and plan at a higher level. I have also tried a system recommended by choreographer Twyla Tharp in her terrific book The Creative Habit. She uses physical boxes; I wrote a blog post about it here. My problem was that the box worked best for people who like things printed out on paper. I like documents as computer files whenever possible, so I eventually abandoned the box and returned to Franklin/Covey. However, it is interesting to think about for those who like physical representations of ideas.

The thing I have found that works best is being part of a faculty scholarly publishing group. Scholars keep one another on track throughout the academic calendar, and it is amazing to watch the hyper-organized people exert influence on the less organized not through direct instruction, but more passively, by example. They set the bar higher, and we all find ourselves living up to it.


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