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The Mess Arrester’ offers 5 tips
for a better-organized writing life

“Writers … are not typically organized people. Their minds go off in other directions, and needing to be perfect will keep them from being creative. They would much rather be doing something else.”

— Linda Herr,
The Mess Arrester (SM)

By Sonya Senkowsky

Creative people such as artists and writers are notoriously difficult to organize. But local “Mess Arrester” Linda Herr, who has worked with both, says it’s not beyond our reach.

One thing writers and artists tend to have in common, other than a creative urge, is the habit of overly cluttering their workspaces with supplies and resources, says Herr. “They have to see their stuff; they have to see their medium, whatever it is,” she explains. “But because they’re artists, they have tons of stuff, tons of media—and most of them are not organized people.”

“Needing to be perfect will keep them from being creative. They would much rather be doing something other than shuffling papers.”

(Is she preaching to the choir, or what?)

Fortunately for us, Linda’s art is dealing with other people’s stuff. She is not a nitpicky neat freak, but rather a true artist at determining usable approaches for real-life situations. Recently, I asked for tips I could pass along. Here were Herr’s top suggestions for writers, artists and other creative types:

1- When organizing your home office, the first step is to separate out the “active” work from the “inactive” work. The inactive stuff should be placed farther away from your desk. For example, if you have a stack of books on your desk, do you really use these books often enough to justify them being there? Keeping inactive materials close by not only gets in the way physically but can be visually distracting.

2- Have several projects going on at once? Linda recommends having a box or other specific place to store each ongoing project. This keeps the projects off your desk and easy to access or whisk away. The system doesn’t need to be fancy. You can use box lids or even dishpans to separate and contain your projects, Herr says. (I found a bunch of clear lidded boxes on sale at an office store and used those.) Great system to gather clippings, interviews and supporting materials for an article in progress.

3- Even if you’re only doing a little bit of freelancing, you should a system for tracking money. Many small businesspeople — not just writers — wait too long to develop a system to track incoming and outgoing money, says Herr, a trained bookkeeper who also untangles financial records for her clients. At the very least, develop a system for tracking invoices. If you find yourself at the end of the month (or year!) asking “What was this deposit for?” or “What was that check for?” you are losing time that could better be spent creating.

4- Are your dishes, laundry and other non-writing projects always calling to you? Make appointments with yourself to spend time on the non-writing tasks that tend to take you away. Then stick to them. “Or decide not to do them, and put them away so they’re not in your face,” says Linda. “Otherwise, when you’re trying to write/create, they become distracting, a mental block.”

5- Don’t make promises (resolutions) you can’t keep. When it comes to clutter-related resolutions, says Linda, her take is that people don’t really do them. Instead, just determine to follow one or more of these tips. Even a few small steps, says Herr, can take you closer to your goal than a great big good intention.

Linda Herr is The Mess Arrester (service mark), an organizational consultant, professional coach and trainer based near Anchorage, Alaska. Need more details? Herr offers a treasure trove of organization tips in her books,“Organize the Disorganized” and “Year-Round Spring Cleaning Marathon” (available at local stores or by contacting Linda directly). She also is available for consultation and coaching for business and personal organization, including bookkeeping. To keep e-clutter out of her own life, she prefers contact by phone or snail mail. To contact her, call 907-689-7744, or write PO Box 1368, Girdwood, AK 99587-1368. Visit her AlaskaWriters Web site,

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>> Linda Herr - The Mess Arrester-SM
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>> Heather Lende
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>> Rupert Pratt
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>> Sonya Senkowsky - AlaskaWriter LLC
>> Bill Sherwonit
>> Sandi Sumner
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Photos of Sonya Senkowsky © 2004 David Jensen / David Jensen Photography.

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