On Writing,  publishing,  Topic of the Night

Topic of the Night: How I Organize What I Do


I got a request that I talk about how I keep my writing and business organized. I’ve been meaning to do this post for a time, but haven’t gotten to it, so figured why not tonight.

So thanks for the suggestion. Pushed me over the edge.

Also what pushed me over the edge was at a little after eight this morning I was going through security scanning to get into the courthouse for jury duty and I had to empty out my pockets. The guard looked at me very strangely when I dumped into the dish seven different thumb drives.

I will explain why below.

Publishing Business Organization

First off, I need to mention that a much more organized person than me, Allyson Longueira, the publisher of WMG Publishing, did an 8 video lecture called “Organization.” In the lecture she talks about how to keep your publishing business organized, from all the blurbs to different files and so on.

If you are not organized with all the parts that need to go into a book, it will cost you valuable time. Not counting keeping track of the art you have used and the copyright with that. A critical thing to be organized about.

Trust me, folks, worth the $50 to listen to how Allyson does it.

Link for how to sign up for that is… https://deanwesleysmith.com/lecture-series/

Business Accounting Organization

In the online The Business of Writing workshop that is starting in May, there is a pretty good section on how to keep the money and accounting organized to help you make money and save money on taxes and so on.

So also not going to talk about that here. The organization of your business accounting is a more complex issue that you need the workshop for I’m afraid.

How I Organize My Writing

Everyone will be different here, and everyone will think their way is the best way. I’m fine with that because I know my way isn’t the best way to organize anything. I am sort of a combination of old school and new world, all mixed with a bad spoon.

But it works for me.

I will not talk here about how Allyson keeps all the files for publishing together. I had a way to do it when I started putting stories up, but my system broke down at over 200 stories and Allyson fixed it and does it her way now, which is a ton better. That’s in the lecture. So I’m just talking about my writing here in my writing office.

So starting at the foundation for my writing, I have a dedicated writing computer.

On that computer is a file folder that says, “Dean’s Writing” as the title. It is the only file folder on the computer.

Inside that folder I have folders for every novel and most short stories I have written.

So inside any novel folder I will have three or four files when I did save-as on the Word file and changed the name on the file. And one file that says the novel name and the word “final” after the title.

I keep the view in “folder” and I color code the folders in colors for active, old, and dead. And since I work in folder view, I line up series folders and put dead stuff down in the lower corner.

Then, when done with a writing session, I put in a thumb drive and download the entire “Dean’s Writing” file to the thumb drive.

That’s right, the entire thing, everything I have written on a computer. (That download takes a little time, so I tend to do it as I head to bed.)

Then I take that thumb drive the next day and put it in my pocket. And the thumb drives from my pocket get stashed in my car, in my office at WMG, and so on. I tend to cycle them around.

That’s why I had seven of them in my pocket this morning.

In other words, all of my writing is backed up off-site on multiple drives all the time and I always have from five to eight thumb drives on me at any point with all of my writing on each drive. (I lost all my writing in a house fire. You do that, you go to simple, but effective ways to back up off site.)

And if you trust the cloud, well, you might want to actually learn what “the cloud” really is. Just saying. However, on some services now the TOS problems have gone away, but not the overall problem of what the cloud really is.

Paper Copies

When I am done with a story or novel, I move it over to this internet computer and save it onto the computer. Then I print out a hard copy of the manuscript that I give Kris to read.

So I have a paper copy of everything as well as having the file on two computers and many thumb drives.

Once I put in any corrections from the paper copy, it gets put on a stack on my file cabinets. Two stacks there right now over three feet tall each, waiting to be filed at some point.

My paper short story files are in my office here, my novel files are all in our wine room in our basement in file cabinets there.

On my internet computer, I put the novels in the appropriate Smith’s Monthly folder (again in Folder view) and the short story in the appropriate folder as well.

Across the bottom of my screen (remember, I use huge Mac computers with second screens) I have the short story folders labeled Stories A-D, Stories E-J, and so on, sorted by title.

Inside of those folders I have folders with the stories in them. The folders are color coded as well as to if I have used the story in an issue of Smith’s Monthly or not.

I also have folders on the desktop screen that are for promotion, homework tracking, and so on. Also a folder for fun pictures and another for book covers.

Sounds like a cluttered desktop, but actually it’s not.

The Point

As I said, I am sure everyone’s system is better than anyone else’s. I don’t use spread sheets or anything that takes me any time to do. I know that I flat won’t do it.

If a story is out to a market, I put up a note on my cork bulletin board over my internet computer as to which story it is and where. Back in the day when I had thirteen different novels off to five editors each, I had a tracking system on the back of my office door. Since I don’t submit to traditional book publishers anymore, I haven’t even looked at those pages there in years.

So what I do has no friction in the system, it gets my stuff backed up away from the house, and I don’t have to log in or add something to a spread sheet.

And until I started the blog challenge, I didn’t even track word count. I didn’t care. I honestly still don’t much care. So for the blog, I scratch the word count on a tiny sticky note when I am done writing and stick it on my internet computer for when I need to do a blog later.

I have heard of people inventing these massive, detailed spreadsheet systems that take up writing time every day to maintain, but I never ask if they back up the spreadsheet off site as well.

My suggestion to you. KISS (Keep it simple stupid). When you get up to my word count every year, the only thing that will work every day (without chewing up a vast amount of time) has to be simple.

As I said, my system is a mix of old school and new world, but it is scary simple and doesn’t fall apart under pressure or get forgotten as a bad chore.

And that really is the key. The less time you use on daily organization that works for you, the more time you can write.

Just saying.


  • Robin Brande

    I love to hear about other writers’ systems. Thanks for sharing, Dean!

    And I watched Allyson’s organization lecture series last year. FANTASTIC. Highly recommend!

  • Anita Cooper

    Great topic Dean. Thanks. I’ve got a measly number of stories done thus far, but looking ahead I can see that organizing them and keeping track will be a problem for me if I don’t work out something now.

    I like your method much better than a stupid spreadsheet. I’ve got my stories on one now, but like you I’d rather not use one.
    In my situation I don’t have an outside office to leave drives at, however I do have a fireproof safe, so now you’ve got me thinking! 😀

  • Ellen O'Connell

    Advice that doesn’t include Dropbox or other cloud storage! Thank you. I always feel a twinge of envy when I read about those who have automatic backups to the cloud, etc. My reason for not doing that has been different that yours, though, Dean. I live in a rural area and only have dial up internet. So USBs are pretty much my only viable way. I keep hoping to get wifi, but I never plan to abandon having backups locally available.

  • Joseph Bradshire

    This is how I do it as well, the back up system. I have a bunch of thumb drives. My internet can be spotty, and sometimes I travel, so it’s local drives for me.

    I recently lost a hard drive, this weekend, I was back up and running in an hour on my back up laptop. Easy peasy.

  • Raymund Eich

    Then, when done with a writing session, I put in a thumb drive and download the entire “Dean’s Writing” file to the thumb drive.

    That’s right, the entire thing, everything I have written on a computer. (That download takes a little time, so I tend to do it as I head to bed.)

    Dean, something that might save you time with minimal added complexity is to do incremental backups, i.e., copy only files that are new or changed on your hard drive to your thumb drive. Since you use a Mac, the console/terminal should include the rsync command. (If you don’t want to muck around on the command line, if you know a hardcore Mac, Unix, or Linux user, he/she could set it up for you). Available for Mac, there are probably also easier-to-use graphical programs providing a front-end for rsync or other incremental backup algorithms.

    I use a cloud backup solution (Spideroak) that also allows syncing between my desktop and laptop. They claim to store all your data in encryption they can’t break. (I don’t have the Linux chops to confirm). I also do off-line backups: once a week I burn to DVD (stored offsite), rsync to an external hard drive (stored in a fireproof safe), and rsync to a thumb drive (carried in my briefcase).

    One of these days I’ll buy a wireless NAS box (or build one on a Raspberry Pi) stored in my mother-in-law’s cottage and rsync nightly to that as well.

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, Raymund, but I don’t have internet or anything on my writing computer and never will. And as I said, cloud service has it’s issues that will, sadly come roaring to life at some point or another.

      And I do want to copy all my files. All of them. They are only word files on my computer and so I want my entire writing backed up all the time in upwards of dozens and dozens of drives.

      So thanks, none of that would work for me.


      • Raymund Eich

        Hi Dean,

        I might not have been clear on what rsync (or other incremental backup programs) can do. Whichever of your dozens of thumb drives you plug into your Mac, if you rsync your writing folder to that thumb drive, it will copy over everything that’s newer in your writing folder than on that particular thumb drive. Any files that are already up-to-date on that particular thumb drive, rsync will leave them alone. End result: all your files would be on each of your thumb drives, just with less time spent each day than copying every file every time you plug in a thumb drive.

        Hope that’s more clear.