Monday, April 30, 2007

Getting Organized

Patty here…

I think of myself as an organized person, not compulsively so but near the top of the methodical scale. My shoes are arranged by color on the shelves in my closet—toes out for easy dusting.

My clothes are separated by color, as well, and by function—blouses, jackets, dresses, and jeans. And don’t even get me started on the Tupperware in my kitchen cabinets. I actually had a consultant come to the house to calculate the size and number of cartons needed to store all of the lentils, pinto beans, breadcrumbs, baking soda, and Gold Metal flour in my cupboard. As a result, my plastic fits together like the stone walls at Machu Picchu.

I apply this same organization when I start a novel. I do it because (1) I having Virgo rising in my astrological chart, which skews toward perfectionism; (2) I have a masters degree in business with an emphasis in strategic planning (see #1), and (3) over time I’ve learned that if you let the little stuff slide, it will eventually become the big stuff.

My books take place in Los Angeles where driving to the neighborhood Vons market may take half an hour. To keep track of time and to avoid squeezing too much activity into a day, I buy one of those pre-computer appointment calendars that dentists used to schedule hygienist appointments. Each page has four columns listed in fifteen-minute increments. The first column is Tucker’s schedule. The second monitors the killer’s movements. The other two columns are for characters whose actions affect the plot.

Sometimes it’s difficult to be organized, especially when I’m away from my computer and brilliant ideas pop into my head, at least they seem brilliant at the time. I know I won’t remember them, so I make notes on anything I can find. This includes the notebook in my purse, the note pad at my bedside, Post-it notes, that paper napkin I spoke about in my chainsaw juggler post, or on a page of the morning newspaper. Sometimes there are too many brilliant ideas in too many obscure places and one slips away.

As of last Tuesday I have the manuscript for my fourth book organized in a three-ring binder. (Which do you think came first? The three-ring binder or the three-hole punch? Just curious.) Ordinarily I wouldn’t do this but I’m sailing to Avalon on Santa Catalina Island this weekend and I don’t want the pages to blow away.

I plan to read the manuscript there, hoping it’s not as bad as I fear it is. Catalina is a good place to think, because I'm away from ringing telephones, the siren call of email, and my least favorite thing—routine.

I finished my first novel in longhand on a lined spiral notebook in Catalina at a place called Cherry Cove. As I recall, the penmanship was messy but the words were on the page. And that's what we're all trying to do—get words on the page so little things don't become big things.

On another note

I’m the Vice President and Program Chair for Mystery Writers of America, Southern California Chapter. Last Sunday afternoon MWA So Cal partnered with the Library Foundation to host an event at the Mark Taper Auditorium in the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles. “T. Jefferson Parker in conversation with Christopher Rice.” Our very own NakedReader Groupie was there, along with the lovely Sue, which made the conversation even more intelligent and amusing. Here’s a photo I took of Jeff and Chris with several of the MWA board members.

From left to right: Christopher Rice, Theresa Schwegel, T. Jefferson Parker,
Dianne Emley, and Linda Johnston.

You know the drill. Click on the envelope icon below to forward this post to somebody who needs it most.


  1. Patty,
    Are those really your shoes? I am impressed, both with the quantity and with the organization.

    The day planner trick for your books is brilliant. Again I'm impressed.

    A very impressed Jim

  2. Oh my gosh. If those truly are your shoes I am green with envy - except how do you have time for anything other than picking out (after dusting) your shoes each day?

    The 'lesser known' proofreading marks are hilarious.

    Happy Monday!

  3. Oh my gosh. If those truly are your shoes I am green with envy - except how do you have time for anything other than picking out (after dusting) your shoes each day?

    The 'lesser known' proofreading marks are hilarious.

    Happy Monday!

  4. Morning, Patty!

    You've given me two great gifts in this post: the day timer scheduling for your key characters and those dandy lesser-known proofreading marks.

    I'm making great use of the latter today, as I'm knee deep in copy edits. (Of course, you'd think at the copy edit stage, one would only need the traditional proofreading marks. Alas, not so.)

    Thank you!


  5. Ha. HA HA HA! No those aren't my shoes. They belong to Imeda Marcos. I have a much more modest number. Like 3. Her shoe closet is probably as big as my whole house.

    Louise and Jim, my day planners have saved my butt on more than one occasion. Feel free to borrow the idea. You'll never go back to the old way.

    Happy Monday deborah p!

  6. Daily planner is brillant approach....and as always, your post this week is "top drawer" material !
    I think the three hole binder came first.....because,"if you build it they will come."
    Hope you have a swimmingly splendid time in Avalon...careful of the wild things--- boar.

  7. And a most enjoyable and informative conversation Jeff and Chris presented to us!

    Shoe fly pie and Avalon pan Patty.


  8. Jon, here's the problem. Why would somebody make a 3-ring binder without a way to easily hold the pages? Wouldn't it have to be simultaneous inventions, i.e. binder and punch? These are the things I think about when I should be writing.

    Avalon pan Patty. Hmmm.. First B&R coupons and now this. Sweet, Groupie.

  9. I breathed a sigh of relief when you said those aren't your shoes. I was hoping you'd Photoshopped them, because no one should be that shoe obsessed.

    I'm also incredibly organized, but not when it comes to writing. I have little scraps of paper all over the place with two or three words on them and then I can't remember what they allude to. I'm so impressed with your three-ring binder! And of course the hole punch must have come first...right?

  10. Patty, I am so glad those are not your shoes. I just about fell off my chair when I saw that photo. And you are so organized - I am deeply envious of such skills. You need a survival kit to get from one end of my office to the other, and small animals have been known to become lost under the paper on my floor.

    I do, however, always keep my working manuscript in a ring binder. I have done this ever since I first wrote Maisie Dobbs. I wanted to see a book growing, rather than just chapters in a file on my computer desktop. I also keep a notebook for each novel - one of those composition books, and I have large poster-size Post-it pages on the wall - one for the arc of the story, one for the characters, and one for any other notes. I started doing it that way when I broke my arm and was writing Maisie Dobbs - I could only write with my left hand in very large letters, hence the posters for my notes.

    But I was definitely behind the door when organization skills were handed out, and I am in awe at your accomplishments in the field of Tupperware alignment and stacking, Patty. Doesn't that sound like something one could major in, and perhaps even study at degree level -Tupperware Alignment & Stacking??

  11. Karen, can't you just see the mad inventor who thought up the 3-hole punch. He must have thought he was so clever until he realized it had no use.

    Our J, my office is very very small and full of BOOKS, which seem to multiply like the small animals under your papers.

  12. OK, Patty, you got me.....the three hole punched paper came and then came the binder.....
    I've been researching this, first was the one holed binder/one holed punch.Then someone decided Two holes are better than one [some kind of tie-in about two heads]. Then at Trinity college,in the early 1600's, Adam "loose leaf" Binder came up with the now stalwart three ring binder of which we now speak.....I hope your three ring [circus?] binder keeps your pages as organized as Imelda Marcos' shoes....and as crisp as the breadcrumbs in your Tupperware.

  13. Jon!!!!!!! You're a genius.

  14. Oh, Patty: thank god all of those shoes aren't really yours! Mind you, I blush when I think of all of the handmade doll shoes I bought several years ago for my 17 inch fashion dolls. I was starting to think I had an Imelda Marcos thing going on. I stopped buying them when I stopped buying the dolls. Have you seen the amount of storage those dolls take up?
    Anyway, I was always astonished at the workmanship of each tiny shoe.

    Oh, and such good idea for organizing your characters! I'll have to remember that.


  15. Marianne, I had a friend who collected antique dolls. I never stopped wondering how she dusted them all.

  16. Sigh. Mine are still all in boxes. One day, when we get a bigger house...


  17. Having missed my weekly dose of Patty, I retreat into the past. In your photo of Catalina, I am reminded of a jigsaw puzzle from my youth, featuring that exact building, along with a great many sailboats. I didn't know where it was, but it was my favorite puzzle, and I could do it time and time again...

    That should tell you something about me, in depth and dimensions I cannot hint at otherwise...