Archive for ‘Paper Organizing’ Category

Posted on: November 20th, 2017 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

Writing is both an art and a science. Whether you’re tweeting or Facebooking, emailing or blogging, submitting reports at work or publishing the great American (or Canadian or Peruvian) novel, you need inspiration to come up with the big idea and a felicity of expression to say something in a compelling way. But writing is also a technical endeavor. Messy writing – poor grammar, confusing syntax, typographical errors, spelling shenanigans – all make it hard for anyone to be devoted to your brilliance. Today, we’re exploring tools to make it easier to write, edit, and proofread so that your work shows up in its party finery and not rumpled gym clothes.


Jumpcut – Have you ever been going along, writing and editing, and you cut something to copy it elsewhere, only to make some other tiny adjustment and realize you lost the hugely important text that you cut first? Yes, sometimes you can Control-Z your way out of that booboo, but often you cut something and only realize twenty minutes (and 30 edits) later that you really need that URL, that scientific notation, that turn of phrase, and your computer has overwritten what you cut or copied before with what you cut or copied just now.

Jumpcut is a free Mac application that will save your butt! It allows you to store (and easily retrieve) up to 99 items cut or copied to your clipboard. Once you download it, just double-click the resulting .tgz file to open it, and drag the application (with the little scissors icon) to your Applications folder. Then click to launch Jumpcut and a scissors icon will appear in your menu bar at the top of your screen.

From then on, whenever you cut or copy a piece of text, Jumpcut adds it to the stack of clipped items, which you can access from the menu bar by clicking on the scissors icon. If you prefer to avoid mouse/trackpad clicking and keep your hands on the keyboard, you can use a “hotkey” – the default is Control-Option-V, but you can change it however you like. A small grey box will pop up with the most recent cut/copied item displayed. Not what you want? Just arrow up or down to find the clipping you seek.

Jumpcut isn’t specific to any program – whether you’re in Word, Google, Twitter, WordPress, or whatever, anywhere on your computer, you can find what you’ve previously cut or copied. Even if your computer shuts down or the power goes out, your buffer of clipped items remains intact.

Jumpcut hasn’t been updated since 2009, and that hasn’t been a problem, but it’s unclear whether it will work with Mac’s High Sierra operating system.

Not a Mac person? Clipboard History, also free, offers a Windows alternative to Jumpcut. If you’re looking for more robust clipboard buffering for syncing across computers and mobile devices, the MakeUseOf website has a few blogs to get you started:

Grammarly is like having an angel on your shoulder, alerting you to spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors as soon as you make them. At its basic level, Grammarly comes as a free browser add-on and as desktop apps for Mac and Windows. For example, Grammarly for Safari (my preferred browser, but it also works with Chrome and Firefox) corrects for my sausage-finger exploits when I’m typing on WordPress, Facebook, LinkedIn, and pretty much anywhere else when I’m on the web. However, the Grammarly for Mac app syncs with any native Mac apps (like the WordPress app for writing this blog), and of course, Windows apps.

What’s nice about Grammarly is that it finds, illustrates, and then explains a wider array of grammatical and syntax errors than Word or similar program-specific spellcheckers and lets you accept a correction with the tap of your Enter key. It’s suitable for all styles of writing, from blogs and social media posts to longer documents.

If “exotic” words you use often tend to get flagged by your regular spellchecker, you can add to program-specific libraries, but if you want a cross-platform solution, Grammarly has you covered. I also like that Grammarly has a much better sense of when a word has been used in the wrong context, so it catches properly spelled words that, as homophones, make your sentences (and you) non-sensical.

Whenever Grammarly is running, you’ll see a tiny, green, fairly unobtrusive dot in the lower right corner of whichever field you’re writing; if it turns red, you’ll know you made an error even if the red-underlined mistake has scrolled upward or otherwise out of your immediate view. If you want to track how you’re improving with your writing, you can have it send you weekly reports summarizing the kinds of errors you tend to make.

Upgrade to a premium plan at $29.95/month (or $59.95/quarter, or annually for $139) and you get advanced checks for punctuation, grammar, context, and sentence structure, vocabulary improvement suggestions, and genre-specific writing style checks. There’s also a plagiarism detector, and Grammarly can help academic writers include citations in ALA, MLA, and Chicago Manual of Style formats.

Grammarly does have one huge drawback. Although there’s a free Microsoft Office add-on – it only integrates with the Windows version of Office, so if you’re a Mac person and use the desktop (non-cloud) version of Office, you’re out of luck.


Ernest Hemingway was famous for saying “Write drunk; edit sober.” As Paper Doll is a teetotaler, I can’t advise as to the drunk part, but Papa’s namesake app has some sharp features to let you edit, hangover or otherwise.

Hemingway Editor isn’t a spelling or grammar checker; rather, it’s more like a friendly editor (or high school English teacher) who lives inside your computer and uses a stash of colored highlighters to call attention to where you’ve ambled away from the ranch while writing. Hemingway highlights long, complex (or run-on) sentences and common errors. If you’ve started to ramble or sound a little too snooty, Hemingway knows.

Let’s say you want to write a letter of complaint to your insurance company or senator. You know that a direct, concise note will work best. Go to the web version, click on the box saying “write” (at the top right of the screen) and enter your text. If you’ve already written your letter, just copy and paste the text onto the screen, and you can format (adding bold, italics, multi-style headers, block quotes, bullets, numbered lists, and links) as you like. See it in action:

Then, hit the “edit” button (also at the top right) and the web software will color-code your sentences. Yellow means it’s a little long or meandering; red means it’s very hard to follow. Purple refers to unnecessarily complex words or phrases, and blue means you’ve used an adverb. (Hemingway notoriously had a grudge against adverbs; your mileage may vary.) Green means you’ve used the passive voice, weakening your writing. Once you know what’s wrong, you can edit to eliminate the highlighting and see what Hemingway thinks of your changes.

The software also tells you the grade level at which you are writing, and it counts your letters, characters, words, sentences, and paragraphs. If you like to tell readers how long it will take to read a post and don’t want to use a plug-in, it will calculate how long it will take for your audience to read what you’ve written.

The online version is free, and fine for short pieces of writing. For longer documents, consider the desktop version of Hemingway Editor, which lets you publish directly to WordPress and Medium, and has formatting for HTML and Markdown so you can export to any online platform. You can also export to Word, or send your changes directly to editors and colleagues, avoiding the evils of Word’s Track Changes function.

OneLook Dictionary isn’t your typical online dictionary. Sure, it’ll provide a definition of a word, but it can also find words and phrases that start or end with the word, are related to the word, or related to a general concept.

The sister site, OneLook Thesaurus and Reverse Dictionary, comes to your aid when your brain is full. Perhaps you know what you mean but can’t find the specific word you want. Or maybe you know that the word you want has something to do with “ontological” but that’s too stuffy for what you want to write. Describe a concept and it returns a list of words and phrases related to that concept. You can then filter by soundalike words, rhyming words, meter, primary vowel sound, and more.


Do you ever feel like you’re writing the same thing all the time? Scientific terminology? Instructional material? Sample dialogue? For some things, you can create a template and copy and paste chunks of writing, but there’s a better way: text expansion.

Think of text expansion like Google’s auto-complete function. You only type part of a phrase, but Google knows what you really want to say and supplies it. With text expansion apps, you can create “snippets” or shortcut phrases to allow you to automatically type words, sentences, paragraphs, and even whole templates for letters and documents with just a few keystrokes. You can also use it to fix your most commonly made typos (“teh,” anyone?) or create multiple signature blocks. (I like that I can type *JAB on any document and fill in my name, Certified Professional Organizer credential, business name, URL, email, phone number, shoe size…you get the picture. Four characters and done!) Text expansion is also helpful when you need to share difficult-to-remember URLs or call up hard-to-parse HTML code.

TextExpander works on Mac, Windows, and iOS devices and is available on a subscription basis for $39.96 annually or $4.16 if billed monthly. Take advantage of the 30-day free trial to see how it works for you.

If you’re not a fan of subscription models, there are two popular alternatives.

PhraseExpress has multiple (standard, professional, and enterprise) versions for Mac ($24.95-$49.95) and Windows ($49.95-219) and apps for iOS (free) and Android (free). There’s also a less robust Windows-only freeware version of PhraseExpress.

Another non-subscription text expansion option is Breevy  ($34.95).

But I’ll share a little secret with you. Although all of the above options are heartier, the Mac does have a built-in text expansion tool. Go to System Preferences and navigate to Keyboard (it might be under “Language and Text” depending on your MacOS). Find the Text tab, and you’ll see where you can enter “Replace” (the thing you’ll type) and “With” (the content you want to appear).

For example, if I type “FollowUpDraft” in an email, it will type a three-paragraph follow-up message for when I haven’t heard back from a reply I’ve written to a prospective organizing prospect. I have similar text snippets for replies to people wanting to ask questions about my profession or who want to shadow me. It saves me hours of writing each week, and I only have to revise a few words here and there.

I should note, most of what I know about text expansion I learned from the great Brooks Duncan of Documentsnap. Any failures of imagination to explain the concept, however, are all mine.


Whether you’ve been writing a novel for the NaNoWriMo challenge or have just been penning TPS reports for work, I hope these NaNoWriMoMo(nday) posts have been helpful. If you’ve missed any, you can catch up here:

Paper Doll’s How To Organize Yourself to Write for NaNoWriMo 2017

Paper Doll’s NaNoWriMoMoMo (Novel Writing Month Monday Motivation)…Even for Non-Writers

Paper Doll’s NANOWRIMOMo(nday): Organize Your Writing Platforms for Maximum Focus

Until next week, happy writing, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted on: November 13th, 2017 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

In ye olden days, serious writing required pen on paper or a typewriter, or some combination thereof. Then came computers with Wordperfect (and MacWrite, for my fellow 80s kids), and now, most people write using some of the standard software and app platforms most readily available to them: Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, or Google Docs. Each has its advantages as well as demerits, including bloated features that distract from the writing process or elements that don’t quite do what we wish they magically should.

If you’re writing a term paper or a letter of complaint, these big guns, which are likely already part of your regular writing routine, will suffice. But there are so many other platforms you may wish to consider to help you organize your resources, improve your writing focus, and be more productive.

Previously, we’ve looked at how to organize yourself to write for NaNoWriMo and other projects and how to get and maintain your motivation. As we continue our writing-themed Mondays in November, we are looking at options for selecting a writing platform to keep you organized and focused.


Scrivener – For serious writers (from novelists and playwrights to journalists and academics), Scrivener seems to be the biggest poorly-kept secret out there. Everyone seems to know of it, though most seem to have some trepidation about getting started with it.

Scrivener is a heavy-duty professional writing tool created by writers for writers. At its most basic, it’s a ring-binder, a scrapbook, a corkboard, an outliner, and text editor all rolled into one. Use it to organize your thoughts on notecards in the virtual corkboard mode, view your research and writing in side by side windows, and use one of Scrivener’s templates to get the ideal format.

Create narrative or conceptual structure with easy drag-and-drop tools and write in a clean, distraction-free environment. Scrivener makes it possible to write a long presentation or a complete manuscript for a book in a way that a regular word processing application really can’t. Put all your research into it, and break it down into manageable small chunks (almost like writing on index cards) so you don’t have to constantly scroll up and down 20 (or 200) pages of a document to locate what you need. Then weave everything together to form one unbroken manuscript.

To help you keep track of your goals, there’s a visual feature for seeing your progress toward particular word counts, whether by chapter or document. When you’ve written and edited to your satisfaction, Scrivener lets you format your work to various industry standards and export documents suitable for sharing or for publishing print books or ebooks.

Scrivener is available for Mac ($45), Windows ($40), and iOS ($19.99). To get a feel for what it can do for you, Scrivener’s creator, Literature and Latte, created a video:

Scrivener is complex to customize and comes with an incredibly detailed on-screen tutorial. But the biggest downside to Scrivener is that there’s so much available to you, so many features to accomplish so many different functions, that you’re likely to be overwhelmed. Happily, there’s a particular Scrivener expert I can recommend.

Joseph Michael, AKA @Scrivener Coach on Twitter, is the dude to know. Over the last year, I’ve taken a few webinars he’s offered via other writers and bloggers I follow, and learned more with less frustration in a no-cost one-hour webinar than I did reading the already superb Scrivener for Dummies. (It’s a good book, but not everyone can translate text instruction into learning computer skills.)

I suggest that if you have or get Scrivener, that you follow Joseph Michael for his Scrivener Ninja Tips:

If you’re really serious about learning all that the software has to offer, though, consider his Learn Scrivener Fast course. I’m not a shill for him; I just know that no matter where I go on the web, when Scrivener comes up, Joseph Michael’s name is mentioned in short order, and I can honestly say that he ties with my tech-oriented organizing colleagues Deb Lee and Kim Oser for  offering the most detailed, fluff-free, information-laden presentations on the planet.

IAwriter – This platform is designed to help eliminate all of the distractions of the menus, toolbars, and icons that may keep you from focusing on what you’re trying to say, rather than how it should look. Explaining their approach:

The cover letter for your dream job. The business proposal that will turn everything around. The love letter, telling them how much you care. Why is it so hard to get started? Few of us grow up without a fear of being judged for our writing. So we pause, we hesitate, we procrastinate, while others advance. In iA Writer, we stripped away everything that might stand between you and how you feel, so that you can write from the heart. This is how great writing gets started.

Features for creating this distraction-free environment include:

  • Custom templates find you the form you need.
  • Focus Mode dims everything except the current sentence, allowing you to maintain focus, much like how a typewriter’s limited view kept writers in the moment.
  • Night Mode puts light text on a dark screen, which is easier on the eyes, especially when writing at night.
  • Syntax highlights find weak verbs, unnecessary or repetitive words, erroneous conjunctions. etc.
  • Content blocks allow embedding of photos, tables, and text.
  • Document library lets you search, sort, and swap between documents all from your current window.
  • File export enables exporting your IAwriter document to WordPress for your blog or website, Medium, or HTML, or to Word (.docx) or PDF.
  • Multi-Markdown language lets you format and edit for a streamlined but powerful visual approach.

For the person who needs minimalism but doesn’t want to learn any coding and just wants to click a big B for bolded writing, iAWriter will have some tradeoffs. There are a number of video tutorials to help you learn Markdown, exporting and sharing skills, and setting preferences.

While it’s Mac-only, IAwriter can be used in all of your mobile settings, including on iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. ($4.99 for iOS/Android; $19.99 for Mac.) Also, it’s Stephen Fry’s favorite writing platform.

Ulysses – Are you a Mac person and who wants a clean, spare writing platform? Ulysses clears the decks. From a focus and productivity perspective, Ulysses is all about keeping your fingers on the keyboard and your eyes on the prize.

Ulysses has a basic, distraction-free interface with a few options:

  • Themeable Editor – lets you choose your own color palettes or download user-generated themes.
  • Typewriter Mode – when it’s enabled, the line you’re currently typing stays vertically fixed – top, center, or bottom, whatever you prefer, and you can set a one-line highlight.
  • Plain Text Enhanced – so even when you’re streamlined, you can still incorporate footnotes, graphics, or links.
  • Markdown-based text editor – so you don’t have to fiddle with fancy formatting or styles.

The organizational tools include a single library, which autosaves everything you create, hierarchical groupings, so you can keep track of sub-projects, and attachments (PDFs, images, keywords, etc.) which can be associated with a document without being inserted into the document, and filtered searches. You can also easily set word or character goals and share your progress via social media.

Syncing with iCloud and across iOS/MacOS devices is automatic, and you can add Dropbox folders to your text library. For exporting and sharing, you can export in multiple file formats (text, HTML, epub, PDF, and Word), or publish to WordPress and Medium. There’s a Live Preview feature, so you can see how changes will look when published side-by-side with the changes as you are making them.

To the chagrin of some writers, Ulysses recently moved to subscription-based pricing, $4.99/month or $39.99/year, or $10.99/month for students. Ulysses also offers a 14-day free trial.


Ilys, a web-based option, was designed to help writers drop-kick writer’s block and push past self-doubt. The conceit of Ilys is that it only lets you see one letter at a time, and won’t let you edit until you’ve written your pre-set number of words. (There’s even a Ninja mode, where you can’t see any letters you’ve typed at all!) Obviously, this is only suitable for decent touch-typists, but it’s a huge boon for writers who tend to self-edit every other word.

To start an Ilys writing session, enter how many words you want to write. Then just start writing, because there’s nothing else you can do. You can’t go back, delete, or edit anything until you have reached your word count goal. (There is an “eye” icon you can click to view what you’ve already written, in case you can’t remember the name you gave a character, or if you need to refer to a statistic you’ve typed.)

Ilys tracks your progress, identifying where you excel and where writing output dips. Because many writers profess that consistently writing a set number of words per day (irrespective of quality) is the key to success, Ilys is focused on providing a realm in which to keep on writing.

Everything is autosaved, just in case you accidentally delete something (or change your mind). Your data is stored, encrypted, online, until you’re ready to export your work to a word processing platform for more complex formatting.

Ilys offers a free 3000-word trial; after that, it’s $10.08/month (or 60% off with an annual subscription), and you can find a number of discounts on the web, including via their NaNoWriMo sponsorship offer.

The Most Dangerous Writing App, like Ilys, is web-based, and offers a similar, if potentially-paralyzing, approach to shutting down your inner critic. Instead of focusing on a word count, you set the time frame: 5, 10, 20, 30, 45 or 60 minutes, hit “Start” and commence writing. While you write on the minimalist, unformatted screen, the web app counts your characters, words, and typing speed. If you stop typing for 5 seconds, everything you have written thus far disappears. Once you hit your writing time limit, you can copy and paste (no exporting!) your writing so you can edit and format elsewhere.

The whole concept is to free yourself from constraints and self-doubt by focusing all of your attention on your words. You can write in night mode or go full-screen to hide your desktop, but otherwise, this free web app is all about scaring you into letting the words flow! This is more suitable for Julia Cameron-inspired “morning pages” or following writing prompts than adhering to an outline for a long-form document.

ZenPen is another free, web-based platform. Actually, it’s barely a platform. It’s a bare-boned writing space with no distractions. If you must format, just click on the word or phrase and a tiny pop-up menu appears for bold, italics, quotations or links. Save and download what you create in plain text, Markdown or HTML for editing elsewhere. You may also set a target word count, invert colors to write white on black, and toggle to full screen.

Whether you choose a robust platform to complete your work of a lifetime or just select one of the web apps to free yourself to write without self-criticism, I hope you find a solution that works for you.

In our next NaNoWriMo Monday, we’ll be looking at wide variety of resources to help you organize your actual text and be more productive with your time. We’ll cover everything from proofreading and editing solutions to transcription options, all designed to help you write faster and create clearer communication, whether for your big novel or a workplace memo.


Posted on: November 6th, 2017 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

I always tell prospective clients that organizing isn’t about the stuff. It’s about the person who owns the stuff. That means that getting what you want out of the organizing process depends on getting what you want – a new set of behaviors – out of yourself. Whether you are organizing tangible things (your desktop and workspace, your home, your office) or organizing your time (work obligations, personal projects, family responsibilities, self-care), or organizing your thoughts (plans for the future, dialogue for your novel, deciding whether the other person loves you or just loves vanilla)…getting where you need to go depends upon organizing yourself.

But how do you get there? Last week, in Paper Doll’s How To Organize Yourself to Write for NaNoWriMo 2017, we talked about identifying your goals for writing, organizing your time, and charting your progress, but the truth is that motivation is an underpinning of all success.

In The 7 Secrets of Writing from the Best Writers in the World, Chad Grills collected advice about why to write as well as what to do to write better. My favorite quote from the article is from Steven King, who notably said, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

In my book, 57 Secrets for Organizing Your Small Business (for which I’m working on the second edition) I said that action precedes motivation.  We all want the end result: we want to be fit, eat beautiful meals, have organized homes. Not many of us are super-jazzed to get up at dawn to head to the gym, shop and prepare for hours to make magazine-perfect dinners, or develop organizing systems. (Even we professional organizers have trouble getting motivated for our own projects!)

You know what motivates? Small victories! Sit down to write and notice that your word count gets to 500. Then you realize that you’re almost a third of a way to your daily goal of 1667, and you’ll be inspired to keep writing! Head to the grocery store with the recipe for that soup or appetizer whose magazine photo makes you salivate and bring home those ingredients – your investment of time (and money) will inspire you to start chopping! Waiting to be inspired to declutter your room might keep you waiting forever – start by picking up all the clothes that need to be hung, folded, or laundered and get them to the right place, and you’ll start to notice the momentum building.

Organizing a ritual helps, too. Many of my work-from-home clients have trouble getting started; there’s no clear delineation between being at home (lazing over coffee and Twitter, running a load of laundry, chatting on the phone) and the work day when there’s no supervisor peering crankily over the cubicle’s edge. Develop a ritual, whether it’s going out for coffee and then returning to work, or exiting via the garage door, walking around the block, and come back in the front door. It helps trigger that school-bell alert that it’s time to change tasks. Develop a ritual for when it’s time to sit down to write, and soon enough, like Pavlov’s dog, you’ll be conditioned.

There’s a writing ritual story, likely somewhat apocryphal, about Victor Hugo. It’s said that he had his valet take away all of his clothes, and left naked, he had no choice but to write, as he could not go out until his valet would reappear at the appointed hour. In other versions, he was left swathed head-to-toe in a huge knitted shawl, the 19th-Century version of a Snuggie or Slanket. Whatever the truth, without his ritual, the world may never have been graced with The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Les Miserables, meaning we might never otherwise have heard Wolverine (I mean, Hugh Jackman) sing “One Day More.”

Remind yourself why you’re doing this project and develop strategies that reflect your personality. I tell my clients that getting organized (or anything else we do) has to have more than a goal in mind. Knowing you want your living room, dining room, and kitchen to be clear of detritus may be the goal, but why? Is it because you’d like to invite friends over for coffee or dinner parties to keep the loneliness of the cold winter months at bay? Being able to socialize without obstacles or embarrassment is the motivation to keep working toward your goal.

So, just as we discussed last week, know why you want to write. Two recent organizing and productivity posts offer a little inspiration for thinking about your whys:

In Taking A Binge Approach to Organizing Projects in Unclutterer, Alex Fayle talks about the concept of binge projects (like NaNoWriMo and 30-day challenges) and compares the benefits. See what he has to say about creating overall goals, breaking down tasks, getting support, developing positive peer pressure, gamifying your approach, silencing your doubts, and achieving your results.

Meanwhile, Gretchen Rubin, author of such books as The Happiness Project, Better Than Before, and The Four Tendencies, looks at NaNoWriMo from the perspective of how to get from having a creative or entrepreneurial impulse to actually completing a project. In Signing Up for “NaNoWriMo”–National Novel Writing Month? Here’s Why It Works, Rubin looks at what it is about turning thought into deadline-oriented action that actually works for the Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels (the four tendencies she’s defined and made famous). Rubin borrows from her own Better Than Before to see how habit strategies like convenience, monitoring, scheduling, loophole-spotting, and taking first steps can help you thrive and excel at NaNoWriMo (and other such challenges).

Finally, over at the blog for Reedsy, a publishing assistance platform, they’ve collected 41 Insider Tips for Winning NaNoWriMo 2017.  My favorite tips are:

12. If you can’t block off a few hours each day, write in several shorter ‘sprints’.

In organizing, as in writing, too often people feel that if they can’t devote hours to a project then it is not worth attempting. But just as this article notes that you can use these sprints to get your creative juices flowing, you can do the same with your organizing.

In the five minutes you’re on hold with your credit card company, pull the expired spices out of your cabinet and make a list of what you need to replace. In the fifteen minutes before your favorite show comes on, go through two drawers in your dresser and move the sweaters you haven’t worn for a few seasons to the donation pile. And while you’re waiting for the water to boil for your pasta, open today’s mail, toss out all the exterior envelopes, move the bills to your bill-paying station, and shred those convenience checks and unwanted credit card offers!

16. ‘Perfect is the enemy of good.’ It isn’t exactly best friends with NaNoWriMo authors either.

Professional organizers tell our clients all the time: “Done is better than perfect.” If perfectionist procrastination is keeping you from starting a project because you fear it won’t be ideal when it’s done, then don’t aim for ideal. Just aim for done! Just as you can always edit and revise with writing, you can always modify your organizing systems, whether on your computer, in your paper files, or around your home.

40. Go through your manuscript and cut out all the words you don’t need.

Admittedly, timing is everything. For NaNoWriMo, you should write first, then edit. In organizing, it’s the opposite. Edit – cull, purge, pare down – whatever you don’t need, whatever you can find online (if it’s information), borrow from someone else (if it’s tangible), or cancel altogether (if it’s an obligation crowding you out of your schedule). Let it go.

I hope today’s post helped organize your motivation, whether you’re writing, decluttering, or working on any other kind of project.

Next NaNoWriMo Monday, we’ll be focusing on some tech tools to organize – whether you’re writing for NaNoWriMo, for work, or for academia. Meanwhile, I dare you to have read this whole post and not hum “One Day More” for the rest of your Monday.

Posted on: October 30th, 2017 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

November is National Novel Writing Month, and for people in the know, that’s NaNoWriMo. Starting November 1, 2017, the 19th annual celebration of the creative power of words begins. Participants will work toward the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. As the website puts it, “Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.”

If you’ve ever wanted to write something big, but you’ve been challenged by time management or productivity issues, NaNoWriMo is your chance to commit to something big(ger than yourself) and get started. Yes, 50,000 words won’t yield a complete novel, but the point is to get started creating. Write, don’t edit. Write, don’t format. Just write.

If you’re like Paper Doll and prefer Shonda Rhimes to create your fictional world, there’s no reason you non-fiction writers can’t play along. There’s Nina Amir’s National Non-Fiction Writing Month 2017 (NaNonFiWriMo? Seriously?), which lacks NaNoWriMo’s infrastructure, but gives you permission to get your non-fiction freak flag flying. More officially, NaNoWriMo rebels exist, participants who are writing something other than novels, from non-fiction to scripts to comic books.

Based on prior years, NaNoWriMo anticipates that 400,000 people will participate this year. What more could you need to feel like you’re part of a movement? Oh, OK, here’s a cool badge!

Getting started is simple:

Fill out your profile, “create” your novel (just name it) in the system, and select your region of the world so you can be notified of events in your area. (It’s a worldwide extravaganza!) Starting November 1st, begin writing, and log your word count. As you go along, award yourself participation, writing, and achievement badges. (If you promise not to acquire too much clutter – I am a professional organizer, after all –  shop for some NaNoWriMo inspirational clothing and tchotchkes.)

Anytime from November 20th through the end of the month, paste your completed work in NaNoWriMo’s word count validator and you “win!” What do you win? The right to say you completed NaNoWriMo 2017!

It’s only been a few years since I wrote Organizing Your Writing for NaNoWriMo and More, where I provided the low-down on the program and offered advice for organizing yourself and your work. Start there to get caught up, but there’s plenty more to come!


When I work with my organizing and productivity clients, I always start with the end in mind. Why do you want to be organized? For most people, organizing is a means to an end. People want to feel at ease when friends pop by unannounced. They want to feel confident when clients or managers visit their workspaces. They want to stop wasting time and money so they can spend their days doing things they value and spend their money on experiences that reflect their priorities.

So, take a moment to think about it. Why do you want to write?

For meaning – In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Sometimes the only way to make sense of the world is to create a world out of words. Find your meaning in writing.

For the joy of language – If you spend your days with toddlers, or grumbly, jargon-spewing, cubicle-dwelling grownups who act like toddlers, you may not get to use your SAT vocabulary or create “palaces of paragraphs” (to borrow a phrase from Lin-Manuel Miranda). Write for the joy of the words.

For fame and fortune – The writing life rarely brings financial fortune, but that doesn’t mean it is without rewards. If being a big fish writer in a small pond of readers is enough for you, that may be reason enough.

For the opportunity to create a legacy – We get about 100 years, give or take. Outside of the legacy of our DNA in future generations, it can be difficult to find a way to make our mark on this big, blue marble. Whether it’s one sentence or a whole book series, your words can only be eternal if they make it out of your head.


So, you’re generally inspired to write, but not necessarily to write for NaNoWriMo?

  • If you write in November, you’ll have something exciting to talk about at Thanksgiving and over the holidays when people ask you what you’ve been up to this year.
  • When you’re thinking about what you want to accomplish in 2018, you’ll have your NaNoWriMo writing as the raw materials for your year. You can edit it and learn the steps for self-publishing or try for the path of traditional publishing. If you choose to write non-fiction, in addition to publishing, consider turning your book into a profitable video course or workshop series to support your own business or even a “side hustle.”
  • Having a thirty-day challenge is a superior way to strengthen not only your writing muscles, but your discipline muscles. I participated in a fun thirty-day planking challenge with friends and fellow professional organizers this summer. Colleague Janine Adams wrote Recap of My 30-Day Challenges and talked a bit about mutual accountability and setting realistic goals. While I didn’t get six-pack abs from planking, I felt stronger and healthier, and have recognized that I was much more disciplined and rigorous in other areas of my life as a result.
  • Kickstart those half-attempted writing projects that haunt you. You know the ones.
  • NaNoWriMo offers stellar writing resources to help you grow as a writer, including pep talks from popular writers like John Green, Roxane Gay, Dean Koontz, and Neil Gaiman.
  • Participants get discounts for all sorts of sponsor products and services. (Saving money organizes your finances!) Prepare to be impressed with the author-oriented discounts (and some prizes), including:
    • 20% off a license for the amazing writing and project management suite Scrivener
    • 15% off the professional writing tool Ulysses
    • One month free trial of The Great Courses and two months at 50% off
    • A free upload of your book to Ingram Spark, a major self-publishing platform


Chances are, you have to work. You have to eat. You probably should sleep and exercise. It will be hard to make it to the end of November, healthy and solvent, otherwise. So when will you write?

Someday is not a day on the calendar. Later is not a spot on the clock. If you’re going to write, write right now. Write tomorrow. And the next day. But you need to find some sacrosanct portion of your day when your work or your other responsibilities won’t seep in and take “just one minute” of your time. How can you carve time in your day? Brainstorm a list of options:

  • Get up an hour earlier. (This wouldn’t write for Paper Doll. I don’t do mornings.)
  • Stay up an hour later.
  • Shorten your workout (but don’t give it up altogether) or trade going to the gym for an at-home workout to reduce your commute time. (Seriously, don’t stop working out. Your brain will percolate with story ideas while you’re running, riding, kickboxing, and yes, even when you’re doing downward-facing dog.)
  • Skip some TV time. Not prime-time – that’s just crazy talk, and we’re in November Sweeps! But DVR those shows that you only watch because you’re waiting for the show you really like.
  • Trade child-watching time this month for hours next month. There are parents who will really need free time before the holidays; let them have your kids for an hour a day in November!
  • Write at your desk for an hour after work, once everyone else leaves. If you have trouble getting yourself to sit down to write, why not write while you’re already sitting? You’ll avoid rush-hour traffic and can enjoy the evening knowing you’ve already written.

Once you know when you’re going to write, you need to know what you’re going to write about when you put your tush in the chair (assuming you won’t be using a standing desk). Start the month with an outline of your book using these tips from K.M Weiland. Remember, you don’t have to write the story in order – you can even write the end before the beginning. Just have a written roadmap so you know which route you’re going to take or which landmarks you’re going to hit on any given day. (For more on creating a roadmap, once again, I direct you to my 2015 post on NaNoWriMo.)


Don’t turn eliminating distractions into a distraction. Too many clear-the-decks tasks turn into busy work that allows you to procrastinate on your actual writing. It’s fine if you want to sharpen your pencils, clean and organize your desk, or install all of your software upgrades, but the key is to separate your preparation time (whether that’s pre-November, or just pre-“The Time I Said I’d Sit Down To Write” Time) from your writing time.


It helps to have the “Big Picture” literally within view so you can see your progress. The brilliant Dave Seah has been creating a NaNoWriMo Word-Counting Calendar since 2012. In Seah’s words:

The theory is pretty simple: To maintain a good pace, you need to write 1667 words a day to meet your 50,000-word count. Every day, write-in the number of words you wrote in the word count box for each day, and then fill-in the pyramid of 10 boxes, each corresponding to 250 words.

As the days go by, the amount of filled-in boxes will show you at-a-glance where your GREAT days were, and also the less-great days where you had to do something important like cook Thanksgiving dinner. Annotate the calendar as necessary! It’s designed to help you feel good about the progress you do make.

Seah’s calendar includes periodic reminders to back up your work, and a progress column for totaling your weekly words and comparing them against the benchmarks for that 50,000-word goal.

©2017 Dave Seah, Investigative Designer

Read more about his 2017 calendar, download and print the standard version, or if you want something truly glorious, head to Seah’s Patreon page for options to purchase a variety of colorful versions (now including purple). For a small monthly patronage of even $1, you get access to the word counting calendar in all of the colors, a 5,000-word version for anyone taking part in NaNoWriMo’s Young Writer’s Program, and Seah’s other great digital creations, like the 365-day version of his deservedly-beloved Emergent Task Planner.

©2017 Dave Seah, Investigative Designer


It’s practically impossible to stay organized when you’re overwhelmed, and overwhelm usually comes from too many sensory inputs at once. In professional organizing, we have a saying, “When everything’s important, then nothing is.” You have to prioritize.

In November, your priority is writing. NaNoWriMo’s participant forums offer assistance on everything from naming your characters to spelling and grammar to doctoring plots. There are “genre lounges” for whatever you write about, whether it’s adventure or literary fiction or young adult. And NaNoWriMo has dozens of other forums for finding your tribe.

During writing time, focus on your writing. But in those quiet moments when you begin to doubt your creativity, find a cheerleader. Todd Brison, author of the forthcoming The Unstoppable Creative, has a YouTube broadcast called Friday Finish. Here’s one of his recent episodes, where he talked about one of my favorite topics, how to beat procrastination.

If your dreams are bigger than writing just one month a year, perhaps the whole writing/publishing/ marketing process overwhelms you. That’s where a really good coach comes in – to help you organize all of the facts, prioritize the tasks, and guide you through the process. I’d recommend Alexa Bigwarfe, an expert in print layout and e-book conversion, author coaching, and book launch marketing. I originally “met” Alexa when I watched her presentation for the stellar Indie Author Fringe Conference, where she was talking about accountability coaching for authors:

Next, I took Alexa’s Just Write It! 30 Day Challenge, an email course for writing accountability. (You might want to try it concurrently with NaNoWriMo, for an extra boost!)

I’m just finishing Alexa’s three-month coaching and accountability program for writers. What I really appreciated was that Alexa skipped the fluff and focused on practical advice (about writing, marketing, and publishing), and provided a bounty of resources. Alexa is launching Write.Publish.Sell Academy, a membership program with monthly training, education, encouragement, and accountability for authors. (Frugal gal that I am, I’m impressed with the low cost and no-contract approach). Check it out.


I’m an organizer and a writer, but I’m not a writing coach. I’m planning on using November to work on my own writing, and I know my accountability gets strengthened when I want to be there for others. So, for the next month, in addition to the regular Paper Doll posts, I’ll be publishing NaNoWriMo Monday posts, or NaNoWriMoMo for short. OK, it’s not that short. But the posts will be shorter than usual, with just a few motivational links, technological tools for keeping writers organized, and articles and advice I’ll be curating just for you. Happy November!

Posted on: October 27th, 2017 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

In our last two posts in this Manual Override series, Declutter and Organize Owner’s Manuals and Twelve Resources To Find An Owner’s Manual, we looked at how to get your paper manuals in order and access digital versions of them, whether yours are missing or you just prefer to go electronic for convenience or for environmental reasons.

Keeping all (or even most) of your owner’s manuals, installation instructions, and repair guides in digital form can also give you flexibility. Since we’re never very far from our computers and phones, we can access information about our possessions even when we’re nowhere near them.

Let’s say you and your siblings got your golf-loving grandfather a Bushnell Pro X2 Rangefinder to find the distance to a point on the green.

He’s using it today for the first time, proud to show off his fancy-schmancy gadget to his buddies, but he can’t figure out the slope function. The manual is sitting on his kitchen table (much to Grandma’s chagrin) where he unboxed everything this morning. If he’s tech-savvy and has data on his phone, he might step into the clubhouse, Google the product, find the web page, navigate to the online manual, download it, and find what he needs in due time. Is Gramps techie? Well, if he is, be sure to share this three-part series with him. If not, read on.

With one call to you, you can access the manual, walk him through the instructions, and get him back out on the links. You’re now his favorite grandchild, and you can get back to work. But chances are this isn’t a one-time thing. What if you made sure that you had quick digital access to all of your manuals plus those for which your loved ones are likely to need tech support?

If your first thought was, “Great! That’ll save time!” but your second was, “Man, where am I going to keep all of these digital manuals?” then Paper Doll has you covered.


Download a manual (in PDF form) as soon as you acquire a new appliance or gadget. Waiting until you need the manual to go spelunking the web will waste time at the very point you’re likely to be stressed and cranky. If you’re the main tech support for your kids, or your elderly parents or grandparents, download manuals sooner rather than later.

Some manuals will only require you to click on a “download” button, while others will display the manual as a web page. That’s fine if you want to bookmark the page and have all your devices’ browser bookmarks synced, but it’s a fairly unwieldy proposition. To download a manual from a web page as a PDF:

  • Use File> Export to PDF or Print> Save as PDF (Mac)
  • Use File> Print> Microsoft Print to PDF (Windows)
  • Review this article for conversions to PDF (for iOS, Android, and Chrome OS)

Revise the file names for easy retrieval. Your operating system will likely default to naming the Rangefinder something like 201740_ProX2_GolfLRF_5LIM_EU_rev071217_web. I suspect Bushnell Rangefinder is going to be much easier to search the next time Gramps needs you.

Don’t print out entire manuals. Most people don’t read manuals from cover to cover. They fiddle around with what they know how to do, and when they run into obstacles, they seek out the section they need. So, if your instinct is to print pages for easier reading, at least save some of the trees. Chances are good that your problems involve very specific issues, like needing to know how to install a minuscule battery or set a timer, so printing out a 100-page manual is excessive. Print the page or two that you need and store that page with other print manuals, if you must.

Create a folder on your hard drive for storing manuals. If you already have a digital home maintenance folder on your hard drive, just create a sub-folder for the manuals. I encourage my clients to set download preferences so all downloads go directly to the desktop. It’s only messy for a moment, and it will be much easier to drag files, en masse, to the right folder than to try to move things from a Downloads folder.

Make subfolders for the different categories of manuals. Remember from our first post in the series, how we talked about having separate folders for manuals for kitchen appliances or household appliances? It works the same way digitally.

Back up your manuals.

  • Back up your hard drive. For maximum safety, use the belt-and-suspenders approach, backing up to both a local drive (an external drive in your home) and to a cloud-based backup service, like my sanity-preserving Backblaze. (You know you should be backing up, but if this is something you never quite get around to doing, check out the guest post I wrote for Write.Publish.Sell on the topic, 9 Ways To Keep Your Writing Safe.)
  • Make a flash drive for your manuals. In the era of the cloud, flash drives may seem pretty Old School to some of you (while others are wondering if that’s the same thing is as a “thumb drive,” and yes, it is, and I’m proud of you for asking). While flash drives may be less than flashy, they have their advantages. If your computer isn’t working, having the manual solely on your hard drive doesn’t help much. Keeping a back-up on a flash drive lets you borrow a laptop, run to the public library, or otherwise find a quick alternative. Flash drives take up little space and are ideal for when you’re visiting The Land That Time Forgot (homes with no Wi-Fi or cell signal).

Move your manuals folder to the cloud. Chances are good that if you’re reading an article about organizing a digital owner’s manual library, you’re not too afraid of the cloud. You probably have one or more cloud solutions you use for storing documents, and you love how keeping something in the cloud means that it will sync content across your devices. A few major cloud solutions are:

  • DropboxDropbox is my favorite cloud storage solution. I have it installed on my computer, iPad, and phone, and it’s where I keep any documents or photos I might need if I’m going to be away from my desktop. A basic account is free for 2 GB of storage (ample for just starting out) or $9.99/month for a terabyte. I mostly like that it’s intuitive and couldn’t be easier to use. Dropbox acts just like any other space on your computer, so you just drag any downloaded PDF into the folder you create for your manuals. Access anything in Dropbox via the app on your mobile devices or in your preferred web browser.
  • Google Drive – If you already live and work in Gmail and Google Docs, Google Drive may be for you. A free account provides 15 GB of storage; $9.99/month gets you a terabyte. In case you’ve heard that Google Drive is going away, be assured that the service is staying put; it’s only the app that’s being discontinued in favor of a new version called Backup and Sync. (Google likes to confuse us.)
  • OneDrive – If you use Microsoft 365, you probably already have (and use) OneDrive. Accounts range from free for 5GB of storage to $1.99/month for 50GB to a whopping 1 terabyte for $6.99/month. While Paper Doll finds OneDrive less intuitive than other options, Microsoft does offer a variety of support documents (hey, manuals!) for organizing your files.
  • Evernote – Certainly Evernote is too robust to be considered a mere cloud storage service, whether you’re using a free, Plus, Premium or Business subscription. I’ve spoken of the magic powers of Evernote on many occasions, since long before I became an Evernote Certified Consultant. But sure, drag and drop (or upload) a PDF from your desktop and you can access any manual from anywhere. (Read on for a special Evernote feature!)


Having digital manuals is only as good as your ability to find what you have. To that end (and to make it easier to know what manuals to toss when you recycle or donate an appliance), you need an index or inventory.

Basic Spreadsheet – If you have a small manual library, sorting your manuals by category or room and listing them in an Excel or Google spreadsheet is fairly easy. With Dropbox, for example, log into the web version, click “Share” for that document, and click “Create a link.” Enter the Dropbox URL for your PDF in the spreadsheet field that corresponds to that product’s manual.

Combined Manual Library and InventoryAirtable is a secret weapon. If you could cross a spreadsheet with a robust database, add pretty pictures, and make it all easy, you’d be inventing Airtable. (And yes, writing a whole post about Airtable is definitely on Paper Doll‘s ToDo list.)

Using Airtable, you can build a sortable database in spreadsheet form, only instead of just putting in text, you can add photos, PDFs, links, and more, all with the click of a button. I created the following in under two minutes – adding labels, uploading some PDFs, and inputting starting information. I could have made it prettier, but the video above gives you a preview of those options.

I created fields for the product, the room/category, each item’s date of purchase, the PDF manual (see the photo preview?), and the purchase price, all of which is overkill for a manual database, but helpful for creating a household inventory for insurance purposes. Add one column for serial numbers, another for photos of the item in your home, and one for a snapshot of the receipt.

See the outlined field in the Manuals column, above? To add a document, photo, or any attachment, just click the plus sign to reveal the following menu.

Drag any file from your desktop, or click the sidebar to navigate to a file on your computer, any URL, or a file in any of your cloud accounts, from Dropbox, Box, Evernote, Google Drive, OneDrive, or GitHub. You can also click to take a photo, upload a photo from Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, or Google Photos; you can even pull an email from your Gmail account.

Use Evernote to store your manuals in the cloud and create a table of contents. Store your scanned or downloaded PDF manuals in an Evernote notebook called “Manuals” (or whatever you prefer). Tag each note appropriately: #manual #laundryroom #washer (for example).

An Evernote Table of Contents is just a note that contains a list of links to other notes; basically, an index to make it easier to find and click through to related notes, all from one place.

  • Select multiple notes while holding down Cmd+click (Mac) or Ctrl+click (Windows).
  • Select Create Table of Contents Note from the resulting menu. This automatically generates a new note with a list of individual links for each of the selected notes. Done!
  • Alternatively, manually create a table of contents by copying the note links for individual notes and pasting them into a new or existing note. Add links to an already-created table of contents this way, too.

I hope this Manual Override series has given you the guidance you need to keep your manuals streamlined, organized, and accessible. For understanding the manuals, though, you’re on your own!

SciFi Ikea Manuals – CollegeHumor © 2011 Caldwell Tanner & Susanna Wolff