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ADVICE ON ORGANIZING

By Freelance Travel Writers Jennifer Stevens, Steenie Harvey, John Forde, and Lori Appling

FROM JENNIFER STEVENS

When I travel I keep a 1-gallon Ziploc back in my suitcase and throw everything I pick up into it — business cards, menus, brochures, etc. It’s handy. When I get home I make a file for that trip and slide the bag into it.

But it’s gotten entirely out of hand. I have files that are 8 and 9 years old. The stories related to them were published nearly a decade ago.

And the thing is: I never go back to the stuff. I moved the whole lot to Chicago two years ago and filed it away alphabetically in a filing cabinet devoted to nothing else. I didn’t open any of the drawers for two years.

So that’s it. We just moved to Colorado, and I’m not unpacking that cabinet. In fact, I’m taking all the boxes to the trash. Enough is enough.

I’ve decided I’m not going to keep these “backup” materials for more than a year after a story is published.

I do keep two or three copies of each story I’ve had published. These I put in a folder labeled “clips.” I have them filed by date — oldest in the back, newest up front.

I keep electronic copies of all of those, too, of course. And to answer Bobbie’s question: No, I don’t keep umpteen drafts of everything — neither on paper nor electronically. I keep the final draft. The rest I throw away. (I might keep drafts while I’m in the process of writing. But once the final version is out there for the world to see, I trash the rest.)

I have a pretty efficient system for keeping files on my computer. I save everything by “year-month-subject” and then I keep the files in folders named for each publication. It means, for instance, that an article about Nicaragua, written for International Living in May 2002, is filed this way:

File name: 0205 Nicaragua real estate Saved in Folder: International Living

What about all those papers Bobbie’s got: this and that submitted to various publications she’s waiting to hear back from half-written stories and the piles of research associated with each multiple drafts of a story!

When I’m working on something, when it’s an active file, I’ll often have printed stuff — not just things I’ve picked up on a trip, but also pages I’ve printed out from online, scribbled notes, drafts I printed out and proofed down at the kitchen table. I keep a folder for that project in my desk drawer. But once an article is printed, that’s it – brochures and such might go back into the Ziploc (for no more than a year now, I pledge). The rest I throw out or turn into scrap paper for my three-year-old to color on.

As for Bobbie’s task of wrestling into submission her “this is queried, this was rejected and I need to rewrite and submit elsewhere, this was accepted” piles, I suggest she go electronic. As long as she’s saving everything under the same “system,” she’ll be able to find things easily enough. If she tends to write more than one article about a destination and for a wide range of publications, then she might try creating a folder for each destination and then subfolders under that for each specific article.

In other words, in her “Australia” folder she’d have other folders labeled “0409 Australia Sidney Transitions Abroad” and “0410 Australia Beaches Travel Smart” and “0412 Australia shopping International Living.” And then inside each of those folders she’d have her drafts and any notes related to that story.

FROM STEENIE HARVEY

I aim to use box files – one for each country I visit. After a year, I also aim to throw the stuff away. The information is so out-of-date, I doubt I’ll ever get to use it. Well, that’s the intention… The reality is somewhat different. My office floor overflows with unlabeled plastic bags I don’t have a clue what they contain. Copies of published articles should be in the bureau drawers, and I’m sure they are – somewhere amongst the ski hats, cartons of smuggled cigarettes and unwashed paint-brushes. Piles of business cards gather dust on the window-sill. And on the desk beside me – buried under maps of Calabria, 1998 travel brochures from Holland, and a Christmas card from Auntie Margery – I believe I have a photo scanner. I’m the last person to give handy hints about filing. All I can suggest is to take care that you don’t become obsessive about hoarding information. Every country – and almost every country’s region – has its own web site. Why do you need to save ancient documents when you can access up-to-date information on the Internet? I really should take my own advice and have a major clear-out…

FROM JOHN FORDE

The stuff that stacks up isn’t the stuff you’re looking at… it’s the stuff you’re NOT looking at but still keeping that becomes the problem. I’d start by liberating yourself from the stacks of magazines. You know you want to go back to them, but 80% of them will probably never see the light of day again. If there’s a really pertinent article, you can tear it out and toss the rest. Anything that’s older than, say, two years is probably best filed in the dustbin.

Clippings you can sort according to “must keep,” “could toss,” and “ready to burn.” Because you’ll find there a lot there that’s no longer relevant either. Full articles where you need all the information are the most likely to keep. Those where you just need an address, a date, or a minor fact… you’ll eventually toss, perhaps after jotting down the factoid or typing it into a computer file.

One thing I’ve heard that’s been helpful — and this is both for labeling file drawers and envelopes and for naming files on the computer — always label “biggest noun first” and then follow that with specifying adjectives, also from largest to smallest and most specific. For instance, if you’re collecting information on trips in France, you’d label every France related file tab or computer file, “FRANCE…” first and then the descriptor following. If you’re writing an article about the best French cafes, for instance, you might have subfolders for clippings and research on those cafes that are each labeled: “FRANCE cafes Internet”, “FRANCE cafes modern”, “FRANCE cafes bargain,” and so on.

Last thought:

Keep in mind that you can get most clippings, most facts, and whole slew of creative insights from the Internet these days. Which makes keeping the magazine stacks almost completely unnecessary. Even the clippings can usually be found again online. Once you develop skills with using the right keywords in search engines like Google.com, you don’t need to keep much of anything on hand. Because someone else is out there storing it for you, on their servers instead of in your file drawers.

FROM LORI APPLING

I’m a nut for picking up in-flight magazines. I think I have every issue published by Continental this year and probably Delta too. In fact, one of my friends sent me an in-flight magazine with by birthday present this year because he’s seen the stack I have at home.

This year, though, I have made a real effort to go electronic. I either search online for an article I’m interested in, copy and paste it into a Word document, and then save it so I can find it again. Or I type a note to myself in a file I’ve created about articles I might want to reference in the future. I jot down the key idea and the issue the article appears in so I can search for it online later should I, in fact, need it. Seems to be working pretty well. I’ve got fewer piles than I did.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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