Clearing the Clutter From Your Writing Space

Sunday, January 29, 2017

I guess I’m a little old school, but I remember the days of having to put together a portfolio of my work to take to job interviews and meetings with potential clients. This zippered binder would contain samples of my work, such as press releases, newspaper and magazine articles, and more. As I was still holding on that notion until very recently, my home office became more and more cluttered. I would keep copies of magazines I had articles in. I edited a local parenting magazine for three years and kept copies of each issue, because they contained themes I helped developed and article and interviews I wrote to support those themes. I kept copies of trade magazines because I knew I would one day go back to those articles with agents seeking work, or search for a list of resources I marked as useful for querying for work.

The clutter gave me a nice reality check this past week. After living in our house for thirteen years, we’ve finally decided to move to the other side of town to shorten the commute for the kids and me. I know all about how we need to clear the house of all excess items, paint, replace carpet, and stage the home so buyers can imagine themselves in it. I also know that most potential buyers probably aren’t writers, and won’t appreciate the baskets of magazines I had in the office and overflowing from my bookshelves. I took a deep breath and got to work. Here are a few things I told myself to get motivated:

1. You don’t have to have a print copy of every article you’ve ever written to get a job or wow a potential client. I have a website and blog, and although it’s under construction right now, I do have links to my work there. I can also use LinkedIn and social media to spotlight specific work samples.

2. I can find agents looking for my type of writing without having to keep backlogs of trade magazines collecting dust in a pile. As Sue Bradford Edwards wrote yesterday, agents utilize Twitter to seek out manuscripts. Other magazines and websites feature interviews with new agents, and Writer’s Market is also another resource (and can be checked out of your local library, so you don’t have to run out and buy a new edition every year.)

3. There’s probably no need to hold on to notes for an article you wrote five years ago. If the notes don’t contain any information you didn’t use for the piece, and are simply sitting in a manila folder in a desk drawer, chuck it. I did the same thing when cleaning out my closet. If I hadn’t worn it in a year, it got donated. If notes hadn't been looked at in a year, I recycled them.

4. Keep a few physical copies of magazines for reference, but recycle wisely. I did keep a few issues of the parenting magazine so I could show people examples of how I helped organize the content in the future if necessary. I also kept a few copies of magazines where I had a cover story featured. I didn’t get ride of everything, but I feel I did reasonably declutter my workspace.

My home office is tidier than it has been in years, and I feel more comfortable going in there to work now. I had to tell myself I’ve been writing professionally for almost twenty years, and there’s no way I could possibly keep everything. Up next, boxing up all the books. That could turn into a whole other blog post.

How do you keep your writing space tidy? Do you struggle with keeping physical copies of your work, magazines, and other resources? How do you keep track of clips for your portfolio?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who is still trying to give her website a new look and organize her online portfolio. It’s under construction at


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I don't have to contend with the decisions you have to make, because I only have anthologies to collect as proof of my publishing credits... hence, I only have a neat stack of them on my desk.

Good luck on selling your house and finding another one. (Perhaps those have already happened?) When you've all settled in, and all the boxes are unpacked, maybe you could travel around the country and help other writers purge and organize? I for one could use some help. ;)

Margo Dill said...

Hey--this sounds like a good article for my organization word of the year. I am on year 2 of organization. (Year 1 of peace). Best of luck with your move!

Linda Williams Jackson said...

Thank you for this. :)

Angela Mackintosh said...

I just went through this a few months ago, Renee! It's crazy...I still have two boxes of paperwork that I've carried with me on three moves in the past few years. They are labeled, "To be filed," but I have no idea what's inside. =/ However, I did get rid of almost all my magazines on this last move, and we purged so much stuff in a garage sale. I do have a couple binders filled with clips from the first few years, but when I started working for the skateboarding industry, there were around ten or more magazines a month my work was in, so I just stopped saving them altogether. I really should've scanned them at least. =/

Mary Horner said...

Timely information! I have newspaper articles I wrote many years ago, but they are in two large envelopes, so not a huge space-waster because i didn't save the entire newspapers they were published in. I do, however, need to scan them before my clips disintegrate because they are not properly preserved. I'm doing better about not saving everything, but still have stacks of magazines that take up too much space. (And my husband would disagree that I am doing better than I used to about saving old articles!)

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