Budding Writer, 1979: Top-of-the-head inventory

Reading Time: 2 minutes

About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself, and other writers, career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!

My “Inventory of Items in Stock” contains notecards about all my projects, writing prompts, and resources. It also included an index of dates various projects were cited in my journals. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

At this point, the journals of my first year as a freelancer start to focus on my beat assignments for the newspaper and personal matters. And yet, I still had time to take inventory of my creative writing ideas:

I appear to be putting my life in order, which includes straightening up my room, writing a long overdue letter …, and starting to map a work outline for my writing projects. A top-of-the-head inventory shows I’m sitting on an entire career’s worth of works — 4 novels, 2 other books, some 4 collections of short stories (38 or more stories!) 3 one-act plays, ad least 1 full-length, etc. etc. If only I could put them together, maybe I could make some money! Ding letter from Alice Peck …

Journal, Volume II
22 May 1979

The rejection letter from Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital comes as no surprise today, although it was certainly a major disappointment at the time. I essentially confessed to the interviewer that I didn’t know what I was doing or the going rate for my work.

But the inventory of ideas for works in progress — some of which I’ve hinted at in these posts — is an eye-opener. I created a card file to keep track of them.

In those days, we used card files to organize things. Today it might be computer files, or spreadsheets, or even sticky notes. Cards could be shuffled, refiled, organized, discarded. Most libraries used card files instead of databases, which didn’t exist beyond company mainframes.

My “Inventory of Items in Stock” was a misnomer. It had a few completed works, many in progress, and many more that were mere ideas or characters in search of a plot. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

The name Inventory of Items in Stock was, in truth, a misnomer. Some of the items were complete, some awaiting a final draft or a rewrite. The rest were ideas or characters in search of a plot.

I probably developed the card file at about this time. The file has separate tabs for IDEAS/THEMES, ARTICLES, STORIES, and stories by collection: Blues, College, Writer’s Notes, Weddings, and Religious. I even used the cards for contacts — people I’d talked with on planes, people I knew from school — and when they appeared in the journals. Most of those cross-references reference journal dates from 1978 but not 1979.

I color-coded the cards by priority: previously published with first serial rights; awaiting final draft; ready for rewrite, ready for a first draft, “priority long-term work,” and “lower priority long-term work.”

How much of any of these works-in-progress ever moved up the color code ladder? Any guesses? I’ve dropped a few names in this series, and one or two others that you haven’t heard of yet.

What do use to organize your projects? Are you from the card file generation? Do you use a computer? Do you organize by dropping into files, or using an app, or some other method? Let’s talk about it in the Comments section below!