The Organised Writer

Antony Johnston is a working writer—he worked on Dead Space, and his comic The Coldest City became the Charlize Theron movie Atomic Blonde. He wrote up his methods in a book called The Organised Writer, which I’ve read twice.

This isn’t really a book on writing, it’s a book on being a working writer. It’s about arranging spaces, mental and physical, and arranging processes to let you get your work done. There’s a chapter on software which is very useful (his recommendation on task managers led me to finally purchase Things 3 after eyeing it for a very long time).

Starting off

I read this twice. The first time was to get a glimpse of the whole system from front to back. It was also to start gathering information about the recommendations he makes, and see how they might apply to my situation. There are so many to-do list apps, task managers, and note taking apps that I could have spent a small fortune on any of those categories. I started with the apps that were already on my devices, to make sure I could forge the habit first. I didn’t want to pay money for a nice UI for a process I wouldn’t engage in.


The hard part of implementing the system stopped being the hard part when I didn’t have an office job anymore. (The hard parts of lots of things stopped being hard, at that point.) Not only did I have the time to apply the methods he prescribed, I had the space to pursue the methods without feeling like I was giving the rest of my life short shrift.

instead of waking up extremely early and leaving the house before everyone else—to steal writing time at my desk before the avalanche came in, and not always successfully—these days I wake up, make the kids breakfast, make lunches, make lattes, and watch them leave with my wife. I’m not rushed to go anywhere, and the things I have to do to help them get ready don’t take up any mental space after they’re gone. Now I can attend to the ritual of getting started. For me, it’s vacuuming the living room, mopping the kitchen, and wiping down the counter. Once things are clean, I can focus on writing (usually with instrumental music on, like Jambinai).

Buy it

If, like me, you’ve pursued other organizational systems and found them lacking, you should read Johnston’s book. It synthesizes a lot of the salient bits from other doctrines (GTD, for example), while removing a lot of the office-specific cruft (GTD, for example).

Johnston has a site for the book and its resources.

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