The "O" Word: An Obsession With Organization

I have a confession to make: I am obsessed with the "O" word. Not the one you are thinking of, although that is not a bad thing to think about sometimes, just not when you are trying to work. I am talking about Organization. That "O" word. I know I'm not the Only One Out there. (Lots of "O's" in that sentence... I must be channeling James Thurber's "The Wonderful O.")

No matter how hard I try to ignore it and tell myself that I really should be facing the blank page, a little devil with a dust mop and a bottle of 409 starts poking me in the face and says, "don't work on that manuscript or dummy, isn't it time to organize your flat files... or clean off the desk? How can you work with all that stuff just sitting there in random piles with stray cat hairs creating a fleece-like texture?"

Truthfully, the piles aren't random. They are specific. But who ever calls them "specific piles?"

Over time I have trained myself to import these piles into drawers. This drawer- the "top drawer" of my beloved old oak flat file (I think it's oak. It used to belong to my mom.) is full of decades of my journals. On days when I am not feeling like organizing and not feeling particularly inspired I open this drawer, open old journals, and the "magic falls out." (A girl in a Beaverton, OR elementary once told me that every time she opened a book "a little magic fell out.") But this drawer is now full and it barely closes. (Maybe the magic is leaking. Is that good or bad?)

The truth is that the whole flat file is full.

There are piles of my original illustrations and dummies from my books. I know that I need to frame some of them and maybe even sell some of them. I just have not been up to the task of:

a) spending piles of money on framing
b) figuring out how to make perfect digital copies
c) deciding which pieces to part with
d) choosing what to donate to the Kerlan Collection
e) putting time and effort into this when I should be working on new books...

So the drawers are a good home for now.

And the drawers are organized. When I create a book, I create a large folder that contains all sketches, correspondence, reference materials, texts... The over-sized originals (the pastels) which don't fit in the flat file are piled up to the ceiling in boxes.

This is all related to the eighteen plus years of me creating books. But there is also my past as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator...
More piles. Specific piles of illustrations and designs in various media from so many years of creating "something" from "nothing." (A weird expression. As if your imagination was nothing? It's not. It's something, but that's a post for another day.)

I need to have a yard sale. An art yard sale. But that brings me back to the list I made above.

However I am currently looking down the barrel of a gun. It's a good gun, though. I am facing the  upcoming conundrum of moving my studio and home office from the small bedroom and backyard shed of my city house to the almost 1000 square feet spacious, well-lit studio and office we built on the property of our island cottage. I even designed the new space to have an "art storage loft."

This means tons of the "O" word. I have to Organize the things that are moving. I have to Organize the actual move and Obtain a rental truck for a One-way rental. Then I will have to Oganize the new studio and decide what satellite studio and office to create in the city so that I can still work in both places.

This should bring on feelings of joy and excitement, but for the moment, it's more like fear and dread. I just moved my father a little over two weeks ago. I also moved him one year ago. I organized all of his things.

It's been a time of "Multiple Organizations" and I'm not calling out for "more, more, more!"

Yet I know it will feel so good. "O" so good...when it's done and I'm settled.

Then I can get organized to start illustrating the first of three board books that I have under contract. And there are picture books to dummy up so that they can be sold. And a middle grade novel to get a second draft going... and hopefully a novel to polish if it finds a home... and journals to fill... and well, you know... Other Opportunities to pursue...

This is the life of this writer and illustrator. I'm not really complaining.
I feel privileged to be able to be so Obsessed and Organized, because if I wasn't, I'd be living a life way more Ordinary. And as James Thurber might have said, "that would feel a little Opeless."

With Love,


  1. Oh Nina, you are singing my song. The more flat files I get, the more I need. I feel your pain. However, I will not offer to help. Organization begins at home (and is in the eye of the dis-organized.)
    Congratulations on your new studio. (I always think...If I can JUST get organized once, it will be so easy to KEEP organized. To dream the impossible dream.....)

  2. Dear miz "b"- I, too love flat files. I have a smaller set that contains my blank paper and other art pads- ready to be used... and there is a double set of metal flat files in my basement that are currently full of my father's art... that will get moved eventually and I'll use those as well. Thank you for not offering to help. I need to do this alone. At least until we have to move the furniture. Then I need my husband who says he is my "sherpa."


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