A Time to Gather Stones Together

I am gathering the notes, files, and pages of projects I have started, forsaken, and misplaced. After teaching for more than twenty-five years, many of my boxes and file cabinets contain syllabi, assignment handouts, and old student essays. Now that my focus has moved from teaching to writing, I am unearthing the beginnings of creative works that are scattered throughout the study: files of poems, portions of stories, scenes for multiple screenplays, pages with a line or two, or a paragraph, descriptions of places and people, boxes of mementos. In the garage, photos await my examination, an emotional journey I both desire and dread, but one that will produce more ideas, more writing.


I have multiple undertakings. I suppose I am experimenting with shifting the stones, making different configurations. Some days I work only on poetry, and other days a screenplay. I suspect that I may, in the next few months, immerse myself in a longer project, find a boulder in the desert and camp next to it for a long time. The options are many, and for that I am thankful, overjoyed, elated. You writers will understand, and many of you are there already, making steady progress on a novel, a play, or a collection of poems.

A thematic lamentation my friends often hear from me is the trouble I have organizing my papers. I collect books, articles, travel brochures, magazines, newsletters, chapbooks, pamphlets, mail. It piles up. The stacks grow. I sort, almost daily, feeling like Sisyphus.

My thoughts roam. I visualize a scene. Someone knocks at the door. It is the personal assistant I have wanted. She has a magical filing system and is able to organize all my papers, books, and writing paraphernalia in just a few minutes. Now I can find things.


On my own, I am nonetheless finding a way. Some days it is one thing only. A single stone, a steady focus, a piece of flash fiction, one poem. At the same time, I am learning Tai Chi from a friend, and he tells me that each time I practice, it is like writing a page. If I practice every day, I will have a substantial book at the end of the year.

I love river stones, and well, really, all kinds of stones, partly because they convey simplicity. I give myself simple messages:  exercise, write, organize. It doesn’t sound so all-fired difficult.


I may never have the pristine study that I imagine, but I can gather, arrange, and rearrange the materials until I gain focus and clarity. Stone by stone, I can create something.

I would love to hear how some of you organize your work.

My other dream, beyond the magical personal assistant, is one described in a passage from Annie Dillard’s book, The Writing Life:

“I have often ‘written’ with the mechanical aid of a twenty-foot conference table. You lay your pages along the table’s edge and pace out the work. You walk along the rows; you weed bits, move bits, and dig out bits, bent over the rows with full hands like a gardener. After a couple of hours, you have taken an exceedingly dull nine-mile hike. You go home and soak your feet” (46).

Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life. New York: Harper and Row, 1989.


8 thoughts on “A Time to Gather Stones Together

  1. Oh, to have a magical assistant! (Or even a perfectly mundane one!) I am a perpendicular filer: I organize things by stacks. This requires a lot more table/counter/floor space than I have, so periodically I sift through things and move some of them to the more traditional vertical file cabinet, where I forget they exist. This is probably just as well, because no matter how logically I file them or how clearly I label them, I can never find them again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, Jennifer! I tend to be a perpendicular filer also, and that’s why I have wanted to get a very long table, like Annie Dillard, and just walk around it when I want to find something. As for file labels, I can’t tell you how many packages of them I have purchased. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I organised all my writing a year or so ago – all those scraps of ideas and exercise books filled with teenage attempts at novels – I decided that organising them was a way of valuing them and if I wanted to value myself as a writer I had to value the work – even the fumbling beginnings of it. I use files with clear pockets and have some for ‘inspiration’ – those scrappy ideas, articles I’ve read, etc. – some for properly printed versions of my stories, some for leaflets of things I’ve submitted to with replies. They’re all shelved together so that I can get to them and so they’re properly looked after!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s wonderful, Andrea! Are they all filed in a large 3-ring binder, or just separated by tabs? Yes, you are right, that is a great way to value your efforts and the work itself. Thank you for posting!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is the sort of thing I’ve been doing in the past few years. And I feel that the papers threaten to overpower me sometimes. So lately I’ve been moving away from it and trying to ignore, but it will reach the breaking point again where I have to start the sifting all over again. On a positive note about this process, a story I had published this past year (that you read) was something I discovered that I’d written a LONG time ago and I revised it and sent it out. So there is real merit in pulling out the old projects.
    Of course, right now I feel far away from my writing or even sorting. my mom has been here for weeks and now other relatives as well, and I got myself overtired and am now sick :(.
    I’m jealous of Andrea’s (above) organization of her writing. YIKES!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is encouraging to find old work that can be revitalized. Treasure hunting! I have made progress, but the remaining work still feels like a medium-sized mountain of work. Hope you will be well soon and back to writing. I love hearing about the ideas and practices of other writers; always wanting to try new organization methods!


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