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Spring Cleaning Cobwebs and Cyber Clutter
by Patricia Misiuk

Spring, traditionally a time of rebirth, evokes images of melting snow, robins and Easter lilies. On the flip side, however, the same season triggers less pleasant givens such as filing income taxes and spring cleaning. Do I hear a collective groan? Good.

OK, I admit the dust bunnies in my house approach the size of elephants and my closets constitute a virtual time capsule. But when I'm spinning my wheels in search of files instead of writing, 'tis time to knuckle down and clean, streamline and fine-tune the components of my home office. The end result- more time for writing, marketing and cashing royalty checks- is worth a few hours of grunt work.

GOT CLEANING SUPPLIES?

Chances are, if you're as cleaning challenged as I am, you'll need to restock your supply caddy. Be sure you have:

(1) Glass cleaner- for the dust magnet, aka the computer monitor's screen. The payoff? No more blurry text. Brighter colors.

(2) Can of compressed air- to blow dust away from the keyboard, the breeding ground where organisms resembling a science fair project reside and reproduce.

(3) Vacuum cleaner with a long, flexible hose- to inhale the fuzz from the hard-to-reach cable network that provides the juice so your cyber machine can lose files and crash.

(4) Dust cloths- don't cut corners here by using rejection slips.

(5) Shredder- for those of you who still use that centuries-old invention: paper. In these times of identity piracy, discarded documents with personal information should be destroyed.

(6) Trash receptacle- surefire job security for sanitation workers.

GETTING DOWN TO THE NITTY GRITTY

No use dwelling on the how-tos of cleaning. Just a few tips and reminders. Let gravity work in your favor. Since dust drifts downward, start with top shelves. Spritz, swab and swipe your way to floor level. Out of sight, though, should not mean out of mind. Be sure to clean under and behind the computer and peripheral components. Don't miss any surfaces, especially the tower since it requires clean free-flowing air for optimum efficiency.

THE INSIDE SCOOP

Looking good? Don't rest on your laurels just yet. Keep in mind: your computer cleaning is not finished. Plop yourself in an ergonomically friendly chair, boot up and let the cyber clean sweep begin. Scan the list of "favorites" sites and deep-six the ones you no longer visit. How 'bout text files? Make sure keepers are on disk. Increase your machine's memory by dumping the oldies but no longer goodies. Ditto for screen savers, photos and other downloaded must-haves that are now has-beens.

If your computer seems stuck in slo-mo, try some techie tricks- scan disk, defrag, emptying cache and recycle bin- to satisfy your instant gratification we want it (to respond) now appetite.

PAPERLESS WORKPLACE? NOT!

A reminder from pre e-mail times, a metal file cabinet, stands in my office's corner. I methodically cull and organize the contents of each manila folder. Your filing system will vary, but here are some hints.

(1) Guidelines.

Considering the musical chairs mobility of editorial personnel and the belly-up tendencies of some publications, guidelines for writers may be...well, let's just say the quart of milk in your fridge may have a longer shelf life than some guidelines in your file.

Update the information on each guideline by verifying on the Internet or by telephoning. Note changes and date your entries. Then file, either alphabetically or by category.

(2) Financial and Legal Documents.

Last year's check stubs and expenditure receipts should already be organized on a ledger sheet and close to tax files. Contracts from defunct magazines should be shredder bound. I keep the rest as reminders of my obligations and rights, should I segue into a "recycle an article" mode.

(3) Clips.

Some hoard toilet paper; others, plastic bags. My downfall: published clips. It's an ego trip to see my name and words plastered on paper, again and again. Truth is, I don't need 15 copies of the same article. With the prevalence of scanners and copiers, I can easily up my inventory. Ditto for duplicate magazines and newspapers showcasing my words. Save a few favorites and recycle the rest.

(4) Magazines about writing.

I tear out reference articles targeted to my areas of expertise and keep them in a loose-leaf notebook. Recycle the rejects.

(5) Queries.

I save hard copies of my pre-computer queries and ones from the current year, mostly as ready reference since they are also on disk.

(6) Submissions.

I keep a log listing date submitted, publication, article title, and status.

(7) Hard Copies of Articles.

Those I save. If I rework one (and all my writings are forever works in progress) I toss the old and replace with the revision.

(8) Idea File.

I keep the contents of this catch-all file: middle-of-the-night epiphanies scrawled on scrap paper, clever word phrases and other minutiae.

(9) Rejection Slips.

Put the ho-hum ones where they belong- in the trash can. Better yet, dump them all. Unfortunately, new ones will filter in.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Cleaning parallels writing. The transition from inertia to action is often terrifying but the end result- a home office that passes Mr. Clean's white glove test- creates an ambiance that invites you to linger, write and, once again, fill your files with- think positively now- copies of acceptance letters, contracts and royalty checks.

© Copyright 2002, Patricia Misiuk

Patricia Misiuk could have been the sole interviewee for Studs Terkel's "Working." Her jobs have ranged from migrant work in New Zealand to the replenishment of sanitary products in the "Big Apple's" restrooms. When she grows up (she is 61) she wants to be a columnist. She still works at "McJobs" but "writing is what she does."

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