Everybody has a method for organizing a book. It’s important to stick with whatever works for you.
For me, the most important thing about organizing a book is that it’s got to be easy. It can’t be time-consuming. Because it would be incredibly tempting to sink your writing time into making the perfect, tabbed notebook with color-coded sections. Believe me, I’d be totally pulled into that kind of time suck.
I haven’t talked about my own method for organizing a book (and it’s pretty basic) for a while, so I thought I’d share it here. It does help me to work through a draft pretty quickly…and the edits, too.
I just finished writing a first draft. So, to help me keep all my documents straight, I have a folder in Word with the working title of the manuscript. Inside that folder, I have a character sheet with character names (full names) and short descriptions. I fill this out as I go so that I don’t have to look back in my document to try to remember character details (I have a lousy memory…)
Sometimes I’m writing on the go, so there will be scraps of paper in places like my car, my purse, etc. Or I’ll wake up with an idea and scrawl an unintelligible note on some paper on my bedside table.
What I’ve learned I have to do, though, is to gather those papers together at the end of the day. If one of the ideas is for later in the story, then I type it into an ideas document in the WiP’s folder on Word. If it’s something related to my current spot in the story, then I add it in.
Keeping tabs on these scraps is important—frequently the ideas that suddenly hit me are better than the ones that I sit down and decide to have. A few times I’ve finished a book, emailed the manuscript to my editor, and found a scrap of paper later that had a really cool twist on it. Oh well!
I've seen other writers use different methods. Some swear by Post-Its on a bulletin board/story board. Some write everything in a spiral notebook, then they type it all onto the computer later. Another way to organize a book is to use an online program designed specifically for writers. My friend, Mike Fleming’s, Hiveword, for example. It sure makes it easier to find all the different components of your book. And helps avoid the sloppiness of Post-Its.
On to editing.
One thing that really helps me speed through a draft is the fact that I don’t edit as I go…although I know plenty of writers who do, and it works well for them.
I, on the other hand, become a disaster when I edit as I go. It messes up my creative flow by making me use a different part of my brain. When my editor hat is on, I feel like my manuscript is a broken mess. It might be, but it’s all fixable. This is something that I don’t need to worry over while I’m drafting.
I do one time-saving thing that helps me organize my to-do list for editing the next draft.
I notice problems as I go. I’ll either jot down a note on a separate document to remind myself to address it later, or make a comment to myself in Track Changes on Word.
If I stop to fix the problem, it just pulls me right out of the story.
I’ll also have a document with extra bits of dialogue and ideas to be worked in later…or discarded.
And I have my list of things to edit after the first draft is done. For mine now, the list is stuff that only I would understand:
Add Corrine’s reward
Short updates from Myrtle in the newspaper
Freeze the ham.
So…you get the idea. I’m not writing a huge explanation when I jot these notes down. These are just brief reminders to help me remember things I need to add or adjust so that there won’t be continuity errors or plot holes.
That’s really it. Simple stuff, but it helps me move quickly through drafting a manuscript and editing it. How do you organize your writing and editing?
Image: Patricia Fortes, Morgue Files