Friday, December 14, 2012

How to Be an Organized Writer

Any of you who know me, or have visited my personal blog, know that I like to be organized. I like lists and a space for everything and having a direction. But when it comes to writing...there are times when I'm all over the place.

The more stories I write, the more I realize that I need a clear direction from the moment I start my story. I'm not talking about plotting, just being organized with each story from start to finish.

What are some ways I do this?


The moment I start writing or plotting a new story, I open a new folder in Microsoft Word with the title of this story.

What goes in this folder?

Photo by bigmick
* The actual document of the story
* Notes or plotted chapters (you could also add any research you've done or pictures of your hero or heroine)
* My Excel word count sheet (this is where I set a word count goal for each day and how many weeks it will take me to reach my goal for the story)
* Further down the road, I will also put my synopsis, proposal, or queries in here


Because I like to take notes on my story before I start typing, as well as when I'm away from the computer, I use a notebook. Every time I start a new story, I get a new notebook (or use a leftover one that's empty of all old pages) and keep this with me. Whenever I have ideas or notes or questions, I put them all in this notebook so I never lose any bit of information I've written outside of my computer.

A Pertinent Facts List

This is a big one for me. There are so many times I start writing a story and add in information I can't remember later. For example, I will say my heroine's eyes are green, and then later on forget I put that and change her eyes to blue. It also wastes time because I end up having to go back and try to find old information.

What else goes on this list?

* Any dates or character ages that will be important later in the story
* Character description
* Main character and secondary character names (first, last, nicknames, whatever)
* A timeline of sorts (there are times I forget which day of the week it is, or want to give my reader a sense of time - month, year, whatever - so I try to write down how much time has passed in each chapter or what day of the week it is)

My writing habits change during each story I write. Sometimes I plot more, sometimes I plot less, but the above categories are a must to keep me organized and productive.

What do you do to keep organized while writing?


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

For the last story I was working on, I used yWriter. It is a free software that keeps you organized. It does a lot of the work for you, like time line, who is in the scene, etc. I thought it was pretty good, actually.

Before that I used OneNote, because you can create a digital notebook and copy and paste pictures, websites, documents onto the page.

Loved all your ideas, Cindy! Soooo smart!

Beth K. Vogt said...

The word "organized" scares me. But I try. I do try.
And I can offer advice on what helps me be um ... not so unorganized.
Three words: The Book Buddy.
I've probably said that before in a comment on this blog.
The Book Buddy by Susan May Warren. It's a workbook where you can plot out your novel, including character sketches, subplots, spiritual threads -- so much more. And it's all there in one place ... and then I transfer this information onto oversize neon Post It Notes and stick them onto the back of my office doors, kind of like a storyboard. Easy reference.
Give yourself one as a gift this year -- The Book Buddy, that is. Not my office doors.

Anonymous said...

Cindy, I like this post. Like Beth, I LOVE the Book Buddy. I also do organizing like you--with a folder just for that book. I have a folder inside the "Big" folder for each chapter which holds each scene (I usually have three per chapter), critique notes and other notes for that chapter. I have a folder labeled "Research" with information I need and impressions for when I write scenes along with much of what you mentioned.

I should try making one for the story's time line. I like that idea!

S.J. Maylee said...

Great post. I organize much in the same way, utilizing the folder to hold all my files for each WIP. I keep one main Excel file to track my daily word counts, or progress notes when I'm editing, for all my WIPs. In that same file I keep track of the character details, again for all my WIPs. I figure, it's easier to catch myself using the same descriptions or names if I keep them in the same spot. Great tips, thanks for sharing.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Sherrinda, those are smart ideas, too! There are so many programs out there, I should really try one already :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Lol, Beth! I'd LOVE some office doors. Actually, I'd LOVE an office to go with those doors :) Great tip. Book Buddy!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Wow, Jeanne, that's organized. I love it! I bet that really helps when you're trying to search for a specific scene.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi S.J. I love all these organized writers out here :) Folders are so helpful, aren't they? Thanks for stopping by!

Unknown said...

Good stuff, Cindy! I used to be so incredibly organized, but I feel like diving into this writing thing has made it harder and harder to be I appreciate posts like this.

Like both Beth and Jeanne said, I'm a Book Buddy fan. Love it!!

Loree Huebner said...

Excellent tips on organization, Cindy. We do change our habits during the course of writing a novel. I personally keep a note book and notes on the computer in a special file. Changes in the manuscript in any way must be documented.

Great post!

Pamela Williamson said...

I so needed this post today! Thank you, Cindy. Organization has been a tough one for me. I have notes in notebooks, on my Kindle, on my desktop, my laptop and neat places like Evernote and Drop box. Evernote being my favorite place to keep things, but I tell myself everyday I really need to find what works for me and get all my stuff in one place! It's fun though when I stumble on something I wrote spur of the moment on a scrap of paper, tucked in a notebook or stack of papers, without a date, and it makes me smile because I don't remember writing it and it sounds pretty darn good. Your advice is most helpful, I look forward to trying folders and with the comments I was encouraged to try yWriter too. Ordering the Book Buddy is my next stop. Thank you Cindy for sharing this. I have renewed hope in getting myself organized. I'm excited actually. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Melissa. I totally hear you about it being hard to be organized. When we first started writing, it seemed so much simpler, didn't it?'s actually work :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Loree. I love those notebooks! Anything that works for an individual is great, as long as we keep the story consistent!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Pamela, yay! I love it when writers are excited. It doesn't even matter about what :) Seriously, though, keeping organized as a writer makes our job so much easier, don't you think? Although, now that you mention it, those little scenes and notes you mentioned stumbling upon further down the road are always fun. Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Great post, Cindy, and great advice. I love the idea of a "pertinent facts" file. And an excel sheet for word count - why have I never tried that before?! Brilliant! Thanks! x

Linda Adams - Soldier, Storyteller said...

Typical organization methods that are recommended don't work for me because they're tailored for left-brained people, and I'm right-brained.

I use Evernote for research -- I try very hard not to get accumulations of paper at all. If I have to store things in folders other than long term, it generally ends up never getting into the folder. I do have about four folders for broad topics where I might find a newspaper article or get something like a map, which can't be put into Evernote.

I also keep it in it "Discovery Writing." I'm horrendous with details. Where someone can dash off a story and plug details in, if I mention them, I'll get them wrong, not do enough, or do too many. So I have to research them, then write a separate document doing something like describing everything about a setting that I can pull from for the story. This is a time saver because I'm not spending time during writing battling to shift to left-brain mode to add the details.

No fact sheet or character worksheet. It would drive me utterly crazy, and I would pay too much attention to it and not to the story. Whatever I have is in the story, and because I'm so bad with details, it generally gets mentioned once. The exception is the main character.

Style sheet: I do use this to help me consistent remembering names of people; names of places; getting the spelling right.