Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How to Organize Your Writing

Look... index cards...Shocking!
I will tell you a secret: I have an inexplicable need to be completely (by completely I mean on the verge of ridiculous) organized before I can get even one word written. For me, the creative energy comes out when I am outlining and sketching ideas. Writing the actual sentences are more of a by- product of the word vomit that occurs during brainstorming and planning. And I love brainstorming. It's my favorite part because there are no restrictions, nothing that binds you to a certain genre or theme. It's just pure creativity. I like to think of my jumbled mess of paper and word docs as art. These are the underlying pieces that shape your story into its best form. Think of it as the spanx, foundation and bobby pins that make you look your (or your wife look her) most beautimous self. So, here are my suggestions on how to keep yourself and your ideas organized through the new year. I have even broken them down into groups for your pleasure. Have at it kids!

1. Brainstorming:

A. Collecting Inspirational Items
This is a category that I didn't even start until more than half way through my novel. I see its intrinsic value now because ideas come from everywhere, and your brain is not capable of processing and remembering all the information you perceive. To solve this problem of normal amounts of memory loss (or even abnormal amounts) here are several examples to create collections of inspirational material. Some writers carry notebooks (or apps) and write down descriptions of people they see. Some will cut up magazines and newspapers. Some will even take snapshots. However, I find this a little too stalker-esque for my taste, so I prefer to post pictures and notes other people have taken on sites like Pinterest and Tumblr. Feel free to scour mine for items that peak your interest. I find it helpful that I can separate each item into easily searchable categories. But to each his own, do what works in your life. Use something that you can access regularly because this will be an ongoing process in your writing life. But heed my warning: if you must take your own photos, for-the-love-of-all-that-is-holy, please do not take a picture of someone without their consent. Don't be that creepster.

B. Idea Box
So, index cards in a box is not a new idea. But I think it is often overlooked, and I have been guilty of overlooking it in the past. I use my cards for promising ideas; book premises, blog articles, short stories, screenplays, etc. I separate them by categories and label each index card. I then include as much of the premise as I can like: a working title, genre, approximate word count, single piece or part of a series, important characters, and what is missing from the story (plot, setting, characters). This way I know how much work needs to be done for each idea. I can flip through my cards and find one that peeks my interest and get to work. I fill out as much of the cards as I can, as well as update them, that way I am never short on ideas for several different projects. And once I finish a piece, I put the card in the back of the box as a nice little reminder that I have completed something. Check!

C. Storyweaver
Storyweaver is my all time favorite brainstorming resource. And it is free if you download the demo version; the only thing the demo version doesn't do is save your work to Storyweaver. But a quick cut and paste into a Word document solves that problem. What it does do is provide you step by step brainstorming prompts to develop characters, plot, themes, a synopsis and eventually a full outline. It is extremely helpful if you are just starting out, stuck, something seems off or even if you have written yourself into a corner. Each prompt builds on itself until you have completely developed every aspect of your novel. All you have to do then is write. I would suggest this software to any writer, new or experienced. And its free. Did I mention it's free? Free...


2. Outlining:

A. Post-It Binder
So, a Post-it Binder might not sound so technologically advanced, but it works. Here is what I do: first, I look at my outline (see Storyweaver) and break it down scene by scene. Each Point-of-view (POV), if you have multiple, is assigned a different color. Then, I write each scene on a Post-it. Once every scene is written, I stick them in the order I want in a binder under page protectors. What is great about this method is it is easily changeable. I can swap scenes, change POV's, write new scenes, etc. and I don't have to go back and re-write my outline/synopsis every time I make a change. This might seem like over-kill to some of you, but to me, this is easier than working off an out dated synopsis and it takes less time away from my actual writing. Give it a try. You might be surprised what you can do with school supplies. Come on don't deny it, I know you still like shopping for school supplies...


B. File Box
This is another one of those possible over-kill examples, but it works for me. I personally hate having tons of documents, saved searches, images, etc. on my desktop. When I am writing, I need the information now and I don't want to have to go look for it, which always happens when I have several open files or web pages at the same time. So, instead I like to print out my research. This is different than my inspirational items I mentioned earlier. This is information I am going to need while I am writing. Research. For example, if you are going to have the White House as a setting in your novel then you would need to print out images, maps, blue-prints of the White House to look at while writing. I like to put this type of information in a file box with clearly labeled folders. This prevents me from freaking out when I cannot find the image I originally wanted. If you don't mind a hundred open windows on your screen, then you have my sincerest apologies. The rest of you, you'll thank me later.

C. Plot Point Outline
This is the final preparation I make before writing. The plot point outline is a document that clearly lists every plot point in the novel. Plot points are the important actions that must be present to make the storyline work. This is different than the Post-it binder which are individual scenes. I like to use both the binder and the outline together to make sure each scene I am writing is related to a plot point, that way I am avoiding unnecessary or confusing actions. By keeping your writing in check with the outline, it will save time in editing and revising. There is nothing as painful as ripping out pages of work because it ends up being useless to the storyline. Do your future self a favor and outline.

3. Writing/ Revising

A. Scrivener
I wish Scrivener was free, but alas it is not. However, it does have a free trial for 45 days. And these aren't consecutive days just the days you open the program. This software is really helpful because it allows you to write, outline, save research, save notes, and old drafts all in the same place. Then you can pull items up side by side, which is especially helpful for revising. The other thing I like about this program is that you can choose screenplay formatting. If you have ever tried to manually format a screenplay, you know how hard it is in Word. If you ever plan on turning a novel or story into a screenplay, or just write a screenplay from scratch download this software. It's a real time saver and makes you feel like a professional. Kind of.

B. Research Markings
Whenever people read my drafts, I always get questions as to why some words are colored red? Here is the reason: they represent something I need to research. As much as I research before I even start writing, it never fails that I will run across something I need to know but didn't think of during my research time. I absolutely hate to stop a writing flow to Google some information because then I get side-tracked with Facebook or Twitter or e-mail or the latest on some food that is killing people. So, I solve this problem by coloring words or phrases that I need research in red. Sounds silly? Yes, but if I don't I will forget later. Then some little Amazon troll will write a review that states I know nothing of "such and such" and people shouldn't read my book. We all want to prevent the trolls from succeeding in life, so you should probably do your part and prevent as many "troll-able" offenses as possible.

C. Chapter notes
Keeping chapter notes is another method of keeping the trolls at bay. Every chapter, or scene if you prefer, I write down as much descriptive material as possible: the day, time, color of shirt on each character, weather, hair up or down, who is on scene/off scene, setting descriptions, etc. You get the picture. Inevitably you are going to need to remember at least one piece of information on this list and it is much easier to find it on a notebook page rather than scrolling through dozens of pages in your manuscript. This is especially true if you have long novel, a story that shifts POV characters, or has flashbacks. You will forget what your characters are wearing. You will forget what day a particular event happened. You will forget if it was morning or night. But the trolls never do. So, make some notes especially if you are self-publishing. Save yourself now.


Thanks so much for reading! If you enjoyed this post please take a moment and subscribe. Also, feel free to let me know if you use any other particular organizational methods, or if you want to argue about one of mine. Or tell me how awesome my photography skills are; I'll listen. Have a great evening friends.

Talk at ya later,


-Jami Lynn