I’m sure I’ve mentioned this tip at least once already, but I’m finding that it’s one that I have trouble with. I’m one of the most organized people I know. I’m not bragging or kidding about that either. My book shelf is never out of order and I have my notes and binders for school color coded. I keep up with it. Not because I need to keep up with everything, but because it drives me crazy if I can’t find something.
But this… Organizing for writing a book is hard. It’s also very important. Very, very important.
I’ll go ahead and share a few horror stories to prove my point. One time, I wrote four chapters straight on Holding My Breath. And then my phone died (oh, the days of writing on my phone) and I lost all of it. I did save it before the phone died. The platform I was working on just ran out of memory and… didn’t save. But it saved it somewhere on the cloud and I still have yet to find it. I ended up rewriting a chapter, and that one disappearing on me, too.
Not to mention that the account I wrote it on… yeah, I don’t know the password. I’ve tried everything I can think of, but never guessed my own password right.
Okay, let’s talk about the time I decided to write a book. The first book I’ve ever written. I sat down, and wrote the first chapter on paper of this idea I had. And sure, looking back on it, it was really bad. The lack of substance in that writing makes me cringe today, but back then, I was really proud. Then, when I wanted to keep writing on the story, I couldn’t find the chapter. And when I looked to find my outline, that was gone, too. It was like I had never written it in the first place.
There’s also the big one, where I actually did delete a book I wrote. Yes, the entire book. I actually clicked it and purposefully deleted it. The file name made me think it was something completely different. I was reorganizing my flash drive so that I wouldn’t lose anything, and what did I do? Lose the entire book.
I’ll go ahead and give you your first tip now. Don’t ever delete anything. Make a folder, name it trash, and throw anything you want in it. Just don’t actually delete because you might want to go back to whatever it is one day. Or you might not realize that you are deleting a whole book.
I did end up finding a back-up, but it was way behind where I was at the time. The whole event set me back a while on the writing process. Always keep your back-ups up to date.
Over the years, though, I’ve figured out a way to keep myself in order when I am in the middle of a complicated novel, and how to get around the problems that get in the way of that. So I’ll share some of this with you before you lose track of entire chapters like I’ve done in the past.
Okay. Let’s start with the things that are going to get in your way when you are trying to stay organized. There are plenty, so you need to be prepared.
We’ve all had that moment when a great character or plot point in mind, and nowhere to write down the idea. I’ve been there too many times. If you are in the middle of a waiting room, you scribble it on your arm. I’ve come home with a sleeve of tattooed ideas before, the writing so small that you could barely see my skin. Not to mention that it went from my finger tips to above my elbow, almost a novel in itself. If you are in a restaurant, don’t even bother with your arm. There are napkins to write on. Receipts are there for you in grocery stores. A scrap of notebook paper in the middle of class.
The problem with this is that things get lost. You write all over your arm and that gets washed off. That napkin might get tossed in the trash. Your receipts? Those are impossible to keep up with, even when they don’t harbor your ideas of genius. Notebook paper isn’t that bad, but you’ve got to remember which binder or notebook it was in. Or which pair of pants have it folded up in the back pocket.
I have two different solutions to this problem. The first is to have a bulletin board, a place where you can put up almost any form of idea-recording before you lose it. That way you can write it down or print a picture of it later. (If you write on your own skin, then you’re just going to have to sit down and rewrite on paper. Or take a photo.) Make it part of your daily routine to dump all of your ideas at the board at the end or beginning of each writing marathon.
The other solution is to just a To-Do list on something easy to always access, like a phone or small notebook. You have an idea? Add it to the list. Check it off when you’ve used it.
The second problem that is going to get in the way of keeping organized when writing is the most annoying problem any writer has. Yes, I’m talking about when you get a great idea and then you lose it because you don’t write it down. We always think that we will remember it long enough to get it onto paper. Whether it be for your next story or your next chapter, there’s only one way to push past this problem. And that’s to write it down as soon as you think of it. The very second. Write everything.
It’s like waking up from a great dream, and then go to tell someone about it later in the day. You feel like you remember it, but you can’t quite grasp it. The tip-of-your-tongue effect. In psychology, it’s called retrieval failure. But you know what? It’s easily avoided if you just write it down. Even a key word or two, if you are short on time.
Okay, there are a lot more problems. Losing papers and deleting drafts and being inconsistent with the details. Or worse, losing your flash drive and not having a back up. Maybe it’s something as simple as forgetting the description or exact age of a character. You can’t possibly keep track of any of this without being organized. There are a lot of problems, so I’m just going to move on to a few things that might help with that.
Firstly, keep everything in one place. One binder or one notebook or one shelf. Even just one room. When I went to start NaNoWriMo, I got an empty binder and tried this out. I put everything in there, from print outs of my planning boards to the themes and character backgrounds. I even printed out lyrics to songs that fit my story (and I’m a nerd, so I annotated them. They are great at twisting the way you are looking at something in your story or even helping to give you a different direction in which to take your conflict.)
So far, I haven’t lost any of that. The last book I wrote had notes all over the place and I never actually had a good HQ set up for all of the ideas, but Holding My Breath is neat. It’s got folders and copies and tabs. It’s all in one binder. If I forget exactly how old a character was at a certain point in their backstory, or what their mother’s name is, I can get the answer in seconds.
Secondly, you need to be smart with your file names. Or the titles of your notes. I have drafts upon drafts of my book. I’m only moving on to draft four soon, and yet I have so many different files for it. There was the original NaNoWriMo file, and then I decided to make a copy of it and leave one copy in case I needed to go back to something. It’s hard to press the delete button on entire chapters if you can’t get things back. Then I ended up doing this again and again every time I started a new draft or changed something big. Keeping detailed names for these documents and back ups is what keeps me from accidently printing my entire first draft instead of my latest one.
Oh yes. That’s happened before, too.
And lastly, don’t let anything leave it’s designated place without being copied. Okay, that sounds kind of tough, but it’s important. If you have a binder with all of your notes on the characters, don’t even think about taking that to the library or work or school. Yeah, you might have time to work on things over your lunch break, but you could also ruin your only copy of these notes. Or better yet, lose it. Don’t take anything out of it’s place without making copies. Or at least taking a picture that you can go back to as a last resort.
My challenge for you is to give some thought to the organization of your story. Look into the problems you are running into and then find out how to work around them. Better yet, find ways to just blast right through the problems. That way you won’t lose anything. And you won’t forget anything. You won’t get frustrated or have to back track. All of that stuff sucks, and it’s even more annoying because it’s usually your own fault that you are running into the problem. So don’t let it happen again!
Also, I find that writing neatly helps. I don’t know why, exactly. Maybe it just taps into the neatness-desiring part of your brain or something. But I’ve found that whenever I write really neatly or have something clean and printed out, I’m more likely to file it away into the place it goes. Or put it in a sheet protector or even just remember where I put it. Have some pride in the organization of your book. It helps.
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!