Friday, February 24, 2017

Staying Organized While You Write--and Finish--Your Book

No matter where you are in the book-writing journey, at some point the sheer volume of material begins to overwhelm and it's time to look carefully at how to organize yourself.

A private client recently wrote me about this.  She's been trying to locate some "islands" (snippets of writing, or scenes) that she'd written a while back, but she couldn't remember how she'd titled them.  They were virtually lost in the mass of material on her computer.

She asked:  "I'd appreciate your advice on how to save my islands on Word.  Should I title them? Date them? How will I handle revisions? As separate documents or just edits of the original?  Confusion reigns on this front!  Also, in your book (Your Book Starts Here), you mention saving work in files.  What are these exactly and how do I create them?"

I work in both Scrivener and Word.  I find Scrivener easiest for organizing, but I do end up using Word quite a lot for final drafts before submitting.  Here are the methods I use in each, plus some low-tech organization tools learned along the way.

Favorite Tools for Organizing Your Book-in-Progress

1.  Create two folders for your book project.  One is on your computer, one is a paper folder to collect research and scribbled ideas.  For my computer folder, I give it the book's working title.  I place it on my desktop.  For my paper folder, I choose one of those expanding colored pocket folders from the office supply store.  Keep it out where you can see it often, not buried in a file drawer or shelf. 

2.  I also find it helpful to start a writer's notebook, or book journal.  Sometimes I don't have my computer with me or it's inconvenient to get to my paper folder, but I can tote along my notebook.  The notebook is all generative.  In it, I write scene ideas, questions about the book, character sketches.  I paste photos and make collages in the notebook.  I often paste in feedback from readers or classes.  By the time I am finished my final draft, the notebook is full.  It's a wonderful documentary about what I learned.  I often reread notebooks from my published books, and I find ideas in there for more books.

3.  You'll be generating a huge amount of writing.  Many published writers say an average of 30-40 percent of their original drafts get edited away during revision.  So, if you're going for a 60-75,000 word final manuscript, you'll be generating over 100,000 words during the course of the book.  That's nearly 400 double-spaced pages.  Plan on this!  Your computer folder will eventually contain all these pages, probably including revisions.  Start big.

4.  Because you know you're going to generate a lot of material, from the beginning, create a system for titling each document so you can find it.  It might be as simple as the date (2.24.17).  It could be a rough title (Maurey's fight).  In early stages, these bits and pieces of writing may not yet be linked together as chapters, and that's actually good news because you're freer to move things around.  But you need to find them.   So label well. 

5.  Each time you create a new document, take a minute to save it in your folder.   You may feel rushed, even startled when you finish a writing session and realize you're late for your "real" life, but this is vital.  It only takes a minute and it'll save you hours of searching later.  If you're working in Scrivener, you'll be saving each "island" as a separate document in your binder, under the folder of your book manuscript.  In Word, you'll be saving as a separate document in your book folder.

6.  After each writing session, also take a minute to backup multiple ways.  I do four backups for every document:  (1) save it to my folder, (2) send an email copy to myself, (3) backup to an external drive each week, and (4) on Scrivener, also create a "snapshot."  (Scrivener's snapshot feature is a great gift to writers.)  A writing friend has a partner she sends her drafts to each week, as a third backup.  Some writers use Dropbox or Google docs or pay for an automatic backup system.  Anyone who has ever lost part of their book to cyberspace due to a computer crash or accidentally overwriting a file, knows this. 

7.  It's very helpful to start an outline (like Scrivener's binder) of what you've created so far.  When I work in Word, I create a document that logs my writing sessions and what I worked on.  I print this out regularly (about once a week).  It's amazing to see where I focus in my writing and where I'm stuck.  Helpful, especially, if you are not working chronologically through your draft.

8.  I subscribe to the "island" theory, or the idea that books are more easily created in random snippets (islands) until a critical mass is reached and the writer begins to know what the real story is about.  If you follow this idea, don't hurry to organize your manuscript into one huge file.  Keep the parts separate as long as you can stand it.  Many writers make the mistake of creating that huge file too soon, then they feel overwhelmed and lost.  They become resistant to moving things around.  They repeat themselves without knowing it.   

There are many other steps for organizing, and your writing exercise this week is to do a quick google search on the topic:  organizing your writing.  See what other writers do.  Find your best method. 

You may be someone who delights in the writer's notebook and colored pens; photos and other tactile items inspire you.  Or you may be a virtual writer who prefers to have everything on the laptop.  Be true to your own creative wiring as you figure out your system.  It'll keep you happier, and more productive, as you plan, write, and develop your book.