January 14, 2013

Slightly Organized

By nature, I'm a fairly organized person.  That's not to say I'm OCD, that I wouldn't rather put my shoes in the foyer than take them to my room, or that I color-code my wardrobe (though I have considered it, I admit).  Nor, for that matter, does it mean I quibble with "unsightly" stacks of books all over the floor.  They're not unsightly to me: they look like intelligence.

On the other hand, I'm really not a huge fan of chaos.  I like to straighten things - to clear off desks, and put pens back in holders, and file papers in assigned folders.  I like the feeling of getting books properly arranged on shelves.  I like to hustle clutter out of my room, because having it cluttered increases stress.  (Jenny remarked on this phenomenon a few days ago, so I don't think it's peculiar to me.) 

And this extends to my writing as well: if I can't keep myself organized, I get a most unpleasant and overwhelming sensation of panic.  I suppose that isn't an unreasonable feeling for a writer to have.  Here we are setting out to write a book that could be anywhere from 60,000 to 200,000 words long, with characters we're just beginning to know, plot twists we can't yet envision, an ending that seems incredibly distant, and more chapters than can be easily kept track of.  We may not start out with a map, but I know that for myself, if I don't at least have a few mile markers I will soon be hopelessly lost.

Some of us tackle this issue through outlines with varying degrees of detail.  For me, this has been different with every novel, but I find I don't like ones that are in-depth; they're helpful enough to follow during NaNo, when I'm rushing along much too quickly to keep track of critical points, but they leave no room for character and plot development in my own mind.  Besides, my chapters never end up following the arrangement I set up for them before I begin writing.  Still, this overarching outline can be useful as reference material as long as I don't follow it too closely.

The outline, however, is a pretty well-known means of organization.  Here are a few of the other things I do to try to keep my head above water as I dog-paddle through my novels.

corkboard and sticky notes

This is a new thing for me, and I stole the idea from Jenny.  It's a simple way of keeping tabs, not on large plot points, but on little things that are just as necessary.  Usually these are one-word reminders, just enough to spark my memory; they have to be fairly short to fit on the heart-shaped sticky notes. Sometimes I'll add a quote I want to use, or a snatch of dialogue I want to remember.  Anyone else looking at the notes for Tempus Regina would be able to make neither heads nor tails of them.  "Greek fire," says one; "abort," declares another; "smoke and mirrors," "sacrifice," blue stones," "Plato," and "The Great Exhibition," remark several others. 

Here I've also begun keeping track of edits I know I'll have to make, so I don't forget them.  I write these on different note cards to differentiate. 


I have a notebook for writing, but I also have a small, fat, spiral-bound notebook for a variety of Useful Things.  I write down blog post ideas, song titles, edits, and schedules here.  I keep track of agents queried and not queried.  I also scribble lists of books to find and notes on necessary research, like the phosphorescent qualities of zinc sulfide.  My notebook itself is not very organized, given my tendency to use up every spare bit of page until a single leaf has three separate lists crammed together.  But since I can navigate it well enough, and needful schedules, lists, and research are in one spot, it works very well.

chapter outlines

Unless I'm doing NaNo, I write each chapter of my novel in a separate Word document.  When it's finished, I copy it, add it to the main manuscript file, and then save both.  Writing from beginning to end in a single document is, for some reason, overwhelming to me.  Besides, finishing a chapter is much for satisfying this way.

The downside of this method is that it means I'm frequently faced with a blank page.  Every time I finish one chapter and begin another, I have an empty sheet of virtual paper - no words or snatches of sentences to spur me on.  And most of you know, I hate beginnings.  What I do to start myself off is to jot down quick notes in my writing notebook (not the Useful Things book) as a general outline of how the chapter will go.  I break it down into parts, rarely detailed, but enough to show me about how long the chapter will be and how many scenes it will contain.  It gives me a prompt and a starting place, and as I finish each section I can check it off.  (I love checking things off.)  This has been one of the most helpful flotation devices I've found for myself.

what methods do you have for keeping yourself organized?


  1. Being the (slightly OCD) person that I am, I have a notebook for each book I am working on (no matter the stage). I use it similar to a smash book: I fill it with pictures, snippets of writing, thoughts, things that need changing, etc. Recently, I've left off a few pages in the back for feedback from friends.
    Then I have a binder for blog post ideas, inspiration, etc.

    So yeah, it may be a *bit* OCD...hehe. ;D

  2. With the ability to not in. Sense care what is around me when I'm creating, I try and be organized with my writing WIP's. I love your first idea, you'll have to thank your sister, because I'm stealing this one for my self, why I have never seen fit to write the bits of inspiration and the areas I know I will have to edit that's such a good tip, thanks. I have never understood how writers map out there chapters entirely, I suppose it's something I will learn with time.
    I do like to write a quick overview of the scenes I see really clearly in my head, I find it helps to remind me when I'm actually writing said scene.
    Loved this post, blessings - Rachel hope

  3. Those are some great ideas Abigail! I'll have to remember them! I'm only slightly slightly organized myself. :P

  4. (Gracious, it has been a while since I've commented on your blog, Abigail! Shame...)

    I am sure you noticed I was not at all organized when we first chatted nearly a year ago--was it a year? Goodness, time flies!--and even now as my writing has grown immensely since that conversation (which I am pretty sure was loaded with awkward silences that often come when two introverts converse ;)), I find that I am not as organized as some are. I created an outline of which consists of chapter titles and the part of the overall book that should come in those chapters; naturally I do not follow the outline precisely, but I find it adds inspiration and gives me a sense of direction when writing, especially if I have hit a rough point or Writer's Block or any of those dreaded diseases that I find hinder me all too often. :)

  5. Awesome post, Abigail! This was such a great help to me - especially since I am going through the grueling part of editing. I am so discouraged right now. I have discovered that I am in love with 'was' and long sentences! Slaying one's own writing is a heartbreaking, horrible task!

    I think that I am somewhat disorganized in my writing. Mostly I do a basic outline, a quick summary of the novel, the main lesson in the novel, and a list of characters and their role in the story. I've tried extensive planning before, but I found that it killed my story and creativity. The unfinished book was useless and poor.

    I absolutely loved your techniques! Especially the first one. :-) And I just read Rachel Heffington's post on rewriting that I just loved. So between the both of you, I found the encouragment I needed!

    Thank you, Abigail!

    Fellow writer,


  6. These tips are quite helpful! I confess I've always been the traditional (or you might call it stubborn) sort who opens up a Word document when she plans to begin a book and continues in the same document until the book is finished. It's something of a weighty practice, I'll own, and I love the idea of writing each chapter in a separate document and then adding it to the master document. One of my main problems is that I allow my chapters to blend into each other without too much separation (other than that heading that informs the ignorant reader that he has now finished chapter 3 and must continue on through chapter 4 if he wishes to discover what exactly Mrs. Brown found in her kitchen cupboard). I should like to draw a thicker line between the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next, and methinks this method should do the trick!

    I also have a notebook for each book I'm writing, as well as a notebook for blogging ideas (sadly neglected though it is, as I often save my ideas as Blogger drafts before scribbling them in my notebook). I've never tried using sticky notes before, though, as the notebooks are often my place for tacking down those slips of dialogue and description that come to one when doing chemistry homework and other tasks entirely lacking in scope for the imagination. ;)

  7. I always write a book in one document, so I found it interesting about a document per chapter. Blank pages scare me to death though!


  8. These are all great ideas! I especially like the corkboard idea. So far I seem to be doing well enough with my spiral research notebooks and computer documents for notes & plans on my story. One tool in my story documents I've found indispensable is the "search" or "find." I have a tendency to forget where I've put small pieces of information that I may need to reference later on (i.e., did I ever say anything about that minor character's hair color?), so this tool (accessed by pressing the ctrl-f keys) lets me look up key words and easily find what I need to know. (Of course, everyone may already know this, but I didn't always know about it, so when my brother showed it to me, it made a huge difference in my life.) : )

  9. Well, it is a tie between writing you a letter now, or commenting. I'm going come to a truce with myself. I'll go write in your letter now and I'll be back this evening, Lord willing, I shall be back with a comment.

  10. Abigail, this was a really helpful post! I tend to freak out as well and get panicky/stressed when I find my writing scattered all over the place. The problem for me has not been the absence of ideas to organize my work, but rather a lack of energy, space, enthusiasm and time to do so :p. Normally, like Elizabeth Rose, I write in one huge document (from prologue to chapter 11 etc...). However, when I get an idea for a chapter I am not sure will work, or a chapter I would like to rewrite/edit, I bring out a new document and write in it and if it is good enough than I place it back like a jigsaw puzzle into the main document. This idea of making a new docu for every chapter sounds brilliant, if one overcomes the mental white-page terror syndrome! I also use the chapter-titles method, at least I did for 'The Crown of Life'. I've yet to do so with 'A Love that Never Fails' because I guess I feel clueless about where the plot will go as of yet...

    I currently have many notebooks for different stories: two main ones are for 'The Crown of Life' (one is already used up and the other is relatively new), and I have another one for just random ideas for 'The Crown of Life'; that one is totally disorganized! I've made another notebook for detailing historical info, philosophy/faith and their context in 'The Crown of Life', another one for favourite words and quotes collected all over the place, another for blog-post ideas and the most recent one is one for 'A Love that Never Fails' though this more of an 'info' notebook than a writing notebook so far. The other ones are my personal diaries. It is a jolly good thing that this Christmas/birthday I've received over six different diaries/notebooks or notepads! I guess all my family and friends know I love to write ;).

    This post has been a boost of encouragement and inspiration for me, Abigail! Thank you, dear <3

  11. Great post! I love the cork board idea... With me, my worst problem is remembering what I've ALREADY written. I don't normally write anything but a few sentence summary of the book. With any book over 50k, I have troubles remembering - what was so and so's name? What color eyes did she have? What year did I say it was? Who was he related to again - and on and on.
    I should use a cork board with that... must ask, are you writing it in a notebook or on a computer? Can't imagine writing such long stories in a notebook!
    I also have a notebook filled with random lines I think up that I might want to use in a future book or that strike an idea. Then I also have a "Randomness Journal" where whatever thought I have, it gets written down, in no neat order. In fact, some are hardly legible. Like last night, I thought of something while falling asleep and lay over and scribbled it in the dark.
    I've seen people put stick notes all along the edge of their computer screen, but I find that distracting. When I wrote by hand, I would put them on the wall by me, and whenever I took care of a certain scene, or fit in a certain word - whatever it was - I would rip it down, therefore giving myself a sense of accomplish, and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.


  12. Man, I love all these ideas, including all the ones in the comments!

    I have a writing journal that I write in, but I also have a notebook in which I scribble ideas, plots, characters, etc.

    In the series I am recently writing, I discovered that I could not keep track of eye color. My poor MC had gray eyes one chapter, blue eyes the next, and then she ended up with hazel eyes followed once again by gray! I often forget minor details like this in my writing, so it is helpful to write them down.

    Abigail, how is your little writing area set up? I'm trying to fix me up a permament area, and found that some ideas would be helpful, so I'd be interested in how your's is set up. :-)


  13. Bree - The more notebooks, the merrier! I really enjoy decorating them at the outset, and then writing in them; it can be much more freeing than typing.

    Rachel Hope - While I do try to get a general idea of what the chapters will look like, I'm almost always surprised when it comes down to writing them. I tend to be overly optimistic about how many scenes a chapter can hold. But it does help to get me started.

    Bethany - I hope they help! There's no reason to be terribly strict about this kind of organization, or to use all the options available (that would be overkill). It is a nice way to make sense of the clutter in one's brain, though!

    Emily - Your outline technique sounds very similar to mine. Personally, I think writing would become spiritless if writers followed their outlines to the letter - but like you said, overviews are incredibly useful when you've run into a wall. Or, like me, forget what was supposed to come next...

    Patience - That doesn't sound disorganized to me; it's more than I've done for most of my novels! I do think it takes several tries, and testing different options, to come up with a plan that works for you. And, too, each novel tends to vary its demands.

    I hope your editing goes well! It is a grueling part of writing, but it's encouraging to remember that if you had the perseverance to get through the first draft, you have it in you to get through the edits. It isn't always pretty - sometimes it's downright ugly - but at least the finished product is worth it!

  14. Elizabeth Rose - That difficulty with chapter breaks is the other reason I chose to start a new document for each one: it was a bear trying to separate them at the end of the first draft! It can still be trying, deciding when to break off, but at least the problem isn't left until the very end for me to deal with. There are cons as well as pros, that's certain.

    ...What is in Mrs. Brown's cupboard?

    Patience - They are ominous, aren't they?

    Joy - I'm such a fan of organization, or the thrill of organization, that I'm afraid I tend to rush into projects whether they will be helpful or not. Some of them have turned out to be a waste of time - so organization is not automatically a good thing!

    Like you, I have a number of notebooks scattered around, some full and some barely used. I only have one for proper writing, though, and carry it with me in my purse. The four completed notebooks have a variety of different stories in them, and it can be a bit troublesome trying to find specific passages when I want them...

    Becca - Details like those can be annoyingly elusive 10,000 words down the road; I often have to go back through and check continuity. Descriptions of main characters are particularly prone to slipping through the cracks, because I use them so rarely!

    While I do write snippets and the occasional scene in a notebook, by and large I type my novels. It's less messy, and less painful, though unfortunately not so traditional. I do marvel at not only past writers' ability to pen monstrous tomes, but publishers' ability to decipher them.

    Patience - Actually, I don't have a proper writing nook! I use a laptop and move around a good deal. For the most part I work sitting on the floor in a bedroom, where I can spread books and papers out around me (and trip up anyone who tries to pass). As a result my material is usually scattered about the house like birdshot, and anything but organized!


meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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