Monday, October 4, 2010

The Bliss of Organization

I may have a file addiction. It began after hearing the wonderful Paul Fleishman speak at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s conference in L.A. The second he spoke a certain magic word, organization, I leaned forward in my seat. From that moment on, I ignored everything else. He went on to describe how he stays organized while writing a novel. I leaned even farther forward as he outlined how he creates separate file documents on his computer. Documents such as: a “work in progress” file, a “working it out” file where he outlines story problems he encounters and possible solutions, an outline file, and a back matter file for title ideas and people he needs to acknowledge.

I could not scribble notes fast enough. These files, I thought, are exactly what I need. I am happiest when I am organized. Yet, most of the information for my current work in progress was crammed into two humungous documents. And believe me when I confess that each file was a dump of tangled, knotted, piled together information. So, I decided to try out Paul Fleischman’s file ideas. Wow. What a difference.

I now have, in addition to my first draft document, a file for my characters, a revision file where I note what I will need to fix after the first draft is completed, a “to do” file, and a file of calendars and time lines. I also created a “darlings” file. Here, I stow copy that I adore even though it is not working in my manuscript. Writers are supposed to “kill their darlings,” which means nixing the copy that isn’t working, no matter how fabulous the writing may be. Hatchet murdering beloved sentences, phrases and even blocks of writing that came from blood, sweat, and tears, though, seems a bit harsh. Now, I send my darlings away to hang out in a cozy document. Much better than cold-blooded murder, I think.

Yes, I’ve been hitting the “new blank document” button on my laptop enough that I am wearing out the plastic key. Whatever. This is a small price to pay, I think, for the bliss of organization. Now, if I could only work this file magic on other disheveled elements of my life that often take a backseat to my writing. Yeah, those.

So, tell me: How do you stay organized?


  1. I use a three ring binder because I find it easier for me to rumage through it that move between files on the computer. I like the physical feel of the binder too. In the binder are dividers as follows:
    1. Chapter Summeries, in which I write out anywhere from a sentance or two to several pages about each chapter.
    2. Character, in which I put all my character descriptions and names of possible character or the names of characters that arrive on the scene that did know were going to show up. All their information goes here.
    3. Scene/conversations, here is where I put any ideas that come to me before I start writing and during that I might be able to use somewhere in the story. A sentence, a description, a conversation.
    4. Misc. Notes, here goes time lines, back history, research etc. This sometimes gets broken down into separate sections.
    5. Theme/Title/word count, here is where I work out the theme of my story, which may change as I write. If I don't have a title I'm thrilled with I collect all titles that might work. I sometimes work on plot lines and arcs and put them here as well. Then lastly, here is where I keep track of my word count.

  2. Wow! So interesting, Bish. The three ring binder is great, although I just know I'd end up ripping the pages. : ) Thanks for your wonderful comment.

  3. okay. I'm feeling a bit envious now. I don't organize. Not one bit. My things are stuffed into various places which I cannot ever find. You guys are making me wish I was more like you!

  4. Great post, Cynthia. Everyone has their own method, and I love when we can share! I start a new folder on my computer for just these kinds of documents, where I can store character files, or "Kill your darlings" files (I title it "unused scenes and dialogue")or plot ideas I'm ruminating on, or even different versions of each ms. That way they are all in one folder when I need them. It gets a lots of scribbled notes off my desk, and I can still find them quite easily.

  5. LOL, Terry! I can relate. I've been very unorganized before. I must say, I much prefer the organization. It just works for me--less stress.

    Thanks, Linda. It is fun learning about how people work, isn't it? Also, you're so right about how computer files keep the desk from getting too cluttered. Another bonus. : )