Friday, June 19, 2015

Organizing: How to Handle, Sort, File, and Save All the Bits and Pieces of a Book

Once you begin a book, you begin to live in overwhelm.  I'm talking about the sheer volume of documents--whether printed pages or virtual files--that a book generates as it grows and gets revised.

I think longingly of the past.  My short stories, essays, columns, poems were easily gathered in file folders.  Even multiple revisions or printed pages from feedback could be compiled into easy revision lists.  I spent a year working on new stories and all 45 of them (still in process) are in one woven shelf basket in my writing room.

A book is another animal altogether.

How do you handle, sort, file, and save all the necessary bits and pieces of a book, including your ideas, your research, your images, and your drafts?



Project Box
Some writers use a file box.  Twyla Tharp is famous for this--each project she begins (a dance, usually), gets its own new box.  Into that box she puts all her notes, objects, fabric samples, videos, anything that has to do with the project.

I did this for a new book.  It's a great system, if the box is big enough and if the book is small.  One stalled-out day, when I couldn't actually write on the book, I collaged the outside of the book box.  It was a wonderful break for my non-linear brain and the images I collected from magazines to make the collage showed me how to get back into the juicy writing.

Bulletin Board (or Seven)
I read about a writer who starts her book with seven bulletin boards in her kitchen (big kitchen, I thought).  She pins everything to them that has to do with the book.  Images, lists, sketches, photographs, diagrams.  As she writes the book, she condenses the number of boards to one, discarding all the material that doesn't actually fit the book now.

I use one bulletin board--or a piece of foamcore (art store) or poster board.  I make a cluster or mind map at the center with notes for my book's islands (scenes) and  images for the characters. 

Anything easily visible--a board on a wall--helps me keep the book in my attention. 

File Cabinet or File Folders
I am not successful using file cabinets for active storage.  They don't call out to me as I pass them.  But other writers love the organization of hanging folders neatly labeled with chapter ideas or research finds.

I do use file folders as organizing tools later in the book process.  Once I have my chapters organized in my computer, I create a folder for each chapter.  On the outside of each folder, I draw a circle with spokes coming off.  In the center of the circle is the chapter's purpose (or title if the purpose is still evolving).  On the spokes are the scenes or points the chapter now includes.  I add and subtract as I revise. 

Inside the folder are the research notes, photos, images, lists of ideas, anything I need to refer to.

On the Computer
My last two books were created with a cool software program called Scrivener as my organizing system.   I've written about Scrivener before in these posts.  I'm in love with it, frankly.  Although all the other organizing systems work well for me, Scrivener is the only one that is easy to maintain, transportable, and intuitive as well as logical.

Some writers combine Scrivener with other software, such as Aeon Timeline (great for figuring out different thru lines in a story) or Devonthink Pro, which comes highly recommended by one of my online students, although I haven't used it yet.

New software includes learning time, but it helps if a writing buddy can show you the ropes.  I was fortunate to get great help for Scrivener setup during one of my Madeline Island workshop weeks--many of the writers who attend and have been working on their books for a while love to share their favorite organizing systems.

Your Weekly Writing Exercise
Pick one of these organizing options--one that fits where you are in your book project.  Set aside an hour this week to get it started.  Maybe you'll visit an office supply store and get yourself a package of colored file folders or a beautiful box.  Or you'll download Scrivener and bribe a friend to get you going with it.

Consider how you've organized your book in all its bits and pieces and what you might do to take it one step.