Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Four Favorite Tools to Organize Your Book Material--Before It Gets Overwhelming

Beyond the book-writing process itself, the reason we all do this, there's the need to stay sane about the piles and files and folders.  A book, unlike a short piece of writing, easily generates 1000-2000 double-spaced pages in the months or years before you publish it.  So I get the question all the time in classes and with private clients:  How do I keep the sheer volume of this book-in-progress organized?  

Some writers opt for all virtual.  This can help, and I use virtual organization for much of my book material.  But I've learned that onscreen only pampers the linear brain, and it's easy to miss a few marvelous non-virtual methods that can help you get unstuck when the inner critic gets active (especially as the book grows and becomes real).  

I wanted to share four favorite tools I use for each book, no matter the genre.  One is virtual and three are not.  They each contribute hugely to my sense of sanity as I generate material and develop it into a book, and I trust them to flex with my writerly needs, going in and out of focus and use as I progress.  But I try to set them all up at the very beginning.  (They can be introduced at any stage in the process, if you want to try any or all of them.)

1.  Storyboard.  I set up a storyboard for brainstorming ideas and flow.  Here's my video about it, if you haven't tried it.  I'm also teaching a storyboard workshop, very hands-on, where you can test this out for your book at any stage. (Friday, October 25, at the Loft Literary Center--link here.)  I tack the storyboard W to my wall so it's visible all the time.  I jot down scene and chapter ideas on Post-It notes as they come to me, either through writing or revising.  Then arrange them on the W in a flow that makes sense.  The most brilliant feature of the storyboard, versus an outline or even Scrivener's corkboard, is that it's movable--you can reflow the Post-Its as the manuscript evolves.  

I regularly align my written draft with the storyboard, because the storyboard a map that keeps me honest--the book I intend to write is still the one I'm writing.  Or if my draft reveals a different, better book idea, the storyboard changes to match it.

Hands-down, it's my favorite tool to keep a view of the whole while I'm making the parts.  

2. Image board.  I discovered image boards decades ago but became a more dedicated follower the more I read of well-known writers who use them--Sue Monk Kidd is a great example, designing The Secret Life of Bees around her image board. Another piece of foam core or poster board goes on the wall next to the storyboard and on it I create a collage of my book in images torn from magazines.  Sometimes they are assembled intuitively, sometimes in a purposeful arrangement of the book's meaning, as best I know it now.  I write to it, when I get stuck.  Over the gathering stage's months (or years), this main image board gets expanded with smaller collages for each main character (if novel or memoir).  A primary tool for realizing meaning, theme, and distinctive voices of character.

3.  Scrivener.  I depend on Scrivener as my virtual organizer.  I've written five books in it, published three.  Before I begin a new book, I open the blank template (the novel template has more options, so I use it for both memoir and fiction), set up folders for a certain number chapters (like 10 or 12), and set up blank scenes for what will be inserted.  My research and URLs get pasted into Scrivener's Inspector function, ready to sort them appropriate chapters when it's time.   I design characters and place using these functions from the novel template, in conjunction with the image board.  

My favorite aspect of Scrivener is the snapshot function.  It's the way I keep past versions of scenes or chapters organized for easy reference.  I don't print these, unless they are very developed and ready for editing eyes.  But I don't want to lose them, so the snapshot of each is logged behind the current version.  Here's a link to see how it works.

4.  Writer's notebook.  I love to freewrite new scenes.  The by-hand writing generates a different tone in my material compared to when I write on the computer.  So a writer's notebook becomes my place to log these freewrites. 

I used to just freewrite in my personal journal, but when I began to dedicate a writer's notebook to each book, it enhanced and refined the process.  I have fun choosing a notebook before I begin a book.  

Best of all, once the book is wrapped and handed off to agent or publisher, there's a history of it in this writer's notebook.  I love rereading these later.  They often become a place where I doodle ideas, sketch out settings (even maps of place), insert photos, interview my characters, and store other process tasks.  Like to-do lists.  

Maybe some of these tools will interest you and you'll want to try them for your current book project or the next one.  And please feel free to join me for storyboarding next Friday if you'd like a personal tour through that amazing technique.

No comments:

Post a Comment