The past few weeks, I’ve been working on my second “real” novel, and it hit me this morning that I’ve finally figured out how to organize my work in the first draft stage so I can keep track of what I’m doing. Because organization can be a key element of being an efficient writer, I thought I’d share my system in case some other writer might find it useful. I think the easiest way to explain my system is to paint a picture of it for you, so I took a screenshot of the first page of my actual document:
And now, I will explain what I have done:
First, I am using the heading system that is built into Word. So I don’t forget what I am using each heading for, I created a little cheat sheet at the top to use as a reminder. My chapter heads are Heading 1; notes sections are Heading 2; and scene fragments are Heading 3. Once I had typed up three or four different sections, I inserted an automatic table of contents on the first page. I then go back and update this table at the end of each writing session so I always have an up-to-date roadmap of my document and never have to worry about getting lost among all those words.
I am careful to label each section of notes so I can always find what I’m looking for. For example, when I need a name for a new character, the first place I check is one of the two lists of names I previously researched that I thought I might potentially use. To find these lists as fast as possible, I go to my Table of Contents to see what pages they’re on.
On a side note, you may have noticed that I have two separate story structure notes sections. One of my strategies for getting “unstuck” when I’m not sure where to go next with my story is to drop my story outline into a specific story structure and play around with it in an attempt to find a logical direction or at least my protagonist’s next step. Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and Larry Brooks’ story structure are two of my favorites, but I might add more as I work through my story. I will hold on to these story structure outlines and will go back and play with them as my story evolves, often going there to prod myself forward whenever I get stuck.
If you’re like me, you may occasionally get scene ideas that you aren’t quite ready to write into the story yet. When this happens, I go ahead and write the scene while it’s fresh in my mind. The “A history teacher is talking about CWII, and Damaris is confused” section is one such scene. I don’t worry about titling the scene but just write down a brief sentence detailing what the scene is about so I can find it later when I am ready to add it in. Personally, I am typically a ‘chronological order’ writer, writing each scene as it happens. But, this method would probably be a great strategy for someone who tends to write all over the place and then drop the scenes into order later.
The next section you might want to take note of is the “Things to work in” section. As my story evolves, I will find there are additional details I need to work into earlier chapters to make my current chapter make sense. I have also found that trying to go back and work things in as I think of them often stops my forward momentum, which can be difficult to get back. Instead of going back to write these details in right away, I will jot down a quick note in this section and then just keep writing. I will wait to work these details in once I get to the second draft phase… Which is why I never let anyone look at my manuscript until after the second draft!
I think this is a simple system, which is probably why it’s so great. You know what they say in the business world: KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!)
As with any system, this one may or may not work for you. Or, there may be parts that you like, while you decide to scrap other parts. How you choose to use this system – if you choose to use it at all – is up to you. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or suggestions regarding first draft organization in the comments below. I would love to hear how you manage your own drafts.
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