Options for organizing your writing

Gentle reader, I wanted to take a moment today to talk about the value of organization. Not like a shadowy group to bring justice to all in the universe, but the organization you bring to your work in progress. I have an annoying habit of rewriting the same scene in three different apps on two different devices because I am sure that I had not completed that work yet. Now you may not have the organizational challenges that I face, so forgive me my transgressions as I share my process-  what I have tried, what has been successful and where I failed spectacularly.

I like to write in several places, and don’t like taking my personal laptop to work, cause, you know, I am paranoid about that. So I like to work on my laptop at home and have the flexibility to type out a few paragraphs during lunch at work, or while waiting at the doctors office, etc. This intimately affects workflow, and is reflected in my commentary below. If you only write on one device, then your issues about platforms to support your writing are different than mine.

How I started out

When I first decided to write a novel, I opened a Word document and started typing. No problem, until you are on the fourth version of  chapter five, fifty pages into a document, four different chapters labeled “chapter three” and the third version of editing the entire manuscript across two devices. I did not use an outline. I do now. This predates cloud-syncing, so I would email myself the new version of whichever part of the document I worked on that day, and title the email “this is the new version.” which is not a great way to sift through your work, or figure out where you are in the process. Soon, I had no idea where I was in my workflow, or what scenes happened in which chapters. Totally lost, I despaired.

I then started to use Pages, cause it was different than Word, and if I had one folder labeled WIP, then I had 3. I liked the improved synching it supported across my devices at the time compared to Word.

The least efficient workflow ever

Pages at its heart is really no different than Word- great to write a shorter document, but hard to organize a larger work. I ended up having a different document for each chapter, printed everything out after the rough draft was completed, then wrote the chapters out on index cards, rearranged them how I wanted, then had to go back in the master file, scrap it, rearrange all the chapters like I wanted in a new master file of the entire document, and then start editing. Woe to me if at this point I wanted to rearrange things again. If you are a dedicated outliner, then you probably have not experienced these issues and think I am a crazy person. But for my pantsers out there, I guarantee there are heads nodding yes, me too as they read this post.


I started asking around about other writers’ process, and let me tell you, they are a twitchy group with proprietary information! A few people shared “I do everything in Word”or “I don’t really have a process” but did not share how they organized their project from typed chapters to rough draft to edited manuscript.

Janet Walden-West shared her process with me- its called a spiral notebook for her rough draft, so when she types it into the computer, that is her edited and final order to her document, then she makes changes from there.

Ken Schrader shared that he used Scrivener, and kindly showed me a sample binder for one of his completed stories.

Now, for those of you who do not know about Scrivener, I invite you to look on YouTube at the thousands of videos on how to use it. I was properly scared as well, until started writing.

For me, this has worked the best of any app, format, or system that I have developed for keeping my writing organized. I can move things around, as I am not a linear writer, and I can keep all the character sketches, locations, and research items in the same place for easy reference as I create. There are sidebars where I can keep notes, like “someone needs to fight in this scene.” If you are an outliner, you can keep an outline in your binder. Research? Yep, there is a place for that as well, with capabilities to import photos, webpages, documents all into one folder within your work in progress.

If you are a dedicated outliner, then don’t spend the money on Scrivener, and keep plugging away at Word or Pages or Googledocs because you may not need that level of overlay to keep you on track.

Scrivener also offers synching across devices, but IMO it is glitchy and not as seamless as Word, Pages, or Googledocs. This is the one weakness Scrivener has over the other formats, and may be a big one depending on how many devices you use to create your story. I use Dropbox as a bridge, but I export the document to Dropbox instead of synching the Scrivener file as I have had nothing but glitches with that pathway. YMMV.

I hope this helps writers faced with the same issues of organization. Next time, editing your work!

Until next time-


How to write a book- from idea to finished rough draft

from Fritz Lang’s seminal 1927 science-fiction classic Metropolis

Gentle reader, this post will start a series on how to write and publish a book.

I know, I know. It’s a big topic. I’ve invited guest bloggers for part of this journey to speak about their areas of expertise.

This first post is about how to get from an idea to a completed rough draft. I will share my process, such as it is, in hopes that it helps someone else in their journey.

How do you start a book? Well, you start with an idea.

How do you transmogrify that idea into a fully-fledged story? That’s the hard part. Avoid the techniques in the picture above! Some people just start writing, no idea of where the story will head- these persons are referred to as pantsers. Plotters start with an outline of places, story arc, characters, and outline everything before they start writing. Lots of writers float between these goalposts.

My personal process is a hybrid version of the plotters and pantsers. I will start with an outline, like for the first three chapters, and I have an idea where I want my story to end- the big climactic scene. Once my world building takes hold, I need to revise and change things a lot, which is why over the years I realized it makes no sense for me to outline anything more that the first bits of story. My outline is a work in progress, and is a combination style sheet and novel scaffolding  than I can use as a basis for a synopsis if needed. For me, the outline serves as a repository of all things plot, world-building, character and setting.

Once my outline is started, my creative juices are flowing and I start writing. I don’t worry too much about anything at this point other than getting the words from my head onto the page. I tend to write sparsely at this stage with just enough detail to define setting, time, place, and character.

The next part is where I hit the rapids.  I typically produce roughly 10,000 words before the creativity starts to wane. Doubts creep in. I question my hypothesis, my choice of character, my choices for anything, and in general believe all that I have written at this point is a pile of garbage. Which is sometimes true.

WHATEVER YOU DO DO NOT HIT DELETE. This is the part where the harder work for me kicks in- here is where I go back to my original outline, my original world-building, my original character sketches, and get everything back on track, reform the characters and plot to conform to my original idea, as I have invariably gone off the trails by this point in the work. This helps me refocus and plow through the next 30000 words or so. Then I write the ending- not because my story ends at 40000 words, but because I need to see the finish line and this propels me forward the rest of the way.

After this scaffolding is complete, then I go back and fill out the rough draft with details, correct POV, fixing plot and character issues, which adds another 10000-15000 words.

Then I take pivotal points in the story, write them out on index cards, and rearrange them into HOW I WANT THE STORY TO BE. Of note- the pivotal points may not be an entire scene- it may be a conversation with a character, or a particular plot point. These go on the index cards as well. I’m not Mozart, so there is a LOT of rearranging and gnashing of teeth to get the pacing right with the story choices made at this juncture.

Then I start the first edit.

Seems like a bit of work just to say I am done with my rough draft, but I cannot slog through the mess of a NANOWRIMO type of verbal regurgitation, and I stall out and just keep going back and editing stuff if I don’t force myself  to plow ahead.

THE key for me, at the end of a rough draft, is to know the motivations and conflicts of my main characters, have the plot arc set, with setting and tone and voice trending in the right directions.

All the rest, I fix with editing. I also have a decent rough draft to work with, so my editing is *faster* than if I just verbally vomited on the page and try to sort it out.

Your mileage may vary.

Next post, I talk about how I keep all these things sorted until I can put them into my final document— organizing your workflow up next!