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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Getting Organized

I am not an organized person. My house is filled with piles. Bills, books, notes. Things for work, things for school, things for writing. Craft projects started but never finished, more projects that I plan to start someday but haven't yet.
My piles do have some sense of organization, I suppose. There is a pile of books for my nephew, another pile of books that I'm reading for school, another pile of books to read for fun (the ever-present TBR pile that only seems to grow), and yet another pile of books on the craft of writing and my research.

The desk where my PC is situated is piled so high, I can no longer get to it. Good thing I have a laptop to write on, because otherwise, I don't think I'd be able to get any writing done.

But in order to write a book, I had to find some organization ability.

Before I made my first attempt at writing a book, I researched how to go about it. I compiled everything I could find and took it as law:
THIS is how a novel is written. Do THIS, or fail. And what did it tell me? My research suggested what I called a Project Bible. I put together a 3-inch, 3-ring binder with everything I needed to know, in order to write my book.

It was filled with notes on back story, an outline, character interviews, maps, etc., etc., etc. I spent a lot of time putting this Project Bible together, and then I could never find anything in it. The whole point of the thing was to have everything at my fingertips--so if I forgot what color Sallie May's eyes were on page 237, I could simply flip through my Project Bible to the information on Sallie May and find out that yes, they were indeed supposed to be green, not blue.

As I went along with the writing process, I would think of something else that needed to be included. It would be scribbled on a sticky note and stuck willy-nilly in place, or scratched out on an index card and tossed inside.

My Project Bible turned out to be more problematic and time consuming than it was worth, particularly since I never finished that manuscript and I don't intend to now.

Skip ahead in time with me now to a couple of years ago when I decided to try writing again. Only this time, not only was I going to try writing just any old novel, I wanted to write a series. And not just any series, either, but a historical romance series.

Even if the idea of the Project Bible worked for me, how on earth would I fit everything I needed into a single 3-inch, 3-ring binder? When you consider that I would need notes on plot and character for each novel, plus more for the series as a whole, plus somewhere to store research notes for the period, and maybe also some notes on writing craft? Impossible. It just plain wasn't going to happen. I needed something else, something that could hold everything.

Thanks to the advances of modern technology, I already had the perfect solution on my computer. One-Note, part of the Office suite of software, has become my lifeline.

The program makes it very easy to set up individual notebooks for anything . I have a notebook for my historical research, another one for notes on writing craft, a third for my series, and yet another for my most recent project. Within each notebook, you can set up any number of tabs and pages within tabs, and tabs within pages within tabs . . . I think you get the drift. I can flip between all of it with just a couple of clicks of the mouse. And the best feature? It automatically saves everything you put in it, the moment you type it or paste it in. I don't have to worry about losing anything.

It fully integrates with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, so that I can copy anything I want from one and paste it directly into the other. Or say I find a photo on the internet that fits my idea for a country manor home one of my characters will live in. All I have to do is copy it and paste it into One-Note.

When I find research that I know I will need to refer back to, I can copy and paste it into a new page in my research notebook, and it automatically includes the hyperlink for where I found the information, in case I ever need to go back to the original source again. Some of the research I find might be in PDF files. This program makes it easy for me to type my own notes over the PDF, to move it around and take bits from this and a smidge from that, and make something that makes sense for me. Also, any time I decide that something fits better over here than it did over there, all it takes is a couple of clicks to put things in an order that makes more sense.

Of course, I now realize that not every method will work for every writer.
How do you keep all of your research and notes organized?


  1. I don't! I have a notebook full of pages, loose and bound, post-its, random scribblings, etc. I guess I'm organized in an un-organized way. It works for me:)

  2. I do the whole three ring binder thing. I also have a folder on my desktop named with whatever wip I'm currently on. Inside I have a reasearch pictures folder, research notes folder, folder for chapters, one for my synpopsis and query and another for anything that deals with characterization. So I use both the binder and my computer. All that organization and I still manage to have a cluttered desk of books, sticky notes and whatever else finds its way up there LOL. So I think the cluttered desk is just a symptom of being a writer =) I have to admit I am extremly interested in your program and plan to hit you up with a ton of questions on it. Until then, happy writing Catherine!

  3. My organization is so unorganized, I'm not sure anyone could figure it out. But it works for a pantser like me. :) Nice post, Catherine!!

  4. Candyland, I'm "organized in an un-organized way" with life. LOL. So I totally understand you. I just don't think I could manage it with my writing. But if it works for you, that's awesome.

    Melissa, I'll be glad you answer your questions about One Note. When I first got it, I thought it would be a great tool for school, but I've found that I don't use it at all for my classes, but I can't survive without it for my writing.

  5. Sandy, thanks for stopping by! I've never been a true pantser, and I am leaning towards becoming a more full-fledged plotter - so I've always wondered how a pantser would keep all the details straight. LOL.

  6. Recipe box with index cards. There are tabs separating out each story and each series. On each index card is one character and as I learn something about them, it is added to the card. For whatever story I happen to be working on I have a bulliten board at my desk. Two actually. One has each character card which I pin up when the character is introduced. As I determine, age, hair and eye color, habits, etc. I jot it down on the card. The second bullitin board holds maps, pictures and notes I've jotted down. Those come down and go into a folder when I switch series.
    However, even though my system works for me, I am going to check out the One-Note. Never heard of it and not sure if I have it. Thanks for the info.

  7. Honestly, I scribble things that loosely resemble plots down on legal pads. Sometimes I'll refer back to them, but I mostly keep it all in my head. I will admit to a lot of "false starts" where I'll plunk down a thousand words or so and a character will shout in my head, "I wouldn't do that!"
    Sure makes writing interesting to never be entirely sure where you're heading. ;)

  8. Catherine,
    I'll have to try One-Notes. Never knew it existed. LOL. Most of the time I add sites to my favorites when I stumble across something useful.

    When I take a class, I copy everything into folders and make sure I have them named appropriately. I've printed out copies of regency terms and have them in a three ring binder, along with terms to look for when editing and other similar lists. It's easier for me if I have something to leaf through when looking for a term. It's too hard on the screen. I have a timeline created on Excel, printed and posted by my desk. I have the hardest time recalling numbers. I always have. My next list is going to be naming the servants and houses. I'm having more trouble keeping those straight lately.

    Overall, I think I'm fairly organized, but it's difficult when you have so many things to organize - i.e. a home, family, another job, writing... Maybe we are too hard on ourselves.

  9. Amy, One Note comes automatically with Office 2007 HOme and Student, so if you've got that version, you have One Note. It was available with previous versions, but I think you had to buy a much more expensive form of Office to automatically get it. I think you can also purchase it separately. I love the idea of a bulletin board, but I've never taken the time to do one. I'll have to try it sometime.

    Samantha, I tend to make an Excel file for each project, with names, places, etc. And I have a master Excel file for those, as well, so that I'm not accidentally duplicating characters in one book that already exist in another. If I do that, I want it to be on purpose. LOL. I really should do a timeline though. I'm bad about that.

  10. Great blog, Cat. For my writing, I have no organization whatsoever. My attempts at note-keeping always degenerate into procrastination and massive time-wasting.

    So my notes are in the ms itself. If I want to know what color the hero's eyes are, I simply do a search for the word 'eyes' and invariably it pops up.

    The one exception is timelines. Right now I'm writing with a Civil War timeline at my side. When I wrote my Overland Trail story, I spent hours figuring out how long it would take to travel from one landmark to the next. I probably should have kept those notes, but I threw them away as soon as I'd finished. One-Notes probably would have come in handy then

  11. Great post, Catherine. I didn't even know I had One Note until you mentioned it comes with the Office Suite - lo and behold, there it was! I'll have to learn to use it. Otherwise, I have a series of notebooks: research, for a particular series (general scribbles), then a binder with detailed info, like time-lines, character profiles, and synopses. I'm wondering if One Note could consolidate them all better so save time on having to figure out which book whatever I'm looking for is in. ;)

  12. Gail, I can totally understand writing with a timeline by your side, when dealing with something like the Civil War! I was never much of a note taker in class, but I've found it necessary for my writing. LOL.

    Shelly, if I didn't use One Note to keep track of all of that stuff for my different projects, I'd never be able to find anything. Let me know if you need some help figuring it out. I'd be glad to show you how I use it and teach you some of the other things I know it can do!

  13. Cat, thanks so much for posting this. I only discovered One Note today and holy moly, it's going to be a great tool. I've been using Scrivener on a Mac but this weekend had to replace my laptop and bought a PC based one, so back to MS it is. But you know, this is great because with Scrivener I basically had to recreate/copy all that data from one manuscript to the next--with this I can use it for all my series.

  14. Yes, Cat. Leah pointed me to this. I've toyed with One Note but I've used Write It Now for my story research, character creation, name generator, setting, then write it there and use the storyboard. BUT like Leah said with Scrivener and WITNOW you still have to copy it to a new file when you start a new book. Unfortunately One Note isn't available yet for Mac ;((( I can't do the physical bible either. I had stuff everywhere. I may have to use a pc just for writing if I like One Note.

  15. After reading your first paragraph I realised we have more in common than I thought! LMAO

    Over time, I've learnt not to race in and try every management system out there. I know me. After a few short weeks, months of the new system I will slip back into my old ways.

    I shudder to think of how many good/great ideas I've tried and failed to continue with, and not just for writing. We wont talk about the sewing frenzy of a few years ago - or the dressmakers model I had to outbid 5 people to win. :oD

    Simple works best for me so far but I will head off and take a peek at Notebook. It could be interesting!

  16. Thanks for stopping by Leah and Marley! I've heard a lot of good things about Scrivener, but the limitations you've pointed out make me glad I've been using One Note instead. And I'd never heard of Write it Now. Hopefully they'll make One Note for Mac soon!

    And Heather, I've never gone the sewing route, but I have countless Counted Cross-Stitch projects going and more ready to begin. And I crochet, too. Or at least I begin to crochet. I have finished one blanket. LOL. The rest are in bits and pieces. I've tried a lot of things, and not just with my writing.