Organized Writing: Tips to Keep Your Ideas at Your Fingertips

Notes and ideas are collected in many media

My writing is all over the place.                                                                                                 Photo by Maria L. Berg

Over the course of writing my novel, I became disorganized. I have notes in so many different notebooks, computer programs, sheets of paper and anything handy to write on that I waste half a day looking for a name I wrote somewhere, or a thought I had months ago that finally fits.

In the hope that you and I can learn from my mistakes, I want to share organizational tips that I attempted to follow, I think would have made my life easier and I plan to follow for my next novel.

  1. Create a well labeled file system that has meaning specific to you and your work– I have tried many different versions of physical organization of the things that inspire my work. I have binders, color coded files in a drawer, homemade fabric-covered boxes, bins, tubs, etc. For my next novel, physical elements like found objects, cut-outs, print-outs, critique notes, etc. will find home in color-coded, labeled file folders  within an accordion-type file folder because they are easy to organize, keep everything in one place and are portable. Once you have decided on your physical file system, you can make a matching system in your documents on your computer.
  2.  Sticky note tabs in notebooks – Having wonderful computer programs doesn’t replace the need to physically write on the page or the occasional napkin or with the paintbrush or with the camera. So, the post-it, or glued tab, or  labeling-attention-getter of your choice can be very important. I write in many different notebooks in one week. I have my daily journal pages (I try to write three stream of consciousness pages every morning), the pages I print and a notebook for writing group, my smaller writing journal for outings and studies, my children’s stories journal, my songwriter’s journal, my artists sketchbook, etc. I have ideas in all of them that relate to one novel. I find myself spending way too much time searching through all of them and re-reading months of boring daily logs to find the moments or thoughts I know are in there. When I find them, I bend down the corners so I can find them again, but what good does that do me? When I get back to the bent corners, I wonder why I bent them down. Like the amazing revelation of post-its for my butcher paper wall-sized timeline, large post-its with quick notes about content will save me a ton of time. Matching or relating the post-its/tabs to my other files will make life easier during the writing process.
  3. Using inline comments / removing inline comments – I really enjoy using inline comments in Microsoft Word to make notes about word choice or secondary plot points, but for the longest time I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of them when I no longer wanted them. I kept going to Review, Track Changes, Final which hid the notes, but it never got rid of them. So, here’s my super hint: To get rid of inline comments in your draft click on Review then the arrow under Reject (or accept) and click on reject all changes in document. I found that I still had to reject a few comments individually before they were all gone, but once all of the comments have been accepted of rejected, the document will return back to normal. Once I figured the out, using inline comments became a great way to organize notes and thoughts within the text while I’m working.
  4. Make time once a day and once a week to review and organize – I think this is where I went wrong and where I can improve going forward. Taking a little time to make sure all of my notes are consolidated into one place will save me a lot of time. I like using Microsoft OneNote as my digital notebook, so for my next novel I plan to carefully set up a notebook for all of my research and notes. Each day before I start writing, I will gather all of my research and notes from the day before and make sure everything is put into pages under the correct subject tabs. Then, once a week (I tend to review on Monday mornings), I will review all of the notes and research from the week before and make sure everything is organized into my files and notebook. This way, I’ll have gathered my thoughts before they have a chance to get lost.

These are just a few ways to keep writing organized through the novel writing process. Do you have any tips and tricks that work for you? Please share your ideas in the comments.

Yesterday’s word count: 1,069 words. I finally wrote the first murder scene in “Creation of the Lake Spirit”. Very fun. Though keeping up with the challenge has been difficult, it has been highly motivational.