Organizing Tips and Tricks (Penny Rader)

Being organized is so not one of my strong suits. Ask anybody. :D However, I need to get a handle on it so I can keep track of the stuff I want to write about.

I hope you’ll share your methods with us. How do you keep track of all the idea snippets that come to you? How do you keep up with everything involved in the creation of each story/novella/book? If you write a series, how do you manage to remember all the details of which character is in which book and all the developments that occur throughout the series?

Roxann Delaney shared her series ‘bible’ with us at our last meeting. Maybe she’ll talk about it here? Pretty please?

Patricia Davids has participated in a couple continuity series. If we ask nicely, maybe she’ll tell us about the ‘bible’ that comes with those and how she works with them. Come to think of it, she’s also working on a series of her own, so I’d love to hear how she’s managing all the characters and details of those stories.

Starla Kaye should be writing this article. She is simply amazing. If you missed her post about how she organizes her story notebooks, you can find it here:

I, however, am severely organizationally-challenged. So I snooped around online to see if I could learn how to keep track of ideas and story tidbits. And since I’m planning a new series, I also looked for info about how to keep all those details straight.

I hope you’ll find some of these helpful:

How to Build a Novel Notebook by Vicki Hinze

How to Create a Spreadsheet to Organize a Novel by Jade B.

How to Organize Your Manuscript Project: A Guide to Organizing Work for a Novel or Non-fiction Book by Kay Reynolds

How to Write a Novel - Organizing Before You Write by Joe Nassise

The Novel Notebook by Lynn Viehl

The Novelist's Bible: Creating a Project File by Kim Kay

Organizing Your Writing--Part One--Preparation and Process
by Michelle Jean Hoppe

What do YOU do when you're planning a series?

So…what’s your system? Care to share with us?

Oh, I’m forever clipping pictures and articles out of magazines. Any ideas about how to corral them so I can find them when I need them?


Helen Hardt said...

Penny, first of all, have a great time at your signing!

My organization system? LOL, it's non-existent. I really need one. Maybe it's time to check out some of the sources in your blog ;).


Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Helen! I'm a bit nervous about the signing, but I'll have a couple friends there with me.

I hope you find the links useful. Thanks so much for dropping by!

Cate Masters said...

Great info, Penny! I'll have to check out your links. I'm not very organized either! I wrote the scenes for my current WIP completely out of order and am now piecing them together.
The one system I've come up with that I found very helpful is to keep a Spec Sheet on my current WIP. On it, I keep all the information a prospective publisher will ask for: detailed description of the characters, setting, blurb, excerpt, cover art ideas. Beyond that, I track relationships between the characters. It comes in handy once I've moved on to another story and am so immersed in that one, I forget the details of the last one!
Have a blast at your signing!

Penny Rader said...

I love the idea of a spec sheet, Cate. Great idea! That would've been so helpful when I was coming up with ideas for Sapphire and Gold's cover. Thanks for visiting.

Roxann Delaney said...

Penny, you always have the greatest links!

I've come to the conclusion that each writer must find what works best for her/him when it comes to just about everything, but especially with organizing. Sometimes that means finding a chart or process that someone else uses and then shaping it to fit 'self'. What works for one may not work for another, but a revised and individualized edition of it may be perfect. Or it may be creating your own that suits exactly your needs.

I'll come back later with a list of what I keep in my notebooks for each book. I typed it all in here once, then Jaxon hit the delete key. I'd add a LOL, but I'm not laughing, I'm sighing in frustration. TGIF!

snwriter52 said...

Penny, looking forward to seeing you at your signing tomorrow. Yea!!!
Great organization links. Thanks for sharing.

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Rox! I'd love to see a list of what you keep in your notebooks. I love seeing how other writers write because I just might find something here and something there that will help me be more productive. :D

Penny Rader said...

Hi Sharon! {waving} See you tomorrow! :D

Mary Ricksen said...

I hope you sell tons of books!

Which one of these tips helped you the most?

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Mary! I'm glad you could join us.

I do like the novel notebooks, that way I can keep everything together and it's fairly portable. Since I write my first drafts by longhand, I like portable systems. (grin)

I'm planning a series, so I'm still working out the details about the town, the people, etc. So, I'll probably end up with several binders. One for the series itself, then one for each story. I think a master list of all the characters and how they tie in to the series will also be helpful.

Tanya Hanson said...

Hy Penny, gave a fantastic book signing. I hope you sell a bazillion copies!

As for organization, it is difficult for me. I blame it on being right-brained. So the links you posted might help...although it seems to suit me the way I am LOL I do write scenes and chapters in order, so I guess I'm maybe not as hopeless as I think. And I do have a generic synopsis to start off with.

Tanya Hanson said...

I forgot this. I do feel the need for a spec sheet as Cats suggests. I realized this just I guess I am improving!


Mary Ricksen said...

I hope you sell a ton of books!!
You'll do fine, just remember to smile while you shake.

Organization, huh, what's that?

Pat Davids said...

Wow, Penny, what a great list of links. You are the research QUEEN. I bow to you.

For continuities, the secret to making the "bible" work is tons of e-mails with the other authors. One series had 585 e-mails in the first month.

A couple of my bible stories were very detailed, others have been, he's a cowboy, she's a preschool teacher, they knew each other in high school type of thing.

For my own Amish series, I've got a note book with things like names and occupations listed so if I use that character in another book I can refer back to make sure I have the right person. I also have lots of Amish pictures in it.

I made a map of the town and put in things like clinic, grocery store, library, hardware, lumber yard, all the things a small town might have. I've named the streets and businesses and some outlying farms since it's very rural.

I loved Starla's notebook she does for her stories, but I'm not that organized. I'm more crisis oriented.

Roxann Delaney said...

Okay, Penny, here ya go. ::grin::

The great thing about a notebook for all your story "stuff" is that it's portable. Here's what's in mine in the order they're arranged.

1) A photo of the hero and heroine. (I use a graphics or photo program to combine them on one sheet.) Sometimes it includes others, such as H/H's children or a special setting. (These are B&W until I put the new ink cartridge in my color printer, but B&W is really okay.) I use a .jpg (in color) to send to my editor via email after I've done the Art Fact Sheets (info for cover ideas).

2) My Storyboard page. Yeah, I'm now a plotter. I had to grow into that. :)

3) List of characters who appear or are mentioned in the book and who they are. (hero's physician, sister, best friend, etc.) I hate going through the ms to try to find these, so voila!

4) Main characters' age chart from birth to time of story. I add special info I need about each character at whatever age, such as graduated high school, if the H/H had met earlier, death of a family member, whatever is needed for history/backstory. It also tells me at a glance what music or fads were in vogue at the time they were teenagers or whenever. (Excell or Works Graph page or Spreadsheet)

5) A calendar made with Word's calendar template and changed a little for what I need. Year depends on what year the story is approximately taking place. Date blocks are used to enter chapter/scene and a few words of what happens and where. That way I don't get lost and say such and such happened, then two weeks later something else, when it was only a week. ;) I know what are weekdays and what are weekends and holidays.

6) Index tab pages for chapters written and printed, one chapter per tab. The synopsis is placed before the chapter 1 tab.

7) Any extra research notes or material I have for the manuscript/book. Maps, rodeo schedules grabbed from the internet and printed, info on careers, etc. all go in here.

** Numbers 1-5 are in plastic sheet protectors, so I can remove them if I'm using them extensively and don't need the entire notebook on my desk. Some of #7 also go in sheet protectors.

Then there's the series notebook... LOL

Roxann Delaney said...

I'll add that I use a white 1 1/2" 3-ring binder that have the slide-in clear plastic on the front and the spine. The front is for photos or whatever. These notebooks have pockets on the inside for all those scribbled notes and other stuff. I make a label in Word on paper stock that has the title printed vertically for the spine. (That's working title until and if sold.)

For a single title book, I'd probably get a bigger notebook. In fact, I have a 3" for one I started a few years ago and never made it to the 2nd chapter. But I have lots of research and notes!

If and when you start your own system, put into it whatever works best for you. You may need things other than what I have. I learned not that long ago that I'm visual and have to SEE everything for it to stick in my brain. ;)

Judy said...

Bookmarked all the sites for future reference! They look fantastic. Good luck tomorrow!

Penny Rader said...

Hi Tanya! I'm in awe of writers who just remember everything without having to 'organize' it somehow. Thanks for dropping by.

Penny Rader said...

LOL, Mary. I'll modify the Little Nemo motto and think/say to myself, "Just keep smiling. Just keep smiling." (grin)

Penny Rader said...

Pat and Rox, thanks so much for sharing your 'systems.' I will be printing off your posts and adding them to my notebook.

See you tomorrow at our booksigning! Thanks so much for inviting me to join you.

Joan Vincent said...

What great links, Penny! I use Excel for tracking a lot of my story info. Since I write historicals I have one for factual events and one for the WIP. I also use photos etc for characters and examples of scenery, architecture etc and use labeled folders for these. Good luck to the three of you tomorrow. I'm going to try and make it.

Nina Sipes said...

Holy hoodie, Batman. Can you do research or what? Penny, you're amazing with the resources you can find. I was whining at my daughter, the uber-organized, when I mentioned that I have to quit writing because I've written myself into a panic because I've not paid any attention to what futuristic animals and plants are in the Zone books. Why would I want to keep track when I didn't know if I could actually write a book? Maybe no one would want to read it and I wouldn't need to keep track. Well, Uh-Oh. I did, they did, now I have a problem. I sweated over it off and on for four years. She solved it in four minutes. She made me an excel thingy. It has a shortcut on my desk top. I'm currently editing the last Proving Zone novel and as I find a unique animal, plant, technology, or whatever, I click on my desktop icon, which opens an Excel thingy, which I copy and paste the info in. It has a column for page number, book title, type (animal, veg, technology)name of it, and a description. It will be a wonderful thing when the next Zone novel is written, because I can use it like a personal writing encyclopedia. So far, so good. I love the copy and paste ease of it.

Reese Mobley said...

Penny, it was awesome to see you at the booksigning. The three of you looked so poised and professional. Congrats!

Starla Kaye said...

Nice blog, Penny, with some very good links. It's true, I'm an organizational nut. I'm even constantly updating the way I organize...guess I need a life.

I still do the notebooks, but mainly they're a "holding" place now for printed out stuff. I've really gone more to totally computer files while working on my projects. I scan in character photos, clothing, setting details. I use an Excel spreadseet to keep track of story progession details as I write, which includes story elements to be aimed for per chapter (external and internal conflict changes, goal changes, complications, setbacks, change in romance relationship, etc.). And I keep a running list of character details to refer back to and to add to when a character suddenly tells me something new.

I do most of my writing using two 23" monitors, so I can open up 4 things at a time: the chapter I'm workiing on, character story details, the progression chart, and the photos I need for the chapter. That is the absolute best way to work, but I also open up all of those files when I work on my laptop...I just toggle back and forth between what I need.

Anyway, I always enjoy learning about how others organize their writing life.

snwriter52 said...

Penny, you ask how to organzie clipping pictures and articles. I use a notebook labeled just for pictures of people, places, scenery, rooms, houses and buildings, etc. I file all the females, males, children, pets, and so on until I have each in their individual section.
Articles I put in a file cabinet labeled what it's about. For more current articles I might use while I'm working on my story, I put in a notebook, which I call my working notebook. If I come across a newer vision or better way to understand the certain topic, I will throw the old one away, replacing it with the newer vision. Hope that makes sense.

snwriter52 said...

Penny, I was so dang proud of you at the book signing. In fact I was excited for Pat and Rox too.
Congratulations to all.

Roxann Delaney said...

Very cool idea about the two monitors, Starla! I keep all on the computer, too, and refer from it more often than the notebook, but I have to toggle back and forth with only one monitor. :) The notebook adds portability and I have this thing about seeing things on paper. Call me old fashioned. LOL

Roxann Delaney said...

Thanks for stopping by to see Pat, Penny and me, Sharon! And thanks to Carmella, too.!

For WARA old-timers, Penny Burgess stopped by. It was really nice to get to meet her. I think post of Penny's (Rader) family came, too! I think we embarrassed her son more than once. LOL

It was a great signing, and Penny and I have Pat to thank for asking us to join her, so thanks, Pat and to all who stopped to say hi or buy books.

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for visiting, Judy! I love your blog!

Penny Rader said...

Hi Tanya! Good to see you!

Penny Rader said...

Hi Joan! I like pictures, too. I'm very visual. Seeing stuff helps me write about it.

Penny Rader said...

How cool that your daughter helped you solve your problem, Nina. Cut and paste on the computer is way easier than cutting paper with scissors and taping it together like I did before I got a computer.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Reese! It was great to see you at the signing. I can't wait till you have one of your own. :D

Penny Rader said...

I love having double monitors at work. It really spoiled me. Starla, how do you get several things to show up at once on the monitors? Do you shrink them?

Penny Rader said...

Sharon, thanks for the super suggestion for keeping track of all the stuff I clip. I appreciate it!

And it was good to see you and Mel at the signing. I had a blast!