Herding Cats, er, Herding Ideas: Organizing Tips for Writers (Penny Rader)

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My oldest daughter hosted our family for Easter lunch this past Sunday.  While we were eating, my mom asked if I’d been writing.  I smacked my forehead and said I had a blog post due, asked what the date was (my brain is still slightly addled from tax season), and was quite relieved when I realized I still had two days to pull together a post.

Daughter #2: “What is the topic?”  

Me: “Organization.”

She laughed out loud, which reminded me of a time when she was a little girl.  One day, while I braided her hair, she sat directly across from my bookshelf.  “Mom, you have a lot of books about getting organized.”

“Mmm, hmm,” I agreed.

“I guess you haven’t had a chance to read them.”

I fear my hands might’ve slipped and may have given a slightly sharp tug to the braid I was working on.

So, since anyone who knows me knows I’m a disorganized mess, I figured we’d benefit more if I checked around and found some tips and tools that worked for others and might work for us.  (Just for the record, I do like to be organized.  I just struggle with maintaining the organization…which then results in having to start again and again, usually after I have huge piles of stuff here and there and can’t find anything I’m looking for.)

Here are a few tidbits I discovered on my online search.  I do hope you’ll click on the links to gain the full benefits of the following authors’ wisdom.

  1. Carry paper with you.
  2. Construct, then write.
  3. Consider going digital.
  4. Don’t plan at all.

  1. Create a mind-map.
  2. Build your world.
  3. Develop the setting.
  4. Make character sketches.
  5. Visualize the end product.

10 Ways to Organize Your Book (Cassandra Marshall)
  1. Dry erase boards or Acrylic sheets.
  2. Post it notes.
  3. Crayola bathtub markers.
  4. Mirrors.
  5. Small voice recorders. Voicemail.
  6. Small pad of paper and pencil.
  7. Scrivener or Evernote.
  8. Clear packing tape on cardboard or your window.
  9. Desk mats
  10. Chalkboard paint.

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Low-tech organizing tools: 
  1. Sketches.
  2. Lists and outlines.
  3. Index cards.
  4. Sticky notes.
  5. Hanging folders
Software and Internet-based organizing tools:
  1. List and outlining tools
  2. Spreadsheets.
  3. Drawing programs.
  4. Mind maps.
  5. Storyboards.
  6. Transcription.
  7. Cloud computing.

How to Organize Your Desk to Aid the Needs of a Writer (by H.H., Ben Rubenstein, Dvortygirl, Flicket, and others)
Writing by Hand:
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  1. Take everything off your desk.
  2. Organize all papers into piles.
  3. Clear off the knick-knacks.
  4. Store your pens and pencils in a mug…
  5. Toss any pens or pencils that don’t work…
  6. Arrange paper, notebooks … within easy reach.
  7. Buy a drawer organizer…
  8. Replenish your supplies when necessary.
  9. Get a good light for the top of our desk.
Writing by computer
  1. Clear all junk on your desk
  2. Relocate anything that casts a shadow…
  3. Look on the desktop of the computer itself and remove all unnecessary icons…
In either case:
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  1. Get a nice chair.
  2. Locate the desk in a quiet location…
  3. Keep a notebook or legal pad at hand…
  4. Locate the desk lamp so that your hand does not cast a shadow on your writing.
  5. Keep reference materials nearby…
  6. Set up time to regularly address (toss, file or handle) the things that stack up on a desk…
  7. Consider carrying a portable desk…
  8. Finished.

When your ideas run wild, it’s too easy for them to frustrate and eventually overwhelm you. And this is where many writers give up. But you shouldn’t.
  • Learn how to tame your beast:
  • Establish a calm, centered mind
  • Study your breed.
  • Train your focus.
  • Walk your inner dog.

To find the method that works best for you, experiment with the following plot structure organizational tools:
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  • Index cards
  • Outline
  • Folders
  • Loose-leaf notebooks
  • 3-ring binders
  • Flow charts
  • Writing software
  • Your computer

-- some good ideas in the comments, also.
  • Organizing by scene:
  • Scene
  • Setting
  • Characters introduced
  • Characters mentioned
  • Backstory
  • Things to add
  • Things to delete
  1. A writer’s notebook
  2. Storyboard
  3. An inventory list
  4. Character timeline
  5. Printed drafts in a binder

  1. Identify your major scenes.
  2. Grouping scenes.
  3. Make a timeline.
  4. Make a hit-point list.
  5. What else must happen?
  6. Prioritize your scenes.
  7. Recheck your timeline.
  8. Start at the natural beginning.
  9. Where to from here?
  10. Organizing the train wreck.

What do you think?  Find anything helpful?  Have any tips to offer?


Vicki Batman, sassy writer of sexy and funny fiction, blogger at Handbags, Books...Whatever said...

I love this! Before I began writing, my desk was super organized. Now... *shakes head*

My tidbit involves sticky notes and a monthly calendar for blog tours. I put on the sticky note the date to blog, the name of the blog host and below that, the email. Below that, I put the elements required and tic them off as I pull them together. When completed, I enter on the monthly calendar and slip the sticky note on the day by day page behind.

Rebecca Grace said...

These are great ideas! I wish I had time to utilize half of them. Instead I just may cherry pick what I think what might work for me. (and then in the end I'll probably still just sit down and write in a totally disorganized fashion)

Z. Minor said...

The hints and examples of ways to organize are wonderful. Now if I could just figure how to implement them. Hum!! Where to start. maybe with my messy desk.

Bonnie Tharp said...

Hi Penny, Excellent suggestions all. Thanks for sharing it with all of us. I have way too much cluttering my desk, especially knick-knacks. They're EVERYWHERE! But, it's a start...

Penny Rader said...

Great idea, Vicki! I love sticky notes and I love checking stuff off my lists. I'll often make a list, break it down into a bunch of steps, just so I can cross them off. Makes me feel like I accomplished something...and helps me to not forget what I need to get done. Though, sometimes my lists get lost under other lists.

Penny Rader said...

Cherry picking sounds good to me, Rebecca. :D I was hoping to find lots of choices and solutions so everyone might find something helpful.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Louise! I agree, getting started is sometimes the hardest part. Kinda like writing.

Penny Rader said...

So glad you liked the post, Bonnie. I'm fond of knick-knacks. So many stories there.

Katherine Pritchett said...

Great ideas, Penny. I'm probably subconsciously using some of them, others I'll try when I get to it. But since I'm a member of Procrastinators Anonymous (or will be when I have time to join), I suspect I'll put the ideas in a pile (or computer folder) for "later" and keep muddling on. And remember, everything we do is "writing."

Vonnie said...

Ah, I think maybe just WRITING might help.