Thursday, June 23, 2011

Organizing Your Writing Project

Character profiles. Character pictures. Snippets of dialogue. Outlines. Images of houses, cars, etc. of book characters. Sketches of scenes. At some point, a writer has to take all of the “things” s/he has collected for a story and start organizing them in order to tell the story. As an organizer, I’m always looking for strategies, programs that help me visualize story components while I’m writing.

For years, I’ve used One Note; its notebook style helps me to see the project as a whole and to see it in chunks by chapters or by scenes while also allowing me to embed notes, images, videos, and web links. One Notes has helped me organize several of my novels and also academic papers, to include my dissertation that I’m currently researching and drafting notes for.

One Note

There may be, however, another program that will fight for my attention: Scrivener. It’s been around for a while for Mac users, but recently, I downloaded the Windows beta version of Scrivener; the official version is to be released next month.


So far, I have nothing but raves for the program. It heightens the visual experience for me, something that I desperately need in my writing. I typically do a lot visual storytelling (mind writing) before I ever put a word on the page, so when I finally come to the page, I like to still have those visual components available to me. Like One Note, Scrivener allows you to incorporate other media into projects and organize work into chunks. You can also save the work in multiple formats, too, just like One Note. Being able to view a draft on the corkboard screen allows me to visually see chucks on individual notecards (complete with title and synopsis) where I can move parts and reorder the structure of material. This aspect alone pulls it ahead of One Note as a good choice in organizing (and writing) a project.

But I’m always on the lookout for other solutions.

What strategies, programs do you use to organize a writing project?

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically; her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell is available for purchase. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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  1. I've never tried a program so this is interesting and I may try it. Thanks for the links.

  2. I've been wanting to try Scrivener but didn't want the Beta product. As a former QA Software tester...I have a different look at programs. I'd spend all my time tracking down bugs and not doing work.

    Since I'm no longer paid to QA and I want to be paid to focus is on writing.

    I've been using MindMapping Software. I'm using FreeMind because it is in Java so platform doesn't matter. And it's free.

    There are lots of MindMapping software available...but most programs that do more cost so I've made do with the free stuff.

    I track research, character profiles, Places, and plot points with this system. It uses a Tree/Child structure and can collapse and expand as needed.

  3. What strategies do I use? Hmmm, I don't suppose crossed fingers and prayers that I haven't left too many plot points dangling counts ... so I think I'll take a look at your programs.

  4. I've always been extremely disorganized. Using paper notebooks, index cards, multiple Microsoft word docs, as well as occasionally notepad on PC and excel spreadsheets.

    I tried ywriter, it has some of the same features as Scrivener but the interface was difficult for me and I felt like I was spending more time doing data entry than writing.

    That's all changed now though. I downloaded the Beta of Scrivener a couple weeks ago and I absolutely love it! It's basically everything I've wanted out of a word processor with an intuitive interface.

    Beth, I can say from my personal experience the Beta (at least this late in it) doesn't feel like a Beta at all. I haven't had any stability issues nor have I noticed a single bug of any kind.

    Definitely worth a look.

  5. I've found it helps me to get AWAY from the computer. Then again, I use a 'tracking' system, and an 'idea' board. I use real post-it notes and foam core boards, and it works because I can take them to another room and somehow, things 'feel' different. The computer is for work; putting post-its on a board seems to let the creativity happen.

  6. I'm so old school, I use my 8'X10' bulletin board.

  7. Oh oh oh, I am so excited this morning to see this! I have a Mac so I am thrilled to give scrivener a try! I wanted to get a big white board but kept thinking there must be a way to "see" all my notes and reminders etc. on my mac!
    Thanks so much!!

  8. Yikes, I am way behind in using technology. I still have my trusty five-subject notebook beside my computer where I write notes on different projects and keep track of research, etc. It has newspaper clipping bursting out of pockets in the dividers. LOL

    I also agree with Terry that it helps sometimes to get away from the computer. But then, I have not grown up with using a computer like so many of you younger folks.

  9. I'm using yWriter, which is great except for a vital problem: It can't track changes.

    I'd love to buy Scriviner, but it's too expensive right now. Maybe I should aim to win NaNo this year. :-P

  10. The suspense has been killing me - the, what seems like, endless waiting for this to be released.
    I have half heartedly used One Note in the past - I usually just use it to fling random things I find on my web travels

  11. Thanks for the comments everyone!!

    I like FreeMind, too, Beth. I used it initially when I began work on my Ph.D. and needed organize my thoughts to pin down a dissertation topic.

    E.C., I think I was the same as you earlier on. There was, in my mind anyway, an organization to my disorganized process until I came across One Note, but with Scrivener, it's like cut away the disorganization for me completely!

  12. Maryann, I used to be the same way with the notebooks...I think my move to the technology was more out of necessity than want. It might sound strange to say, but my tendinitis makes it hard for me to revel in the gripping of a pen and writing for any extended amount of time; it's easier now to type than to write by hand (I even hate saying that as much as I love to write by hand), so I needed to find some organizational tools that would benefit me on the computer.

  13. I'm so glad I saw your post! When I read the title, I immediately thought of Scrivener. I've been waiting for the Windows edition ever since I heard about it last year. I cannot wait to use it, plus it's so cheap! I started my novel on google docs (b/c it was portable and I wasn't locked into just working on my laptop) but there is such limited functionality, I finally moved to Word and save dual copies.

    So excited for Scrivener, I will count the days!

  14. Just downloaded it, thanks. Let's see if it helps!

  15. Just downloaded Scrivener and I love the templates so far. Thanks so much for the recommendation.

    For MAC users, you can also use Growly Notes. It is free and similar to Microsoft's OneNote.

  16. I have Story Mill. It's a program for the MAC. I actually read the user guide today and went through the tutorial. You can add different media, move things around, can build a setting and character profiles. I'm certain there are plenty more things that the program offer.

  17. Wow, this is interesting. I'm going to have to check both of these programs out. I'd heard of Scrivener. Sticky notes and scraps of paper just aren't very organized! LOL

  18. I'm very primitive. I use folders only, and store everything related to one particular story to one folder.

    Chemical Fusion

  19. I've had Scrivener for a little over a month now and I absolutely love it. Having everything I need right there for me at the click of a button has helped me to keep the writing flow. One of my favorite benefits it's the research area that allows me to have a website available that I used for research right there for me. It's definitely a bonus having this program to me.

  20. I use Scrivener to storyboard and move the scenes around into an organized, flowing plot. But then I write in Word and don't write within Scrivener. I probably could or would if I could figure it all out, but my right brain doesn't want to read the instruction manual. lol

    So I print the cards out, organize them, then as I write, I do create a timeline in Excel. It's weird but works for me! :)

  21. I'd never thought of using one-note. I think I might try.

  22. Although I like One Note, I'm now about to try Freemind or Scrivener. My deadline is looming. I'd better get on it.

  23. I've tried OneNote to keep all my notes, but eventually went back to Word. I create a Table of Contents, keeping relevant details in its proper "chapter" and keep adding to it as I go along. A lot of material gets added while I'm writing, so it's helpful to have it printed out so I can pencil in the notes and add it later. Simpler is better for me and when a lot of bells and whistles are introduced, I have a bad tendency to get distracted, thereby losing my train of thought and idea altogether. I love OneNote and use it to collect and sort information from the internet FOR my book, but unfortunately, has never worked out for me in terms of story notes.

  24. Pen and paper, Shon! ;-) I'm an old fashioned writer, and my notes are still spread on pieces of paper... BUT I did start a "Silvery Earth" notebook for everything on my fantasy world. Anything not set there goes on my moleskin...
    Untechnological Barb

  25. Barb, I'm a fan of the pen and paper, and when my hands want to be cooperative, I love grabbing one of my journals and outlining a story. I like being able to "see" the story unfold on the page by the hand I write with--it feels more...I guess natural is the best word right now, but then it's natural because that's what I grew up with. For those of the digital generation, writing by hand would seem very primitive and ol' school.


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