On Monday, I talked a bit about goal setting and the sorts of goals I set myself to try and keep my writing flowing.
None of that would be possible without some form of organization to work within, however, and when it comes to writing… I am very much a Planner, instead of a Pantser.
If you aren’t sure what I mean by those terms, the answer is quite simple – planners spend time planning their work out first, while Pantser’s fly by the seat of their pants and go with the flow.
Becoming a Planner
If you had caught me in my younger years, especially as a teenager, I’d have come across as the exact opposite of a planner.
In my personal space, I was happy to be as muddly with my clothes and possessions as I was with my online communal writing. Between my friendship group and I, we wove some extensive stories by the seat of our pants, no problem.
When it came time to writing my own serious and long-winded work though, that attitude wasn’t going to work, especially as my life had changed so much.
I got married, moved continents, and became head of my own household. My priorities had changed, and so had my style.
Worse, I didn’t have my friends adding their ideas to my tale – it was purely mine and only mine!
I became a planner, instead. Like in my home life, I wanted to have at least some idea ahead of time what was going to happen so I could cater to it efficiently and to the best of my ability.
It all started with world building. I knew that first of all I needed somewhere to put the stories, and have that fully fleshed out. I did a series of blog posts on world building, staring here if you want to know more about that process, but today we’ll stick to pure organization.
The Doom Binder
I have a blunt instrument in my house, that I’m fairly certain I can kill people with. I call it my Doom Binder, and this is what it looks like:
It contains all of my worldbuilding, notes and other nonsense for Hevna, to date. Inside is everything from exactly how old King Sigmund Ruthersford of Arlatene is, who his grandfather was and when he died, and how the King lost his eye.
There are pages talking about the Drowned Reef and the events which created it. There’s a section about exactly how the airship Ohnivak flies, and what Zlatko’s mother died of. I have a section dedicated to the construction of the Grand Cathedral, and the exact metals used to make the bell in its clock, Great Red.
The inside is split into sections, helping me group my information together and the reason it’s printed out and not just digital? Ease of reference. I like being able to flip to the entries I need a single piece of information on quickly, and without having to scroll away from my actual prose.
True, the inestimable Scrivener is built to allow me to have two items open side by side for such references (and in terms of characters and locations, I have the digital versions of the file open, using that feature), but sometimes you just need to flick to the slang page of a country for a microsecond, and get straight back into the argument being written.
I also keep myself organized by using standardized files for my notes. All of my detailed out characters have biographies and stats printed in the same format and the same order. I file them alphabetically because some characters (Zlatko…!) insist on appearing in multiple books.
Here’s a glance at the inside of the Doom Binder for the Slete Islands (I treat places similar to people, after all.)
Each file is fully crafted, and updated when necessary so I can keep a handle on what has happened in a book, ready for whatever I end up needing to create next. It saves me the time of having to go back through my own prose to find the one paragraph somewhere in the middle of things that Sarus used a Nagan word for the getting the willies, so I don’t create a new word for something already existing. (Rethem, incidentally. Though it’s meaning is a bit more complicated than just ‘the willies’.)
The Actual Books
I’d love to pretend these start out as neatly and well organized as my world building files.
But they don’t.
They generally start out, in pencil, in this:
And usually at about 2am.
I keep this notebook by my bed so I can write down ideas as I’m falling asleep and thinking. Half of them are rubbish or nonsense, but the other half either help add elements to my current work or form the concept for a new work.
Next, I’ll give myself a couple of pages in this notebook to sketch out a plot skeleton for the idea, maybe draw in some other ideas, note down my current ideas on character names. I might go so far as to divide out and detail in shorthand the entire beginning, middle and end before I finally move to something a bit more structured.
After that, my system has me filling in a design document for the book. Here, I ask myself what the themes and messages of the book are likely to be, who is in it, who are the most important characters and their goals, including the villains.
Then, if there are new places or people, they get their entries for the Doom Binder, and I can move onto the final stage of keeping myself organized.
I love this program. I know there are others out there, and tons of tools other people swear by for their writing, but Scrivener gets me.
I can have sticky notes, multiple things open at once, reference inspiration pictures next to prose, and drag and drop my musings around until they make some kind of sense.
I can set stuff in folders nested inside folders, and best of all, my deleted items can be thrust into a folder of ‘old work’ in case I wish I could access a cut line or so, later on.
Or, you know, go back and see where the story started from, compared to where it is now. That’s always nice.
Here’s a look at my current Scrivener window for Aether’s Source:
This program keeps me organized more than anything else so that I can focus on my goals, without wasting too much time digging up information I suddenly need.
Scrivener lets me input my ideas and inspirations into a series of corkboard posts, then state what that snippet should be about, then actually write the snippet, all while referencing files and photos at the same time.
After that, I can compile and any all files into a myriad of different formats to share with alpha readers, or the fine folks who visit my site, all with minimal fuss and hassle.
Want an excerpt? Here, have that single scene as a PDF. Whole short story to go to alpha readers for feedback? Have it as a Word file so you can highlight problem areas.
Posting a section on a website? Compile it for me as pre-formatted code, so I can just copy paste. Thank you!
The Point of it All
Goals reward me for my effort but having an organizational approach to how I manage my goals, and my work keeps me motivated.
Motivation is the most critical part in my writing right now, to help me get to the end of the stories I am currently trying to tell.
I want to be excited to get up each day and work on my world, my words. By being organized, I find myself always keyed in, always thinking about Hevna, always excited, and always able to easily (and eagerly!) share bits of my world with other people.
My next goal is to try Aeon Timeline again, and see if I can get that particular tool to work for me, even though I know it can’t handle my leap years. If I can work around that little flaw, it’d be another tool to let me track which of my characters is where, and when, for quicker and easier reference than ever in the future.
Especially for that rascal, Zlatko, who just can’t seem to sit still.
On Friday, I shall be ruminating on how I draft a book, so I’ll see you then!