Every writer is different and so not all suggestion here for organising yourself will work for you. However here is how I do it that you may find useful.
Firstly, for every new novel I start a new computer folder. Give your novel (or series) a name. Whether you write short stories, sonnets or huge novels TITLES are important. If you can’t think of one you like use a “Working Title” but at least you have something.
If you write novels, give your novels a title – if you write novel series, give the SERIES a title. That way the individual novels can become numbers until you’ve got your individual titles.
Within the computer folder add new folders – Characters / Ideas / Plots / Novel (or scenes) / Encyclopaedia etc. These are your basic – you may end up with more. This is where everything will be stored electronically as you write.
Due to the amount of folders I have on my computer, I have created a Main folder called NOVELS and then within this is each novel’s title folder. To make things uniform, I have a template folder with all the new folders (characters/ideas/plots etc) created. So, when I start a new piece of writing I just copy the Template folder and rename it. That way each new folder is already prepared with the sub-folders I require.
As well as a computer copy it is a good idea to have paper-copies too. Get yourself some lever arch binders (one per novel or series), some indexers and start your file. The binder is NOT were you store scenes (believe me you will end up with a LOT of paper when you print scenes). Use the binders for categorising character profiles, encyclopaedia info, ideas, diagrams etc. Use the indexers to separate.
Set these up before you end up with a mass of paperwork and keep it in an easy to reach / easy to get at location not hidden at the bottom of a drawer with crap on top!
As I mentioned you may end up with printed scenes, I often need to edit and read through paper copies especially if I’ve worked extensively on a computer, if just to give my eyes a rest. Eventually you will get inundated with scenes.
For this I have a storage boxes, depending on the size of the work I will use something like this:
These are great because I can label them on the front and they can sit neatly on my bookcase shelf until I need them.
Having somewhere to put them will keep you from drowning in paper.
I can not stress enough how important back-ups are. Create back-ups. The paper copies are one but memory sticks, external hard drives, CDs… whatever you feel you need to use, use it.
Update your back-ups regularly. It is one of the worst feelings in the world to lose your writing. I have in years past lost whole novels that got corrupted.
On this I also suggest use more than one! CDs get scratched, hard drives corrupt, memory sticks fail… don’t trust all that blood, sweat and tears writing to one media.
It is also good not to carry it around with you – maybe you think keeping your memory stick in your bag is safe, what if you bag gets stolen or even the memory stick itself. Don’t risk it.
Personally I use several back up methods and even store two in a fire-proof safe. Yes I am that paranoid but in the end I have been writing for a long time and its important to me, so I want to make sure I don’t lose it.
Maybe some writers can tap away on a laptop in a coffee shop or on the bus and get loads done. The majority of people won’t be that lucky (and personally, I wouldn’t want to be!) So get yourself a writing space. A desk, a table, the garden shed… whatever, make sure you do MOST of your writing there.
Now many people write using a laptop, they are good for versatility but it is good to have a fixed place to do most of your writing. You can use your laptop on a desk and make sure your chair is comfortable and height adjustable (if poss).
One reason I liked fixed locations is it helps to get into the mindset of writing. This is your writing space and all around it you can put your writing tools. Remember your space doesn’t have to be big, doesn’t even have to be a whole room.
When I lived at home, my dad removed the doors of one of my fitted cupboards, added a few shelves including a pull out one where the keyboard sat and that little alcove became my writing space. Underneath I kept binders and paper and the printer sat above on another shelf.
Have you ever been sitting in a cluttered room and found yourself unable to write / draw or perhaps even read? There are schools of thought that state “chi” is unable to flow smoothly in cluttered rooms so becomes stagnant. Now whether you believe in the idea of chi or not, the truth is you are more likely to do better work if your writing space is tidy.
So once you’ve decided on a space de-clutter it. Make sure it’s neat, tidy and has space for your notes, a pad, pen and a place for a cup of tea / coffee and a plate of sandwiches. (As a writer sometimes you will want to keep working, remember to eat even if it means bringing food to your desk….though it is still preferred that you take SOME time away from the desk during your writing day).
Lastly, your writing space is best if bright (with natural light), airy and somewhere you can get some peace and quiet. Not always easy, believe me when I was writing throughout my teenage years I was forever interrupted while living in my parents house. Just do what you can.
Every writer is different when it comes to music. Sometimes I like music in the background, I have it low so it does not distract me. Other times I find it a nuisance. Listen to your mood and decide if it is a help or a hindrance.
I have found in the past if I was listening to a CD on loop while writing an action scene that to get into that frame of mind again all I needed was to put on that same CD and it triggered the memories and allowed me to write another good action scene.
If you find you are constantly struggling to write, turn the music off. Before you leap to the conclusion you have writers block you need to eliminate other possibilities like being subconsciously distracted.
When you want to write be serious, switch off phones, ipods, pagers and other gizmos so you are not tempted to answer calls or texts. Don’t log into IMs, Skype or on the internet because you will not get as much done if you stop every 50seconds to chat to someone.
Tell family members not to disturb you and keep your door closed and if they can distract you keep pets out while you write.
Do whatever chores or errands you are supposed to do first. This way you won’t be interrupted later because you did not do the dishes or make your bed, before going to write.
BE KIND TO YOUR BODY
My last article covered a lot about creating time to write. So this is just a few additional thoughts.
Look at trying to write for a few hours so you can get a nice flow going. Make sure you have “set times” to eat. Writing can become all consuming and without thinking you have suddenly been writing all day and have not eaten anything!
Set an alarm to buzz at a certain time or an alert to pop on your screen if you feel you won’t be likely to stop. Have a stretch, go make some food, sandwiches, have a cup of tea/coffee etc. You will feel better for it.
If you feel like snacking have some fruit you can pick at (grapes, berries, cherries, carrot slices) Try NOT to have starchy / sugary foods – you get a quick buzz but then are left feeling lethargic which will affect your mood and your writing.
Don’t skip eating, that’s not good either. You will be sitting in a chair writing a lot and staring at a screen so be nice to your body or it will punish you with aches, twinges, stiff joints….
Every few hours get up and move around. Go for a walk or just wander around your garden if you have one. Do some stretches to keep your back flexible and stop the muscles tightening.
As I said, if you don’t look after yourself your body will punish you and that means losing time writing.
Now, when taking breaks there are two schools of thought:
1) Some say when you need to stop for a break, stop in the middle of a sentence so you can get right back into it when you return.
2) Others say finish what you need to say and if you have a specific part following then make bullet point notes before having a break so you don’t forget.
I do the latter mainly because I can not always remember what I was going to write when I return even if stopping in mid-sentence and that’s frustrating.
Try and write at the same time each day – I know every write worth their salt bleats this out. It does help but also, if you find a specific time that works for you when you are more active, more alert it helps to keep it in routine.
If you struggle to do this, at least give yourself a word count. State that every day you will write 500 words. That way even if you can’t write at the normal time you are encouraged to catch snipits of time here and there to get your 500 words done.
They say it takes 21 days for something to become a habit. If you get up at 6am every morning, by the 21st day it will become very natural and your body may even start waking up at this time without the alarm going off. Before something becomes habit, it can be a struggle to do. (Believe me, I see this every time I want to exercise… I still fail miserably at keeping it going… reaching that 21 days feels like an eternity!)
It’s all about perseverance and as a writer, you are going to need it!
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