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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Ideas, part 2: Keeping Organized

(Ideas, part 1.)

Go on, laugh! (If you know me, you know that I have absolutely no business offering organizational tips, because I am an incorrigible slob. HOWEVER, with three published books under my belt I figure I must be doing something right. Right?)

So here’s my ‘system,’ and I’m telling you about it partly to jump-start my own tush into actually using it again.

1.  The Moleskine Notebook.
This is always the first point of capture—I never go anywhere without a notebook. I like Moleskine notebooks because they’ve got a pocket in the back for collecting loose notes, little inspiring things I find in my travels, or just things I like to keep with me (vintage postcards, a strangely-shaped leaf, my grandfather’s prayer card).

(Gee, I could really use a couple more for Christmas…haha.)

[Edit, 2013: My new favorite notebooks are Ecosystem, since they are made in America of sustainable materials. Moleskine notebooks are made in China.]

2.  The Rolly File.
I wrote about the rolodex hereI haven’t actually used this system in awhile, but I’ll definitely be returning to it for my next adult novel.  There are simply too many bits and bobs (period details, funny turns of phrase, historical anecdotes, &c.) to keep track of any other way.

3.  The Brain Dump.
This is when you take a big sheet of paper (I used newsprint left over from a drawing class I took at Parsons a gazillion years ago), label it with your working title in the center, and start filling in the page with characters’ names and their relationships to one another, their histories and motivations, along with anything else that occurs to you—plot points, epigraphs, research reminders or cross references…anything at all to do with your story. The brain dump is loads (har, har) of fun, not to mention a ‘map’ of sorts that you can refer back to again and again as you write. (I’ll talk about how I outline in a future post.)


(I’m not giving anything away by showing you this, since I doubt this story will ever make it off my hard drive.)

4.  Scrivener
One of my Yaddo buddies, Cole, gave me a brief run-down of the features of this neat-o word processing and organizational program last year, and I eventually downloaded a copy of my own. It’s got a virtual binder, so instead of having this unwieldy Word doc full of unfinished scenes, you give each scene its own page, so it’s all that much easier to keep track of. I started another Scrivener project called “The Repository” and that’s where I’m keeping my notes and ideas for all the stories apart from the one I’m currently working on. Infinitely better than a thousand Word docs across several dozen folders! (Also, it’s going to make all the little pieces of Moon 2.0 SO much easier to manage—if I ever do get to write the second edition. SIGH. Still on hold indefinitely.) And there are a lot of other features I haven’t even gotten around to exploring yet.

not the repository
(Click for a better view.)

I swing back and forth between wanting everything in ink on paper (hard drive failure! DISASTER!!!) and having everything in a file on the laptop (too much gee-dee paper everywhere); it’s like I always feel I could be more organized if I did it the other way from how I’m currently doing it. Ultimately the best method seems to be half and half: first scribbling each idea down in a notebook, then either inputting it into Scrivener (if there’s already a place for it) or putting it on a rolly card for future use.

As disorganized as I am, I love hearing about how other people keep their ideas in order. Do you have a ‘system’? Leave me a comment!

2 Comments to Ideas, part 2: Keeping Organized

  1. October 4, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    File folders. Hundreds of file folders.
    A clear storage box to keep all the little scraps of paper in one place.
    A printed draft after every revision of poetry, in the event of hard drive failure. Files dropped onto a zip drive after every revision for anything longer.
    And a smal rolltop desk to house it all in. 🙂

  2. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    October 4, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Scrivener sounds like a helpful program. Just to let you know the Mac version of Word has a similar binder/notebook function that I found really helpful for organizing different topics for my classes. I think all you need to do is click on the different layouts on the bottom left. You should try it out!
    P.S. I pass along the present hint to Elliot 🙂

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.