Had you goin’ there for a second, didn’t I?
But no, I’m not talking about that – I’m referring to that place of Zen for every writer that is commonly known as Organization!
While there are many ways to get yourself organized in your writing and the journey to become published, I’m only going to address 3 particular aspects of writerly organization today:
1. Research/Outlining: So you’ve got this killer plot – or a killer character – and you’re ready to start banging it all out on the keyboard…but wait, you have to organize your thinking a little before you move any further. Sure, there are those moments where the dialogue is swimming in your head and you absolutely must get a scene out first, but after you’ve done that you’ll want to take a step back and think about the basics. The following three questions are the first ones I ask myself when a new character or plot pops into my head. I answer each of these and save all of the information I’ve compiled into a folder on my desktop (I also print everything out and keep it in a small accordion file in case anything should happen to my trusty computer), and I enter some of the highlights of my research onto the handy little index cards in Scrivener. By answering all of these and doing a little research, you’re able to write the best first draft possible (just remember that it’s still the first draft, so it’s going to be messy regardless, this will keep it ‘less messy’):
- Where is the story taking place?
- Is it taking place in Real Town, USA, or is going to be in Fantasy Land? Once you decide where, you can begin to research/create that location. Even if you’re a pantser, feeling as if you know more about where your story is going to take place will help tremendously when you’re writing your way through the first draft. If it’s a fantasy land that your story takes place in, then it may be good to go ahead and set some ground rules before writing any more words (this creates less work for you during the editing process).
- Who is going to tell this story?
- Will we be following a single character, or several? Even though I like to mainly consider myself an ‘organic’ writer (that’s a fancy way of saying ‘pantser’), I still like to sit down with my main characters ahead of time and get to know them. Completing a questionnaire on each of your main characters is a great way to get to know them better (and there are some that this does not work for, so be prepared to leave a gaping hole on their stats until you’ve written a few scenes with them in it).
- How are you going to tell this story?
- This is an important decision since your voice is what’s going either make or break this novel. And not only should you think about the voice, you should also consider the POV from which this particular adventure should be told. Is it first POV as we follow a single character and her journey, or should it be third POV since there are several characters you’re eager to follow throughout the plot?
2. The Actual Writing: Now that you know the who, what, where, when, how of your story, it’s time to get
crackin’ writing! First things first: keep in mind the Three Act Structure as you write – this will save you some headache when you’re revising (Alexandra Sokoloff has some great posts on story structure and the elements)!
Some writers write their entire first draft in a Word doc – start to finish – and this is totally okay as I this is exactly what I used to do. However, I have recently learned a more organized way of getting that first draft down, and I couldn’t be happier now that I’ve found it: Scrivener (or a similar writing program).
Given that most first drafts mainly consist of scene after scene after scene – in which you will go back and add a little ‘fluff’ – I’ve learned that Scrivener is awesome for this process. You’re able write those individual scenes into their own little section for you to go back and flesh out individually if you’d like, or you can compile them all at the end and attack them all at once. Yes, you’re breaking down your work as you truck through it, but you can give each scene a short title in case you ever need to refer back to it later in the novel (who else hates having to scroll through fifty pages to find the one scene you need info from?).
3. Editing/Revising: You either just groaned or said ‘Eh’ when you read this one, and hopefully you’re not groaning because your editing process is disorganized. Before you begin editing, print out your entire MS. Yes, I know that most of ours are going to be 300+ pages (double spaced), but words look and feel completely different in print than they do on the computer scene – trust me! Once you’ve done that, make a plan for how you’re going to attack the editing process. You don’t want to go all out during the first pass – you’ll be way too tuckered out to continue after about a week or so. Here’s a sample of an organized plan:
- First Pass: Grab your trusty red pen and check for plot holes, flow, and inconsistencies as you read through the entire MS (which will be the first time *hopefully* in at least two weeks). Ask yourself through each scene, “Is this really needed?”, “Does this move the story forward?” If your answer is no to either of these, make a note to cut and paste that scene and save it somewhere safe in case you want to come back to it in the future. If you find plot holes or areas where the words or scene just doesn’t seem to flow, attack each area, one at a time, until you’ve reached a point that you feel as though you can bare leaving it (even if for the time being).
- Second Pass: Grab your pen again and check for grammar, spelling, missing/confusing dialogue tags, repetitive words, etc. Go ahead and get *most* of that dirty work out of the way. *smiles*
- Third Pass: Take a break before reprinting your MS with all of the changes you made in passes one and two, then dive back into reading through it – which will be your second or third time out of, oh say, maybe a hundred – once again, checking for plot (remember the Three Act Structure), flow, inconsistencies, etc., etc. This is also a good time to add in some of that ‘fluff’ (i.e.: incredible descriptions and transitions) I referred to earlier, especially now that you’ve worked on or fleshed out most of the scenes. I personally tend to wait until the second or third pass to do this since by that time, I’m a little more comfortable with where the scenes are placed and how the story’s developing.
And so on and so forth – remember I called this a *sample* organized plan. Your story will require you to add many more items to check for as your editing (more than I could really name in what’s supposed to be a blog post and not a novel in itself).
Keep in mind that everything I’ve listed is just a guideline as there’s still so much more you can do to obtain that ‘Big O’ within your writing journey – such as being organized with receiving and incorporating your critiques, being organized when you’re about to start querying agents, organizing your
rejection letters partial or full requests….
Have you achieved your writerly place of Zen? How do you manage to stay organized through the chaos (also known as the writing life)? Do you have a process that you’d like to share?