Why (And How) Should You Organize Your Writing?
To the collective AutoCrit mind, organization is important. Essential, even.
The public might imagine writers as messy creative types, perched behind desks that overflow with coffee-stained pages, tattered sticky notes, and half-empty Starbucks containers.
While there may, admittedly, be some truth in there, the fact remains that some organization is a must for a happy writer. Why? Let’s have a look.
Why organization matters
Organization matters because a cluttered environment negatively impacts the clean flow of ideas. On the most basic level, even if you’re personally happy to live among clutter, you’re probably still going to get the occasional earful from anyone you live with if you really do leave partial manuscripts abandoned on every flat surface in the house.
We all know interruptions and arguments do not make for a constructive work environment.
And that’s only the humans! If you’re blessed to live with cats, you’ll know they’re likely to push anything over without a care in the world. Cold coffee splashing right across your latest manuscript is one thing that’s sure to pull you straight out of any creative flow.
Maintaining your state of flow is what’s most important – and that simply isn’t possible when every action you need to take, and every additional piece of information you need, requires excessive effort on your behalf.
Your tools should be easily accessible, ideally from anywhere with a computer – not just your computer. We’ll explain a bit more about that shortly.
Paper vs digital
This organizational overhaul isn’t only for writers who are paper-based. Yes, it’s true most people write on computers now, but there are still many publishers, editors, and competitions that require submission of a paper manuscript. If and when those are returned to you, are you going to throw them away? Probably not.
But even if you don’t send your manuscript off to anyone, it’s still an excellent idea to edit and proof a draft at least once in paper form. You’ll see far more typos that way compared to viewing on a screen.
Additionally, organization extends to the digital world. It’s not enough to save your documents ‘somewhere’ and have no system at all in place. There are multiple reasons for this, but the most important are that, firstly, as mentioned earlier, you want resources to be accessible as easily and quickly as possible when you’re pumping out that word count for the day.
Secondly, you want to ensure that everything important is kept together for ease of security and backup. One of the worst things that can happen to a writer is unexpected file corruption or a hardware failure that means you lose everything. It happens way too often, and it’s an utterly terrifying prospect. Get your organizational system wrong (or avoid using one altogether), and that super-important document you thought was with the rest when you made your last backup might not survive the latest ‘system update gone wrong’ scenario.
Time goes by
All writers change, hopefully improving, as time goes on. It’s helpful to see and reference changes in your style as you develop, and having stories organized makes that far easier. As you develop, for example, you may begin to notice common mistakes in your first drafts that you keep having to rectify.
By consistently comparing your final versions to their first drafts, patterns might emerge. This will help you improve and change any bad habits you’ve fallen into. At the least, you’ll save yourself some time at the editing stage.
Making it as easy as possible for yourself to reflect on earlier work, note common problems, and understand your own creative process better is a massive advantage when it comes to progression as an author.
This doesn’t only apply to your manuscript itself, but also to your reference materials, planning documents, character biographies, and so much more. We’ll take a look at those next, but the case may be that the most common problem plaguing your manuscripts is actually coming from part of your planning structure. Having a strong sense of organization across multiple novels makes it far easier to pick this kind of thing out.
A place for everything and everything in its place
It isn’t a good idea to overwrite your drafts as you edit, so that early versions are lost. Some changes may come back to haunt you, and by that point, it’s too late. This can actually compound the work during editing.
Rather than making you feel like you’re chiseling a big block into a perfect sculpture, you can end up feeling like the block itself is getting bigger and bigger, and the sculpture in your mind getting ever more out of focus.
Keep your early versions and label them appropriately. When you’re ready to start editing the latest version, create a copy and use that as your working draft instead. Sure, it can feel a bit disheartening when you realize your latest file is version nine, but refinement is progress. Keep it up, and you’ll get there.
Here’s a quick overview of how you could organize your files on your computer, and in online storage like Dropbox or Google Drive (both are a superb resource you really should make use of, as they can be a savior in the event of the corruption/failure nightmare we brought up earlier).
Below the primary folder with your book’s title, key folders are subdivided into subfolders. This same method can be applied to paper copies if you work that way or need to organize print-offs, by labeling sections in a binder, or splitting each resource into its own separate physical folder.
Feel free to make any changes to the wording or style, but if you follow this outline you’ll be ready to dip and in and out of your active manuscript, store final edits, and locate required resources with little to no effort.
– Story ideas
– Annotated edits
- Final versions
– Personality Quiz
– Background information
– Articles and advice
– Writing exercises
Even if you don’t find yourself doing personality quizzes or interviews for a character, or storing articles for information, build your structure like this and the space will be ready for you. Having it there might prompt you to give these things a try in the future, and they could only be beneficial to your work.
Here are a few screenshots to indicate how this might look on a Windows PC:
There are a number of excellent software packages available on the market today that can help you organize your research, character profiles, and more – but even so, maintaining your own system is well worth the effort. Especially since you can easily take your files with you using a USB pen drive, or through online storage services that are accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. Why lug your laptop around with you if the place you’re visiting already has a computer you could use to knock out some words each morning? It’s easy to do when you’re well organized!
How do you organize your writing? Do you agree that a tidy and well-managed system makes finding and storing your writing easier? How do you prepare for the shock of data loss? Share your methods in the comments below!