Let’s face it, when writing there is a lot of stuff to keep track of. You have to fact-check, keep consistency with places, times, descriptions and events. This becomes even more complex when you are working on genre fiction like fantasy or science fiction because you introduce world building, new creatures, history and more. Managing all of this can become overwhelming quite quickly. So how does keeping organized when writing work?
There are primary two types of writers, there’s the ones that work with outlines and are quite systematic with their writing and then there are those that write based on impulse and intuition. Regardless of the type that you are, keeping a secondary document open (or a piece of paper nearby) while writing can become a major life saver.
What do you do with this second document?
As you are outlining or writing, write down every subplot, terminology, places, times and characters that you come up with. Specifically with fantasy and science fiction, you will want to write down items, weapons, creatures and races.
This list will be rough live document that you can reference as time goes on. It will only be complete once the novel is done.
The document mentioned above can be refined and turned into a stylesheet. Stylesheets are internal documents used during your writing sessions to organize all of your stylistic choices in the book.
These can be created in spreadsheets (like Excel) or in word documents, or in a binder, whatever works best for your writing preferences. For the spreadsheet approach, you will want to have multiple spreadsheets for each category. These can be made with tabs in Excel. The tabs will be for the different types of styles to keep trach of, like characters, terms, subplots, etc.
Each of the spreadsheet tabs should have at least four columns in them:
- The word
- First appearance
- Internal Notes
There are a number of mobile apps, web apps and software tools you can use to help keep organized with your novel. Googling terms like “Writing Organizer App” or “Novel Planner Software” will give some results on what you can find.
Personally I found learning a new tool to be more of a headache and it slows down my writing process. I lose focus on the writing and spend too much time fidgeting around with the tool to try and figure out how to do something. Again, this is a personal opinion, I’d rather stick to keeping notes in a document (paper or digital) just like the tool you use for writing your book.
Some people swear by organizational apps and say it drastically increases their productivity, each to their own though.
Review and Self-Editing
The points mentioned above can also disrupt the creative flow that you have when working on the earlier drafts of your novel. I for one do not like to be burdened with technicalities when producing creative work and prefer to save that for the later edits of the book.
Implement the method of recording your terms, events and characters into your writing based on what works for you. If you find it is too difficult to introduce in the earlier phases, do it later. If going back and recording everything from a completed draft is too daunting, try recording a stylesheet in the beginning phases of your writing.
Do you have any techniques for keeping organized when writing?
I’d love to hear them, share your thoughts in the comments.