Getting and staying organised really can help you eliminate wasted time.
I’m a big proponent of being organised so following on from my first post about becoming a more organised writer, I thought I’d give you some more tips.
If you missed it, you can check it out: How to be a more organised writer (pt.1).
Create character profiles to help you stay consistent when writing about your characters.
There are many “Character Profile Templates” floating about and I have one myself that is downloadable that you can find it on my Free Printables page.
I personally have two sets of Character Profiles. The first I made on a Word document, lots of categories a few pages per profile for the main characters.
The second is a “bare-bones” spreadsheet. This covers the basics such as height, age, full name, eye, hair and skin colour, scars (if important) etc.
This is for use when I’m writing and I need a quick confirmation of something.
*for even more printables, sign up for my monthly newsletter and get access to my Members only Resource library where I list any new printables.
If you are writing more than one story, I recommend colour coordination. Sometimes even the tidiest people can end up with notes all over the place (yes I’m guilty of this).
Use marker pens, felt-tip pens or coloured sticker dots and add them to the top corner of your profiles, scenes, notes etc. Use a specific colour on all corresponding works.
If we use the above example – All your notes, profiles etc for your Ancient Egypt story should have a blue circle in the top corner while all your Second World War notes should have a green dot.
This makes it easier and quicker to separate notes at a glance. And believe me when you accidentally drop a file box of organised scenes all over your study floor you will be thankful for those coloured dots!
Fantasy writers who build their own worlds can usually benefit from designing a map. Having a visual image of where your story is set is helpful.
This is even more important if you write any form of quest/journey story. It allows you to plot where your characters are going and what they are likely to pass through along the way.
You need to have an idea of what your world/land will look like and in which direction you are going to reach certain places.
This is where your research books might be useful. Research books such as ones on geography, atlases, topology and weather are good for map drawing.
Always carry a notepad with you. Make notes and organise them while you write. Always add the date and the name of the novel/series the notes are for. You could even make them colour coded.
Of course you may prefer to use your phone, just remember to email the notes or save them to something like Evernote.
You don’t want to be saving them in your phone’s notepad and then the phone dies/gets stolen and you’ve lost everything.
Some people know exactly what happens in each chapter and so they write chapter by chapter.
Others prefer to write individual scenes which are later worked into chapters. Personally, I find that by writing individual scenes, it is easier to move sections around to fit them in.
Whether you write chapters first or individual scenes, I recommend giving them names. Make it something that covers what the scene/chapter is about.
Example: You write a scene about the parlour maid witnessing her master beat his son to death. He glances towards the door and sees a shadow.
The maid panics and flees the home, taking few supplies and leaves by the back roads. Your title here could be: The Master Kills his Son or The Parlour Maid Witnesses Murder.
Do not explain the entire scene, just enough to remind you of the main points.
As you get further along with your work you can start adding numbers to groups of scenes marking out which scene would come first.
For example, if you have a set of scenes all happening at the mountain village you could write at the top of each scene: Mountain village – # 1 etc.
Then number each scene according to its position. That way you will end up with sections of scenes all in order. Eventually, when all your scenes/chapters are sorted they can be numbered correctly from start to finish.
Remember not to over-edit. Wait until a scene/chapter is written in full or better yet, wait until the whole first draft of the novel is written.
As a scene/chapter grows you may feel it is time to edit. Read through the work, highlight any double words, spelling errors and things that just don’t read right.
Use footnotes to add questions or points that need to be worked on. These will then appear at the bottom of the document, numbered and connected to the relevant area.
Once you’ve edited, leave it a day or two and read back through the scene and your notes. You may find some more issues.
Then make the relevant changes. Once you have edited a scene, leave it and continue with more scenes/chapters.
It is best to get the first draft done before you go back and do any further editing.
Timelines and Diaries
Keeping a track of timelines and times of day in your stories can be difficult, more so if you have the main plot with several subplots.
If you have two groups of characters in different locations and your story flits between them you need to make sure the timeline is correct.
One suggestion is to get a spare diary and use it for your characters.
Group A are marauders and raze a village in the north on Monday.
Three days later Group B who were soldiers sent to protect the village arrive.
So in your diary make on Monday when the village was razed and then Thursday mark the soldiers arrived. If the distance to the village is five days go backwards in the diary to Sunday and put Soldiers set out from home towards a village.
Use the diary to mark times of day too. Was it nighttime when the village was razed? Do the soldiers arrive at dawn?
This way you have a nice accurate progression and you can check back to make sure you remember. If you start to write a long scene about the soldiers arriving at the village the diary will remind you they arrived at dawn so no “sweltering sun” descriptions need to be included.
Another method is using an A4 or A3 piece of paper. Give each of your characters or groups a colour and draw out a timeline and mark on the line when each specific group did what.
It is a good idea to have a spreadsheet or some other record showing the date you started your story/novel and the day you finished your 1st draft.
This will (for those who want to be full-time writers) help to give you an idea of how long it might take you.
Remember a traditionally published novelist has deadlines to keep to, publishers will often ask you how long it will take you to write your next novel.
This way you are aware of your abilities and can strive to do better if necessary.
While much of this may seem like excessive work, it will help to organise your story. It will give you a foundation for developing your style.
Once you get into the habit of being more organised, automatically starting binders, profiles and making maps, then if you do become published it will all become second nature and you will be more efficient.