How to organise your writing on the computer

If someone asked me what I wish I had known when I first started writing that would have helped me now, I think my answer would have been starting my electronic organising earlier.

Title Image: How to organise your writing on the computer. Image: Laptop with a drawer coming out of the screen full of folders

Having amassed huge amounts of scenes, notes, ideas, plots, character profiles, lists, maps, pictures and more all to do with SEVERAL novel series’, an organised system was needed.

So, is it really important?

Yes, it is. It is an area that can slow you down as a writer.  Who among us hasn’t struggled to locate a scene we wrote roughly, randomly… now we can’t find it and even the search isn’t bringing it up.

This is more likely to happen as you write more if you have more than one story / series in the works then you have more to misfile, mis-save or worse, accidentally delete.

Maybe you are just working on one novel, or just two, eventually, you will have more and starting a system NOW will be better than hacking your way through later on (trust me, because it’s what I had to do…and am still doing regarding older stories!)

So whether you are an amateur or an experienced writer, I suggest you look at your organisation for your electronic novel(s).

But Ari, I don’t have time

Wrong, you do have time. You may not have time to do this all in one go, but if you have a messy computer system and you don’t address it soon, you will end up with less time.

Why? Because you will spend precious writing time searching for missing files, trying to remember where to save files and getting annoyed when you find duplicates of things.

It is better to start now than wait until “you have more time”. Seriously, who has a massive chunk of time to do anything? There will always be something that crops up. So no excuses just make a start and then do a bit each day or week.

Computer file storage, computer file organizationFolders are your friend

First, this is mainly about how to organise your writing files. This method can be used for other sets of files but here we are concentrating on your writing files.

Everyone creates things and works differently so all I can do is show you MY current system (which I totally wish I had started closer to the beginning of my writing journey, oh well, live and learn…and grumble about having to learn something you wish you had just instinctively known… but I digress).

Maybe it will work for you, maybe it will give you some ideas or maybe it will make you think of something even better!

Feel free to share your own way of organising computer files in the comments for other people.

The Root Folder

The Root Folder will be the single entry point for your writing. This way all your documents are in one location. Creatively I call mine “Novels”. This is because that is what I write. I don’t write screenplays or poems (any more) I write novels.

Now if you personally write different things such as novels, screenplays, web-comics, short stories, love sonnets you might want to name your Root Folder “Writings” or “Written Works” or “Steve” ….whatever the hell you want as long as it works for you.

The idea is to contain everything in this central place.

Image: Screenshot of my Novels Folder on desktop

The Projects Folder

Inside your Root File will be your Project folders.  These are your clusters.  So if you write a trilogy series you would have a single folder for that Novel series.  If you write a stand-alone book, then your project folder will be called by your novel title.

Image: Screenshot of the folders in my Novel Root folder

Here you can see my project folders stored in a Root Folder (as I like to keep things close to my chest these are all silly fake titles I made for this tutorial… though in all honesty, I could easily write the Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady.)

If I have another idea for a story or series I will just create another project folder.

The LAST thing you want is to just dump all your writing files into one single folder. After all, you wouldn’t just dump loose papers into a filing cabinet without any hanging files, would you? Would you!? (let’s hope not).

Template Folder

You will notice the top folder is always the Template Folder.  This is because every single project folder contains the same set of sub-folders.  This creates a nice level of consistency and stops me from having too many unnecessary sub-folders.

Here are the folders within my Template Folder:

Image: Screenshot of folders within Template Folders

Now inside each of these folders is nothing.  I have no sub-folders within because while a novel set may need, say, sub-folders within research, each novel or series may need a different set of sub-folders.  So I can create these new sub-folders specific to that novel set.

By having a Template Folder, as soon as I come up with a new novel or series I just copy and paste the Template Folder and then change its name to the novel/series title.

Now your template folder will probably be different – I like this layout. I have a Scenes Folder because I often write my stories in scenes then build the chapters up by piecing the scenes together.

Then I have a Manuscript folder for when the scenes are all connected and in Draft 1, Draft 2 etc.

Just think carefully about what sort of folders you need and put them in your template folder.

A Word about Subfolders

Don’t overdo it on the sub-folders. For example, in my Characters Folder, I may have a sub-folder for say Humans and one for Aliens (if I’m writing a sci-fi).

Now to me, that’s plenty, I don’t then need to be a sub-folder into each of THOSE saying “Major Human Character” and “Minor Human Character”.

You can save your character profiles into the correct human or alien folder and then just save the file names to identify major and minor etc.

Too many sub-folders will get confusing and messy in their own right.

Naming Conventions

This can be for both files and folders. Say you have information about locations, for example:

  • Nightclub: The White Tiger
  • Nightclub: Tilt
  • Nightclub: BeDazzle
  • Restaurant: Green Lotus
  • Restaurant: A little taste of India

This way you have them all groups by type without having to use more sub-folders (though if you had to say loads of each, then sub-folders may be the way to go). Whereas if you named them just by their name:

  • A Little Taste of India
  • BeDazzle
  • Green Lotus
  • The White Tiger
  • Tilt

Personally, I don’t think it looks as neat and organised.

Always think about what you are naming something. I went through a VERY bad phase of just typing up a rushed scene and then saving it… by pressing random keys. Ahh yes, my desktop was full of files called dfdfdgd.doc, which is pretty unhelpful, to say the least.

If your scene or idea has a name then use it when you save the document, if it doesn’t then use what happened in the scene as the name.

For example You have a scene were two characters find treasure in a cave, they have a big fight about it and one of them gets stabbed.

You could call the scene “Finding the Treasure Cave” however if the stabbing is more prevalent then “John gets stabbed” will work.

It’s whatever part of the scene is the strongest in your mind. A scene can be several pages long and encompass several events, it’s the biggest focus, the one you think of most that should be the name.

Headers & Footers

I’m a big believer in using the headers and footers of a document. The footer is where I put the page number and the saved location (the pathway). Believe me, this has made a big difference!

The header is where I put the name of the series/novel (and the name of the scene) and the date I wrote the scene (and all subsequent updates).

So it may read like this:

Confessions (series title):

Confessions for a Crazy Cat Lady (title of book)

Altered: 8-10-15       Altered: 5-10-15    Written: 2-9-15

Yes, EVERY TIME I go back into that scene to edit, add or remove something, I note the date.

But why?

Because I often print out scenes – I find doing everything on screen quite tiring (especially as I use computers for my day job, for my business and my for degree as well).

So I like to print out scenes to scribble on notes, check errors and do editing. This way if I end up with more than one copy, I know which is the updated version – don’t want to be adding notes to an old version of the scene.

Also, by having the name of the scene repeated on each page whenever I accidentally drop a mass stack of scenes (happens more than I like to admit) I can piece them back together instead of holding several page 2s trying to figure out which page 1 they go with.

Desktops Should Be Clear(ish)

There is nothing nicer on a computer (other than fast broadband) than having a clear or mostly clear desktop. If you have your files organised then you shouldn’t need too much crap on your desktop.

Now obviously having all these folders and sub-folders within your Root Folder may be annoying, having to go into a folder, then a folder, then a folder just to save or work on something.

For that we use shortcuts!

Use Shortcuts not copies

I still see people now who put a copy of their working folder on their desktop then try and remember to copy it back to the original location. Why!? because they don’t understand the use of shortcuts.

If you are working on a specific novel and you will be going into that Project Folder a lot, or maybe just into the Scenes folder or the Scenes Folder… then you can put a shortcut to that on your desktop.

Very simple for those who don’t know – go to the folder you want, highlight by clicking on it once, right click and select Create Shortcut.

Image: Screenshot of how to create a Shortcut

It will probably dump the shortcut in the same folder. Shortcuts have this little arrow in the corner, that’s how you know it’s a shortcut. Simply cut and paste this shortcut folder onto your desktop.

Now every time you access folders through your shortcut, it will update the master copy in the other location without you having to trawl this folders and sub-folders each time.

Then when you have finished that novel and need to start another, simply delete the shortcut and create a new one from the next Project Folder.


As another method for quick access, you can also add folders to Favourites. Simply go into the folder you want in your favourites, then go over to your favourites, right click on the word favourites and click Add Current Location to Favourites.

Image: Screenshot how to mark folders as Favouriotes

How do you organise your writing digitally?

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I hope you found this useful. If you like my tutorials why not follow my blog (it will make me so happy!), I upload new posts on Fridays at 18:30 GMT (mostly) 🙂

Happy writing




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