Here’s something most people don’t know about me. I LOVE to make lists. I like the process of adding things to blank lines and watching the paper fill up with necessities on my current subject of interest. Grocery lists, To-Do lists, Chore lists, Gift lists, Scene lists…it gives me a thrill to see it all organized. (Yes, I said the terrible “O” word.) And for a lady who thrives on chaos, this is a pretty weird quirk, if I do say so myself.
But here’s the clincher.
As much as I love to make lists, I almost immediately lose them or throw them away because they become obsolete. I’ve discovered recently that when I make lists, they aren’t meant to be absolutes. (Except maybe grocery lists.) In my mind, lists are possibilities that my brain needs to get down before it loses its train of thought.
Alright, you say. That’s not so bad.
HA. Now take that concept and drop it into Writing a Book.
Do you even fathom how many reams of paper I’ve chucked over the years because of this awful habit? How many notebooks I’ve filled and then recycled? Whole forests have died for my cause! It’s awful! And now that I’m trying to organize myself to be a productive and thorough writer, this method of organization just isn’t cutting it. I can write down scene after scene in a beautifully organized list but as soon as another possibility comes up I start from square one again. It’s an endless cycle that is the direct opposite of what I want to do and be.
As always, when I’m in a rut I turn to the internet and read articles and blogs about how other writers do it. Some I’ve tried for myself: The index cards on the wall, the timeline, the writer’s journal, the poster board, the snowflake method…none of them ever seemed right for me. It doesn’t help me get organized and motivated to work. I talked my dear friend Owen’s ears off about this and he grew smart enough to just say “I don’t know what to tell you Jess. You’ll figure it out.”
At the time I thought he was just tired and irritated with me whining at him but was just being polite about it. I realized though that it was the best advice (as usual. He’s amazingly intuitive.) I need to find my own way. Something personal to me that I can easily segue into my natural routine.
And so began the Journey to the Center of my Head. Left Brain Activate!!
When I started to really think about my problem with organization the first thing that came up was “reminders”. I write lists as reminders for everything, even though they’re subject to change. When I write my stories, I easily get lost in the details. I get overwhelmed with the thought of writing subplots and minor characters and emotional arcs and foreshadowing that I forget the BIG PICTURE. Things like, why am I writing this book? What’s the purpose? Who am I writing this for? What’s the theme of the story?
Getting back down to basics.
I realized I needed a sheet of paper exactly for this purpose. Something to look at every time I sit down and crack open my word document (or my file folder, depending on what is needed). I need to make it part of my ritual to remind myself of the story and also why I’m writing at all. Ya know, for those days where I want to table flip because everything is crap and my writing is crap.
The second thing that bubbled up almost immediately was the need for character interviews. Something more than just a one page Bio that I could reference and remind myself how each one is supposed to talk and react. A questionnaire that each character answers in their own tone with their own personality. It’s actually a lot of fun when you start out writing to do a Myers-Briggs test on your character. You get to slip into their shoes for a minute and really flesh out their personalities. You can also do the same thing with Horoscopes as a writing tool or Name origins. (I love characterization so I go whole hog into figuring them out. This one isn’t a chore for me.)
The third thing I figured might be a good idea is having a basic story structure for the scene layouts. (Ha. Yes.) Scenes that REALLY need to be written that are the foundation of the story. Again, with a list. How I love lists! Of course, these usually aren’t the problem for me. It’s weaving the subplots and arc altogether into a cohesive entertaining read.
This to me, needs the most work for my writing routine because it’s not just a matter of ready, set, go with plot and characters and stuff. It’s also a matter of incorporating “the Rules” of writing. Like, no character should exit or enter a scene in a neutral mood. Make them better or worse than they were. Then there’s the rule that every scene should have a purpose in either moving plot/ characters forward or give a sense of scene. Duh…who wants to read filler? Get on with it!! And then there’s the delicate inclusion of the subplots. How much is too much? How to I braid them into each other without making the subplot give away too much or become too important? There’s SO MUCH TO REMEMBER when writing a scene it drives me nuts and I quit before I even start.
Yeah, I know, I know. This is all what editing is for. But before that can happen I have to write a rough draft. And before that can happen I need to get organized and then I come back to the lists….see the vicious cycle? I do think I’ve come up with a solution for this dilemma however. I wish I had Excel because it would make my life a lot easier but that’s just not in the budget right now to buy Microsoft office. So I’m going to make my own hard copy of Excel using index cards and baseball card protectors.
Yup, you heard me.Er…read me.
I need a system that will allow me to see all the scenes spread out in order and make them easy to move around at will. This also won’t break the budget and make me kill forests with all the paper I’m wasting making lists. I also bought myself some color coordinating high lighters for the index cards so I can highlight the main plot and the subplots and when a new character appears. And eventually I want to figure out something for characters too. Maybe use stickers or something. Shiny ones. Mmmm shiny….
But so far, this is what I’ve come up with for organizing my stories. I’m excited to try to make it work and see if it suits me. I know it’s going to take some trial and error so I’ve decided to use books that have already been written as a practice model. I’m so proud my myself for finally coming up with my OWN solution! I’m such a mockingbird in all things organization that creating something like this (even if it’s not exactly re-inventing the Wheel) really makes me motivated to write again. I feel mentally ready to give it a good heave-ho and I have the determination to finish. I have at least one person who supports me with my writing (Thank you my dear Owen) and that’s a start.
I taped a picture of my daughters to the wall beside my bed. I want them to be my motivation to write and become published so 1) they’ll know I achieved my dreams through hard work and patience and 2) I want them to know you CAN be successful living your dream (at least I hope that’ll be true for us). If I can buy a house for them by living my dream then I really see no down side.
I just have to get it going and NOT GIVE UP.
How do YOU organize when you write or start a new project? Let me know! Having comments excites me!! 😀