It seems like I have a gazillion files laid out when I write a book, I have a file each for most characters, where I put snippets as a character develops in my mind, things I want to remember about them, and even whole scenes that will take place later on – I have several notes files, one for later notes – things somewhere in the distance – and one for immediate notes, and yet another one for dumped notes, which contain things I have discarded but hang onto, just in case I need them after all.
It all sounds very complicated, but it actually enables me to keep my working area clear. It’s very hard to organize something into place when it is surrounded by threads and scenes that, for one reason or another, may have to be shifted. If you don’t watch out, everything becomes entangled with everything else and you can’t move as a writer. Been there, done that, as the saying goes.
I don’t know how it works for you, but I have found that it saves a lot of time and effort if I keep everything separate.
Now, just because I’ve got all those files, it doesn’t mean I have them all open at once. I don’t. I actually work with only two of them, the manuscript itself and my immediate notes. As the time approaches for scenes I have already written to go in, I gather them together. I know who it is about, so I know where to get them from, and they get sent into the immediate file, where things are set out in roughly the right order. I also do most of my preliminary writing in the notes file rather than the manuscript.
From there, it gets lifted and fitted into the manuscript, usually a chunk at a time, then smoothed and polished into place. Whenever I read through my work, it is only the manuscript that I go over because that’s the end product, that’s what readers will be looking at.
If a rewrite has to happen, I’ll clear that whole segment, usually back into the immediate notes file or (if it’s pretty definite) the dump file, where it will sit until I either find a use for it or know for sure I don’t need it anymore, in which case it gets deleted. All my hacking and my slash-and-burns happen in the immediate notes file, with the occasional burn-off in the manuscript itself.
When I finish a book, all those character and notes files should be empty. Of course, that’s never the case, but anything worthwhile that still in there get transferred to the next book along, or whichever one is suitable to take it. I already have a bunch of files and notes for book 4, for instance (the book beyond the one I am working on now), and – to a lesser degree – books 5 and 6.
Things will pop into my head out of place, meaning I’ll find myself thinking about the wrong book, but none of it goes to waste.
Not everything is written in advance, though, and the gaps will show as I draw the bits together to go into the manuscript, and that’s where I have to knuckle down and link scenes properly and weave the threads into something that makes sense.
All this organization developed, I didn’t set out this way. In the beginning, I’d just muddle through, although I learned early on that a book is not written from start to finish. You work your main areas which, threaded together, becomes the plot, after which the rest of it gets added – links and details and padding. I started to keep different files, more so I wouldn’t lose the information that I had to set aside while putting the main story together, but even that became messy. As these extra files grew to enormous size (sometimes hundreds of pages long), it became harder to locate what I wanted – I may as well have left the lot in the manuscript.
So, a few years ago, I broke up one such fat file into individual character files, and suddenly it was working for me. A solution!
This method is probably listed somewhere as sage advice in some writing-how-to manual, but I never read those, so this I had to bump into by myself.
Do all writers have to find out the hard way? Tell me I’m not alone…
A great day/evening to everyone.