Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Organization of Ideas

Hi. My name is Jen and I am a pantser.

In the world of NaNoWriMo, there are two basic types of writers: the plotters (who have cute story maps that take them neatly from November 1st all the way to the 30th) and the pantsers (who typically spend thirty days insanely chasing ideas around in circles with no idea of journey nor destination). It's pretty obvious where plotters get their name, but pantsers get theirs from flying by the seat of their pants...and/or running around making you think twice about those loose fitting sweatpants, no matter how comfortable they may be.

I, as previously stated, am a pantser.

Okay, so now why should you trust me with the topic of organizing ideas, or, frankly, with the state
a very VERY small selection of my writing books
of your pants?

Answer: you definitely should not. But anyone who writes and tells you there is one way to organize your ideas is selling something. If they are not, then they should be--I know plenty of fools willing to fork over some cash for a fool-proof method regarding idea organization.
I know because I am one of those fools.

For years now I've read magazine article after book after blog post about how best to turn a primordial soup of ideas into a solid, 300ish-page book of its own. I have a whole shelf of writing manuals on the matter, only a fraction of which I have actually read. The knowledge I have distilled is this:

Don't bother organizing if it doesn't seem to work. Likely, your story will veer off a cliff in defiance and you'll be devastated by the wreck at the foot of the stone wall instead of happily chugging along down a road that was never written down on any map.

Alternately, organize away. If you like scenic structure, and character development by formula, or writing in a poetic form then go ahead and count those syllables. I've tried a million different methods: one book is being recorded on index cards in a shoe box, one is written out of order as I research its historical setting, another is in a binder next to me, and in pieces on google drive.

This is what it looks like when I plot.
The left side, as you can tell, was abandoned rather quickly.
The one thing all these methods, and all my advice has in common: Save. Multiple. Copies.
Save your work in a million formats. Stick it on a thumb drive and hand it to your sister. Make sure that you can find your work at a moments notice. Check in on it every now and again. Give the documents titles you'll remember.

If you're using the index card method, make dividers. If Google drive is your friend, don't be afraid to compartmentalize.Additionally, whether you plan or pants, DO NOT BE AFRAID TO TAKE CHANCES, MAKE MISTAKES AND GET MESSY. This is the best advice the Magic School Bus ever inadvertently gave me on writing. The worst thing that can happen when exploring all avenues is that you'll find you don't like an idea, or that it leads down a dead end. And then you can abandon it and move on to what might have been your second instinct (or fifteenth)--but turns out to be your best idea yet!

I've been working on Starbuck now for almost five years, and my organizational methods have changed based on the point I'm at in the process as well as my personal preferences (now there's some alliteration for you). So at the end of the day, the method of organization doesn't particularly matter. What matters is that you do, in fact, organize.
Here are some of my favorite resources for literary organization:
  • David Seah's Productivity Tools David has created these great spreadsheets, agendas and planners that are helping me get through this month of Patreon and beyond! I found his site while looking for a tracker for NaNoWriMo, but I love the clean and unique looks of his other trackers as well. They come in especially handy to know how much one can do with small windows of time (say...a half hour lunch break?).
  • The Writer's Digest Website I've linked the search for "Organizing my Novel" here, but you can search for anything you can think of. I get the WD newsletters delivered right to my email, too, so that I get regular advice on writing and the writing life from a variety of freelancers and full-time pros.
  • The NaNoWriMo Forums I've trusted this particular collection of ideas with my brain for the last eight years, and it has never let me down. This is where you can easily lose track of time, though, so go in knowing what you need or be ready to look at the clock and realize two hours have disappeared.
Last but not least, don't be afraid to shift gears if something was working but isn't anymore. As I said, the only thing that really matters is that you try to organize. Projects the size of novels will not be accomplished in their entirety without some kind of forethought. 

What's your best organization advice re: writing? 

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