Some lessons I’m learning along the writing path:
1. Create a Master Plan Document: This is a living, breathing, evolving document. It contains a Daily Writing Log, plus my plot outline, key pivot points, and a brief summary of each chapter.
2. Keep a Daily Writing Log: For the sake of simplicity, I put it at the top of the Master Plan. The log documents each writing session by date and time. Nothing elaborate here, just a few quick notes of what I hope to accomplish and how my thinking/writing is evolving. It’s a narrative history of how the book is being created. I can easily find my place because in all caps and in big, bold, bright red lettering I put the words, THIS IS WHERE I AM NOW. I just scroll down until I see red (so to speak) and then add the next entry.
3. Keep Track of Changes: As the story unfolds, the chapters in my Master Plan change, but rather than obliterating the old, I merely add the new information along with the date I made the change. By doing this, I’m creating and preserving the history of how the story evolved.
4. Create a New Folder for Each Draft: “Fast Track,” my first novel, had 14 Draft Folders. My new book, “Bluff,” which has just been released, contains 8 Draft Folders. For “Troubled Water,” the novel I’m working on right now, I’ve just begun Draft #2.
5. Give Each Chapter a Name: Each Draft Folder contains the individual chapters – a separate file for each chapter. Numbering them keeps them in their proper order (1.1, 2.1 etc. For the second draft, the numbering sequence is 1.2, 2.2 etc.) But just as important as numbering, is giving your chapters titles. I don’t mean a title that will ever see the light of day in your book – it’s merely a memory prod so you know at a glance what’s contained in the chapter. This way, you don’t have to keep opening files later to find what you’re looking for. (NOTE: Chapter numbers and titles may change from draft to draft because you’ll probably be making lots of alterations, including reordering the sequence of things and breaking big chapters into several smaller ones.)
I find that it’s more efficient to write the novel straight through rather than continuing to loop back to make each sentence perfect. Why? Because it gives me a sense of accomplishment — a realization that I can actually do it. It’s purely psychological, the thinking being, “if I’ve already ‘finished’ the book, then the rest of my time is spent merely tweaking it.”
Knowing up front that the first draft will suck takes the pressure off. The first draft serves mainly as exploration. As I write my third novel, I’m discovering that while my Master Outline has given me the story’s scaffolding – the big picture – by writing individual chapters I’m, in effect, zooming in for a close-up in which new, and often unexpected, characters sashay on stage. Some of the chapters consist almost entirely of dialogue – almost no tags, no action, no description. That will come in subsequent drafts. For now, I’m just writing as fast as I can what I see in my head.
My way of staying organized is certainly NOT the only way, so I think we’d all benefit to hear what works (and doesn’t work) for you.