Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Frequent Flyer's Workspace

This Eee PC notebook is my writing desk, my book shelf, and my file cabinet. Such a tiny workspace—massive capacity for storage, plus an almost infinite potential for disorder. Here are some of my methods for keeping things tidy:

First comes the PROJECT FOLDER. I create a project folder for every idea I get, no matter how embryonic or sketchy or idle or impractical. (A number of these folders are nearly empty.)

As soon as an idea becomes an active project, the folder begins to fill up. I open files for individual scenes, chapters, sections, and (much later) full drafts. I also create auxiliary files, as I need them. Here are auxiliary files that appear in every project folder:

. I can be a ruthless self-editor, because when it comes to anything of size (or anything I particularly love), I never really delete. I dump, into the project's Dumps file. If I need to restore that passage later, or to adapt that apt image or bit of dialogue for some other use, it's there. Occasionally I skim through this file, the way one might go through one's discarded costume jewelry, in case some forgotten treasure suddenly looks fresh and useful.

Save the Cat. Here I build my story arc, using the template devised by Blake Snyder for his book of that name. For many reasons, which I'll blog about sometime, I find this story template the most useful ever.

Genre Elements. Here I list elements common to books I admire in the same genre and age range as my project. The list provides guidance when I'm structuring, and reminders and refreshers later on.

Threads. A sloppy, scribbly file where I track relationship or theme arcs.

Notes. Brainstorms and random thoughts, as well as all the critiques from readers along the way. As a project gets longer, this file turns into a bunch of files, with names like "Notes on 03 03 10," "Notes on Part I," and "Notes on the whole."

Synopsis. A running file of notes, sketches, and drafts of what will finally be the Synopsis. Similarly, I keep files named Query and Elevator Pitch.

Working Files. Frequently I isolate a short scene to work on it. I move it to an individual file with a name like "Working File spelling bee scene." Into it I paste all the notes and sketches that relate to the scene (from my Save the Cat outline, Threads file, and various Notes files). Somehow this way to see everything at once works better for me than opening a bunch of windows. Once the scene is polished to my liking, I copy it back to the main text file. Then I move the Working File into a NOTES ALREADY ENTERED sub-folder.

Which means it's time to describe the sub-folders that longer projects require:

NOTES ALREADY ENTERED. Here I store old Notes files, after I've entered or rejected all the notes in them. (To make sure I don't overlook any notes, I score through each after I deal with it.) I also keep old Working Files here . . . just in case. (Have I mentioned my addiction to revising? And my fear of losing data, even though I back everything up thrice?) When the project is finished, the last file to move to this folder would be Dumps.

RESEARCH. In research-light projects, this might be a single file, not a sub-folder. I scan, cut-and-paste, or just type stuff in. (Of course, I use actual books, too, but most of them belong to libraries.)

SUBMITS. Immutable files of any samples I've submitted for critiques or contests.

OLD DRAFTS. Now and then a project changes so radically that I need this sub-folder so I don't confuse the old stuff from the new.


  1. Susan, I wish I could be so organized with my computer. Thanks for the great tips on how your organize your projects.

  2. Thanks for these tips on organizing files, Susan. I've already grabbed a few ideas (love the dump file).
    I'm really enjoying getting to see how people work!

  3. Susan, now I believe my son may have been correct when he told me my workstation resembled chaos. Your organization style reminds me a bit of Jenny's, albeit on the computer. I think I'll try to incorporate some of your ideas... although I'm not giving up on printing out hard copies of my work.

  4. Dave, some folks work best in chaos. I careen between entropy and order. Every week or two, I have to spend a few minutes making sure recent new files are saved to their proper sub-folders. And I too have old hard copies--including three long attic file drawers with scripts of mine and DB's. Haven't opened those drawers in years....