Saturday, November 21, 2009

Technical Topics -- Organizing the Manuscript

I cannot imagine a more boring topic.

How do I handle the sheer overwhelming mass of research, multiple drafts, out-takes, backups and so on
that constitute a novel?

ETA:  This is SO boring I put it all below the fold.

1. I create a folder with the story name -- MAGGIE.

2. Into that, I put a document called Working Draft of MAGGIE.doc.

This is the master document.
The important one.

This is the latest and most real copy of the manuscript. Every important change is in here and it's all up to date.When I submit, I take the submission copy from this working draft.

3. I create a folder named Old Copies of MAGGIE.

This is where I keep all the important backups

Every night when I close the machine down -- sometimes more often -- I copy the Working Draft of MAGGIE and save it as a document named
or whatever.

This Maggie/date document is put into the folder named Old Copies of Maggie where it will be safe and happy.
I also send that Maggie112109.doc to myself at gmail as a backup.

4. What else?

I create a document called Reference Copy of MAGGIE.doc.

I love my Reference Copy

This is where I store factoids.
This Reference Copy document is a fairly complete, but not fanatically up-to-date draft of the manuscript.

I go to where the factoid is needed. I add a few key words, if they are not already in the manuscript. I toss in the URL or book and page number that will let me get back to the reference again.

This makes it so easy to check on what the weather is like on July 1 or the phase of the moon. Search 'moon' in the reference document and there is my URL for all the moonphases.

5. I create a document called Bits and Pieces of Maggie October.doc

This is for writing that is too good to throw away.
Or the variants of a scene that I'm rewriting.

6. I create a folder named INFO and put useful bits of research there.

This is my research, kept handy.
Value of Money.doc
or Gypsies.doc
or Police Procedures.doc.

7. Then I create a folder named DRAFT ONE.

This is where I break the writing down into scenes.
I give myself a separate folder for each scene.

The folders are named after the action of the scene. They are numbered in the order in which I expect the scenes to appear.

I name these folders with the number first so they line up neatly in order.

Scene 3 Adrian gets caught picking a pocket
Scene 3a Everybody has breakfast at the chopshop
Scene 4 Justine and Adrian get some nooky
Scene 6 The donkey scene

I don't put them in order, really, till I have the basic outline of the plot. Then I can go back and rename the files so they all line up neatly.

Even way far along in the writing I can add new scenes. A new scene can become 19b, (following 19 and before 20.)
I can pull a scene out and we have a hiatus.

8. Ok. I have a folder for every scene.
The first thing I put into each folder is a working draft document for the scene.

I do most of my work in these working draft of the scenes.

So I'll be writing along in Working draft of Adrian gets caught picking.doc.

It will be in the folder 'Scene 3 Adrian gets caught picking a pocket'.

I can create lots of useful files and variants of this scene and tuck them all into this same folder.

Working draft of Breakfast.doc
goes into the folder
'Scene 3a Everybody has breakfast at the chophouse'

Sometimes I work in the main document --
Working Draft of Maggie.doc.

Sometimes I work in a scene --
Working draft of Beakfast.doc

But in the end, when I make significant progress on a scene, or I have a scene right,
I take it upstairs and insert it into Working Draft of Maggie.doc

What does this look like?

When you open my working area up, I go to the great big MAGGIE folder.

There's just a few things in it.
It looks like:

... Bits and Pieces of Maggie October.doc
... INFO
... Reference Copy of Maggie.doc
... Working Draft of MAGGIE.doc

When all the parts get expanded, you can see where everything lives.

... Bits and Pieces of Maggie October.doc
... DRAFT ONE [Secondary Folder]
... ..... Scene 1 Doyle and Adrian in the Boat [Tertiary Folder]
... ..... .... Info on Boats.doc
... ..... .... D and A Boat100909.doc
... ..... .... D and A Boat100909b.doc
... ..... .... D and A Boat100909c.doc
... ..... .... D and A Boat102109.doc
... ..... .... D and A Boat1108909.doc
... ..... .... Working draft of D and A in Boat.doc
... ..... Scene 2 Justine trips
... ..... .... Rough notes on Justine trips.doc
... ..... .... Justine Trips110909.doc
... ..... .... Justine Trips111209.doc
... ..... .... Justine Trips111309.doc.
... ..... .... Justine Trips111409.doc
... ..... .... Notes on Justine Trips
... ..... .... Working Draft of Justine Trips.doc
... ..... Scene 3 The Trampoline
... ..... Scene 3a More Work on the Boat
... ..... .... Notes on Working the Boat
... ..... Scene 3b Adrian gets caught picking a pocket
... ..... Scene 3c Everybody has breakfast at the chophouse
... ..... .... Notes on chophouse description
... ..... .... Working draft of Everybody has breakfast.doc
... ..... Scene 4 Justine and Adrian get some nooky
... ..... .... Miscellaneous language for lovescene.doc
... ..... .... Working draft of Nooky One
... ..... Scene 6 The donkey scene
... ..... Scene etc
... INFO
... ..... Gypsies.doc
... ..... Police Procedures.doc
... ..... Value of Money.doc
... .... Bits and Pieces of Maggie July
... .... Bits and Pieces of Maggie August
... .... Bits and Pieces of Maggie September
... ..... Maggie090809.doc
... ..... Maggie090909.doc
... ..... Maggie090909a.doc
... ..... Maggie090909b.doc
... ..... Maggie0910809.doc
... ..... Maggie091109,doc
... Reference Copy of Maggie.doc
... Working Draft of MAGGIE.doc

It's a logical organization for me. I know where everything is and can find it easily. The important document -- The Working Draft -- remains in a commanding position. I always have a place to make notes and leave them directly next to the scene in which they will appear.


  1. *blinks*

    Wow. Um... Wow.

    I think my brain my hurt a little now. :-)

  2. I know.
    You just open up a word document and write.


  3. Holy cow. You must have an incredibly logical and organized brain. I don't think I could ever keep track of so many documents. I have a hard enough time holding on to various threads.

    Good luck finishing Maggie. I just finished ML&SM and can't wait for Maggie to land on the bookshelves!

  4. That is really cool! It's almost exactly like what I do, with the folders and the research and the links and the gmail backups, etc. - except I could never have so many different files for scenes; it'd drive me crazy seeing that many documents in a folder, no matter how organized. You can tell when I'm really, finally, actually, nearing the end of a novel cos I start storing everything on CD and clearing out all the folders on the computer. Everything becomes nice and empty again waiting for the next wip.
    So excited for Maggie!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I feel a sense of satisfaction when all my little folders for scenes are laid out in front of me.

    I guess it's like a contractor looking over the work site. He has a spot roped off for each sort of building material and he knows where everything is. He can see at a glance what's arrived and what hasn't.

    For me, the scene folders divide the vast chaos of story into manageable chunks.

    The folders start out empty, the same way the contractor's yard would start out empty before the deliveries began.

    I work chronologically. But lots of times i 'see' a scene that's going to come much later in the story.
    Because I have a 'scene folder', I can dream up words for any scene and throw them down in a document called 'wording Justine learning to pick pockets'.
    I have a folder to drop that document into. The document has a physical and logical home.

    When, six months later, I finally sit down to write the pickpocketing scene -- I open up the folder and there is everything -- all the versions I've dreamed up in the last six months, all the nifty wording that relates to the scene, the 1830 police accounts of pickpocketing I found on the web, four images of period change purses, my notes on what this says about the characters and how it fits into Justine's backstory. Later, this folder will hold old versions of the scene and bits and pieces related to the scene that I might want to salvage.

    These useful documents haven't been kicking around loose all this time. They've had a neat box to live in. And now that I need this stuff, everything is there, together.

    I run 50 or 60 scenes per book. (This ends up at 40+ chapters, in 110,000 words.) So that's 50+ FOLDERS, which I suppose could be a little overwhelming.

    But the folders, because they're NUMBERED, line up in the order they appear in the story. I do my actual writing chronological so it's relatively easy to click through to where I'm 'working' and write up the next scene.

  7. @ Katrina --

    Thank you so much for the kind words.

    I'm too buffle-headed to keep everything straight in one long document. The manuscript might stretch out as long as 130,000 or 140,000 words at its most bloated.

    I find this overwhelming.

    I DO work with the document in this form after the early draft is completed. I have to. But I miss the simplicity of those 2000- and 3000- and 4000- word scenes. So much easier to see the 'shape' and 'form' of them in isolation.

    And WORD is not zippy when the document gets over 100K words. WORD gets glitchy and annoys me.

    That is to say, it annoys me more than usual.

  8. Anonymous10:18 PM

    Back to the crunch issue--salad? Cornichons? Or slightly underdone green beans?
    I am hosting 18 and one of them is bringing an israeli salad with matzah--very crunchy but not for everyone.

  9. Green beans is a thought. I had the most lovely green beans a few nights ago at a Chinese restaurant.

    I think they may have been steamed and then lightly sauteed in oil. Bit of garlic probably.


  10. I am in awe.

    Also, I know this is a separate issue, but please tell me you do proper backup of all this? Online and physical and so on?

  11. Ya know --

    This is hard to describe, but it's real easy to do. And it means you don't have little snips and snaps of writing lying about underfoot.

    I send the manuscript to myself through gmail. Frequently.

    I should maybe do a backup on a thumb drive too ...

  12. You should also look into getting automatic backup. I use which is free so long as you don't use too much space (if you use it to back up photos and so on, it'll start costing). And yes, use a thumb drive or an external hard drive, too. As many different locations, separated physically and electronically will minimise the risks.

  13. I will think about this. Gmail makes me feel fairly secure.

    There are generally only a few dozen working files that I absolutely must keep.