I’ve heard a lot of good things about Scrivener, the writing software from Literature and Latte. I downloaded a trial version while I was doing NaNoWriMo, but I didn’t want to get into nuts and bolts of it while I was trying to concentrate on writing, so I let it expire.

What I did manage to do during the crazy month of writing was organize my files, which were in a hopeless mess, scattered all over my hard drive, scenes and revised scenes stuck in folders and in Dropbox and who knows where else.

We won’t talk about the state of my closet. Let’s just say a messy mind is a creative mind, and leave it at that.

We won’t talk about the state of my closet. Let’s just say a messy mind is a creative mind, and leave it at that.

But I realized I couldn’t write another word in my half completed novel (I cheated at NaNo. Sue me.) until I figured out what I already had, and had a good idea of what order the scenes were in.

First, a note about my writing process: I tend not to write chapters; I write scenes instead, later lumping two or three scenes together into chapters as I see fit. I start a new file in Word every time I start a new scene, and if I revise a scene significantly, I start yet another file (sometimes three or four for each scene). When a scene has been polished to almost perfection, I insert it into a master file, after which it becomes pretty much fixed in my mind as part of the finished novel.

I end up with lots and lots of files, some with names that indicate what’s happening in the scene: “Margery library.docx” for instance. I know at a glance what happens in that scene, i.e. file. But sometimes I number the files, so “NH8.1.docx” with NH being the initials of the working title, and the .1 indicating it’s the first revision of that scene. (I was trying to be way too cute there.) With those scenes, I have no idea what’s in them months later.

So, the first weekend of NaNo, I spent some time organizing my files, reading what I’d written, and making an all-important Timeline (in a Word file called “Timeline.docx”). I hesitate to use the word “outline” but that’s basically what it is, a chapter by chapter, scene by scene breakdown, with just enough description of the scenes so that I can instantly remember what the scene is about. I found Word’s color coding to be an enormous help here. I added the file name in turquoise blue after the scene description, so that I knew exactly which file contained the latest version of that scene. For scenes that needed to be written or extensively re-written, I added a bright yellow note: “insert library scene where Margery confesses”. As the writing went on, I identified scenes which actually had some conflict (yay!) and highlighted the word “conflict” in purple.

For my subplot, I can highlight scenes with the name of the character it involves, which helps me know when I’ve neglected my subplot (which it turns out I have).

I also took advantage of a new Mac OS trick, using color coded Tags to sort my files. Every file related to the current WIP got tagged with a purple tag labeled “MS” (for manuscript). I don’t know if non-MacOS computers offer such a tool, but now I can see all my WIP files—no matter which folder they’re in—at the click of a button. I can also label “research” notes a different color, and label other writing projects with yet other colors.

I need to approach my writing day in a happy state of mind, instead of a state of dread, which is what I had before I organized my files.

As an inherently unorganized person, this is the best I can do to keep my files from getting out of hand without spending money—and more importantly, time—on learning new software. The color coding seems to be key, for me. It’s a well known trick that adding color to notes or tasks can help you remember them. Kids can learn to clean up their rooms using color coded bins—blocks in the purple bin, Barbies in the pink bin, Legos in the green bin, etc.

Like a kid who hates to clean up her room, I’ve discovered color coding my files makes cleaning them up easier and, most importantly, it makes me happy. And I need to approach my writing day in a happy state of mind, instead of a state of dread, which is what I had before I organized my files.

If nothing else, NaNo forced me to get my files organized. Now if only writing were as easy as marking a file with a purple tag.

4 Comments on The poor man’s Scrivener, or, how I learned to organize my writing files

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    July 24, 2014 at 5:28 pm (10 years ago)

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