Moving In: Settling into a Big Project

I’ve got a project in mind.  It’s a big project.  It’s a novel.

In my head, I’m a quarter through.  On paper, I’m at zero.

I always stumble when it comes to setting up my organizational scheme, or, as I think of it, moving into the project.  The idea and overall organization is like a house.  When working, you’re going to enter it, rearrange the furniture, live in it for a while, and then leave, closing the door behind you when each writing or thinking session ends.

That’s the thing–writing isn’t just writing.  Writing is thinking, mapping, researching, and drawing.  And all of these components need a home to fit into.  They need separate rooms.

There are three major ways that writers like to organize themselves, but these are by no means the only ways.  Books on writing can suggest more, and some searching on the Internet could provide more, too, but here are the pros and cons of the three most popular.

1. An Internet-based or computer-program based system.  For my Master’s thesis, I used Scrivener, which helped me immensely.  There, I could store links to articles, files from my computer (for example, in case I had scanned a hard-copy article), drafts of my work, “Post-its,” and so forth.  Everything had a distinct place, and I could even do my writing from within the program if I so desired.  It took a little getting used to, however, and it made me nervous that perhaps something would get lost, even though I could back it up.  They layout was fun and approachable, and it was great for someone not-so-organized, like me.

2. A binder-based system.  This system is based on paper, hard copies.  This is great for someone who prefers to write out their work or to print it out after typing.  For this system, you’d need at least one very well-organized notebook.  One could use several notebooks, in fact: one for chapters, one for research, and one for ideas.  You need to be a highly-organized, type-A personality in order for this to work.

3. Note cards and Post-its.  Writers love these because they can be easily rearranged on a wall or corkboard.  What I don’t like about this is that I tend to lose these papers and I tend to run out of room when writing character or scene descriptions on them.  This method may be best used for organizing the final product later in the writing process.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure you’ve got room for flexibility.  Ideas change, but you’ll want to keep your original ideas on hand in case you decide to go back.  Always save every draft separately, again because you may decide to move backward at some point.  This would be like painting the rooms in your house of organization and then painting them back the same color–keep the old paint!

For my project, I’m going to work with Scrivener again and probably keep a notebook as well.  I like to print out my work so that I can proof it in hard copy and articles in case links change.  I’m interested in saving paper, though, so I don’t want to print everything.  As far as the note cards go, Scrivener offers me a virtual option for those.  I’ll try it again and keep you updated on my progress!

Please let me know what you choose and how your projects go, too!

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About Em-dash Lady

Em-dash Lady enjoys creative writing most of all, but her interests include art forms from music to writing to visual art to indie films and so forth. She's especially interested in how the art forms influence each other and blend together. She's a creative writing teacher and writer who mostly writes memoir and poetry about her favorite activity, watching TV. I would say I'm kidding, but I'm not. Naps are also her favorite. Too many favorites to count! Enjoy following Em-dash Lady as she figures out how she fits in the ever-evolving world of art.
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