Friday, 25 September 2009

Friday Coffee

Good morning all. We’ve got all the usual teas and coffees and this week Husband has even shown me how to use the coffee machine. Daughter, bless her, has made cup cakes. Help yourself: they are in the fridge. Thai icing bears an uncanny resemblance to liberally sweetened shaving foam so we made them with butter icing…but it’s too warm to leave them out over the course the day.

Procrastinating, getting sidetracked or downright avoidance: they’re all occupational hazards of writing. When I look back at my first eighteen months with the Novel Racers I let lots of thing preoccupy me other than the writing.

Among these were the practicalities of writing; the admin, if you like. Not how to string words together to make a sentence but the how to organise my folders and documents on my computer. I lost a lot of time to this.

I heard the names of Scrivener and Novel Novelist being bandied about… I even bought Novel Novelist, hoping that it was the magic fairy I needed. I didn’t really figure out how to use it and ended up back with Word. But I still stressed about it. Should I have a document per chapter? Or have one large document for the whole thing. Are there technical implications here? Is a large document more likely to crash than a smaller one?

In the end it was the mentoring that saved me from further shilly shallying (oh in so many ways.) 10k of words was the amount that I sent to my mentor and I’ve continued with that since I finished my six sessions. They are just about manageable chunks. I have a document per 10k words, named PoliteLiesSection1 or 2 or 8 as in the one I’m working on now.

Of course, I should’ve asked these questions a long time ago, in order to stop myself procrastinating, but I’m still interested to know how you manage the practical side of writing your novel. How do you organise what is an unwieldy beast? Do you use writing software, or stick to something simpler? What about documents, files and folders? I can’t be the only one with disorganised folders full of chaos, surely?

23 comments:

B said...

Morning! I made cakes last night for a Macmillan coffee morning at work today - can't wait for it to start this morning so I can try one :)

I'm really looking forward to the answer to this one. I just have a mess of folders with word documents, so I look forward to hearing from whoever has The Magical Solution :)

Cathy said...

Ooh I'd love coffee and a cupcake please...for breakfast, how decadent!

I keep a folder for my novel in which I use one large document for the text, which I back up religiously. However I do review and edit it after approximately every 10,000 words and rename the file at that point, keeping the older versions too. So if one file were to meet a disaster I would hopefully only have lost the last 10,000 words. This is probably similar to your method, JJ?

Notes and planning I tend to write by hand in a notebook. I keep a separate notebook for each major project. But some research documents are also in Word documents in the folder for my novel.

But I guess everyone should just do what suits them best?

Fia said...

Good question JJ.

As I am disorganisated by nature, I have to try to organise my writing or I'm lost.

I write a short outline, then a long outline and then break that down into scenes - no chapters. So for my current WIP,I have 60 scenes - one sentence for each so I can easily find where I should be. I print out two hours work a day - approx 1K, email it to myself, back up laptop (having lost a few short stories, I'm takin no chances and then I follow the Captain's advice: back up,back up.

I kind of did this with the first novel but I made one huge error, I didn't start with my characters. They come before any plan, outline, synopsis...:)

liz fenwick said...

First sorry I missed last week's coffee....

I am still on the learning curve here but I think I have found what works for me. In the past I wrote one whole word doc which was fine but unwieldy (spelling?).

Now having heard Jill mansell say that she doesn't write in chapter but write through then break into chapters only when it is complete so that she can see where the cliff hangers fall so to speak - at least that's what I think she said.

So for the latest book I have just written straight through only using three stars to mark new scenes. I have also opened a new word document when I hit roughly 20-30k which makes back up and saving easier and also stops the tempation to go back(which i won't allow myself to do in the first draft). This feels right to me. I'm happy with Word because i know it - which might be lazy...

Great topic JJ.

I will post the new coffee rota on Tuesday - which is late but only then will I be back on line on my own puter...sorry.
lx

Annieye said...

Just about got time to grab a coffee before work. Oh, go on then, I'll just have one cupcake (no willpower!).

I, too have some messy files on my laptop. To save my precious WIPs I leave one copy on the hard drive, download one to a memory stick and e-mail a copy to myself at work after each editing session. The novels are organised with one main folder for each novel in which I keep everything to do with that particular book, including large files of various versions of the book called '1st edit', '2nd edit' and so on. The other folders, though, are a messy medley of various bits and pieces, although I do have one folder entitled 'Short Stories' most of which have never seen the light of day, let alone been subbed anywhere!

I have a cardboard box where I put all handwritten scraps of paper and receipts for ink cartridges, postage, train tickets and printer paper (in case I miraculously manage to get published and can claim the expenses back against tax) and a ring binder of handwritten character outlines and photocopied bits and pieces for each book.

(By the way - I do have permission to store my WIPs on the work server as back up. The IT manager at the Council reckons they are pretty safe, although did recommend password protecting them so that they can't be read by anyone.)

Karen said...

I'll have a big mug of tea and twelve cupcakes please :o)

Reading the comments makes me think I SHOULD be more organised! I have just one large document, written in chapters (which seem to fall about every 3000 words) which I edit daily, download to memory stick and email to myself as back-up each evening - and that's about it!

I have many other procrastination techniques though ...

Debs said...

Good morning. Those cupcakes sounds very tempting, so I'll definately want one.

I have a folder for each novel and subfolders in that for each draft -such a draft queen. I download final versions (you must know how many I have of these).

Each draft is saved onto a memory stick and then worked on on my laptop, so the computer and laptop have the same version, supposedly, but I have stupidly edited part of one draft and part of another - don't ask - and ended up in a right mess.

Lane said...

Morning all. Good question JJ and very timely as I battle with my folders.

I have one big file for the WIP which I scroll back and forth through, noticeably shortening my scrolling finger. I tried putting each chapter in a different folder and that may be helpful for the editing stage but at the moment I need the continuity of the entire beast on the screen.

I downloaded Y Writer a while back but never used it. Anyone else found it useful?

Thanks for the cupcakes jj's daughter. Delish:-)

Helen said...

Oh my God JJ if you could only see my files. They're a nightmare. I need some sort of writing housekeeper to come and sort me out.

I was actually looking at my laptop files last night thinking I should sort them out. I have ficiton writing, non fiction, student stuff, ideas stuff. It's a mess.

For writing my novel though I do use ywriter and although I haven't had a look around everythign it does I do find it incerdibly useful. I can see how many chapters I have (this doesn't have to be the real chapters as I like what Liz said about writing through) but is more psychological (sp?)where I feel I've done with that and moved on to a different scene or section.

But JJ you certainly aren't alone. I often wonder how other writers organise themselves.

Flowerpot said...

Morning all. The sun is shining here in Cornwall and it looks grrrreat! But back to work - I have a folder for each novel and within that is the main document file (backed up every day onto a stick) and all the other files necessary - character breakdowns, plot, synopsis, additional thoughts, etc. That seems to work for me. I could t cope with anything complicated!

HelenMHunt said...

I've toyed with the idea of software such as Y-Writer but I know I'd spend more time getting tangled in a knot with it than I would writing - so I stick to Word.

I save each chapter as a separate document. Just because that's what makes sense in my head and I don't like scrolling up and down huge documents. I save the whole thing to a memory stick and email chapters to myself as I finish working on them. Despite this, I still panicked horribly and thought I was going to lose the whole thing when my computer crashed a few weeks ago.

I would love to be more organised and think I will have to become so as I progress with the editing stage. Great question, glad it's not just me that worries about this stuff.

Kate Lord Brown said...

Morning all - well as my hard drive has crashed this week taking everything with it, I'll be backing up regularly from now on :) I tried 'New Novelist' software a couple of years ago but didn't like being told what to do. Each wip has a Word file, a box file and a lever arch. Any scribbled notes (you know how those ideas come at just the wrong time when you are driving or making the kids' tea?) go in the box file along with images, research, bulky things. I write long hand to start with and gradually the notes make their way from the file to the lever arch to the computer ... So yes the admin does take me ages (and don't get me started on the hours you can waste in stationery shops ...:)

Kate Harrison said...

Oh, cupcakes! Yum!

Like most of us, I am always looking for some new revolutionary way to get organised/write faster and better/change my routine. Most of the software I've looked at actually seems like more of a distraction than anything else and though I have tried Post It note wall charts and the rest, if I am honest, I must confess that most of it is pure procrastination.

I have folders on my laptop for each project - when the book is copy-edited it moves into Work - Previous which is in a larger folder of Writing (including Reference, Journalism, Courses, Events etc). I create a sub-folder for each draft, then one for research and one for character profiles etc (though I am planning my third book in a series, my 'trequel', so it's less of an issue now as I know them quite well).

For the current WIP itself I have a master document that helps a lot - basically a grid I've developed for my own use which has a list of characters and ages, with anything vital I might forget next to them (one line only per character), a list of locations, and then the blurb I wrote for my editor to convince her this would be the next book she wanted from me...

Then the grid itself has chapter number, viewpoint (as my books tend to be multiple POV), location and date of chapter, and then a brief summary of what happens - as I write, I'll update the plan with what actually happened. Then as I edit I'll do a new version with suggested changes and ideas in red, or notes like 'what's the point of this chapter?!'

This time I've also bought a small portable exercise book with about 40 pages where I can brainstorm as I do that better with pen and paper than on screen. I am trying to be as minimalist as possible, though I will also get a plastic file for cuttings and so on.

Was tempted by this post about lots of new software today though:
http://mashable.com/2009/09/16/write-novel/ - especially the Facebook style app.

Kate Harrison said...

Oh, and I have the WIP as one long document so I can search it easily. Plus I use Word Comments to note down stuff I hate as I go along but don't want to correct at the time...

Graeme K Talboys said...

Oh Lor. I could write a book about this (oh, I am :-)). The short answer though is whatever works for you. As long you know where everything is.

The most important thing is to keep a copy of everything. I keep three electronic copies (one of which goes with me when I leave the house) and when a piece is finished beyond all redemption, I print it out and place it in a spring back folder. I have ten of them now, plus complementary copies from publishers.

These days I tend to do first drafts of longer pieces a chapter at a time, collating them as I go to produce a single file which acts as the second draft (so any minor changes to the story as I'm writing are made in that second file). I then copy that and call it the third draft and work through that and so on. That's the joy of large capacity on computers (remembering the days of my old Amstrad when it was best to keep files as small as possible).

I also keep records of what has been sent where and when. I started that before the days of easy to use databases and one day, when I'm in super procrastination mode, I may transfer all that to a single file. As I am someone who has all his books, CDs and DVDs catalogued, you will understand that this is a very tempting project.

Rowan Coleman said...

MMm well let me see - school run, new baby, house work, pitstops for food and addiciton to t.v. It can be hard, but all in all the fear of having my house repossessed means I do get the work done.After watching 'Strictly' on iplayer

Lily Sheehan said...

I'm going to have a cupcake, but one from the treat drawer at work. I will save yours for later!!

I am finally organised. I was using Ywriter to sort the mess out but as I'm not editing I didn't find it much use. I am now using ms word and an excel spreadsheet so now I know where I am and what page is what.

Ellie said...

Firstly, mmmmm cupcakes....

I wrote my whole WIP in one ginormous word doc, but as I go, I copy each completed chapter into Scrivener and Google Docs (I am a BIG fan of the backing-up!). I'm using Scrivener for editing, as it's so easy to move things around, add in new chapters, and to see it all in one go, then turn it into a new big word doc when you're done by exporting the whole thing, which is so clever.

For my hard copy edits, I've got a big notebook with coloured sections for all the different things I'm thinking about. Simple! (ish...)

ChrisH said...

Doh! I've missed all the goodies two weeks running thanks to family stuff. Pretty much same as Debs, but with ringbinder (remember those?) for photos of characters/locations/inspirational articles/bits of stuff that might help. Also a dedicated notebook for each novel to scribble, er, notes. Any chance of glass of wine?

Liane Spicer said...

Those cupcakes look lovely!

I fooled around with trial versions of writing software but like you, decided to stick with Word. I start each chapter on a new document and keep them all in one folder along with everything else pertaining to the novel like word count spreadsheet, character notes, synopsis, bits of research, etc. I'm not sure if this is recommended, though. My agent seemed to have a bit of trouble with the zipped file I sent her the last time around.

I back up the entire folder on flash drives whenever I change anything (I know Captain Black doesn't recommend backing up on drives), and upload a copy to an email account. When I start a new draft I copy the chapters to a new folder with the draft number in the title. I also save two copies of the completed manuscript to CDs.

Kate, what on earth are Word Comments?

L-Plate Author said...

I seem to be Annie's twin, even down to the short story file with none of them seeing the light of day!

I had a computer meltdown once, spent a really tearful night as I hadn't backed up for about a month and was editing a draft. Until some lovely guy from work came and sorted it me out, got it all back for me and since then I back up far more often. I email it to myself when I have written or edited every 50 pages and I back up with a memory stick every time I'm on the WIP.

I have a separate place for character biogs and minor details and I also do a chapter breakdown as I go along so that if I need to slot something in, I can see at a glance where it might fit.

And I absolutely have to write it all in one document. Like the word count going up, I love to increase the page count too, 50, 100, 150. It keeps me going.

It's just life that gets in the way...x

Leigh said...

Apologies for my appalling tardiness...

I tried many potential solutions to the admin problem, and like you kept defaulting back to Word, but hated it so much I kept looking until I found the fledgling Scrivener, then still in beta mode. I joined the ranks of beta-testers, and was instantly hooked by its intuitiveness - it was after all designed by a writer. I haven't used Word since, not for anything.

I export to Quark, which I have from my days as a layout monkey; it allows me to fettle the page-design to my heart's content! Procrastination - yey!

Captain Black said...

I started a series of articles about organising writing work in a manner akin to project management in "the real world". See here and here for examples. These fizzled out some time ago, but would anyone be interested in me reviving them?