How Do You Organize?
by Shaila Patel
I’m probably the most disorganized Type A personality you’ll ever meet, but as messy and chaotic as every single one of my work areas are (day job included), I take heart in the meme that states having such a desk is a sign of genius.
(It’s on a meme, so it must be true.)
Like most of you, my story ideas come to me regardless of where I am, what time it is, or what I’m doing, and keeping track of all those thoughts and ideas is just one more job I don’t need weighing me down. No matter how many newfangled apps, digital pens, snazzy software, or digital recorders that I’ve downloaded or bought, I can’t seem to use any one of these items as a catch-all system that would revolutionize my organizational skills. I’ve even gone lo-tech with fancy blank journals, sticky notes, and colored index cards, but nothing has grabbed me enough to want to hoard coupons for my local office supply store.
My intentions are good, but in the end, the way I organize depends on where I am and/or what I’m doing.
If you look at my current work-spot du jour at my house, you’ll see it covered in sticky notes with random thoughts for editing my current work-in-progress (WIP), ideas for new scenes, and lists of things to remember to add to the story. These notes can be for a WIP or a future story that’s just a wee baby idea in my head. If I happen to be driving or not near my sticky note collection, I usually open my ColorNote app on my phone—I dictate into it if I’m driving—and add my ideas into a current note that’s usually titled by book or, for future stories, by the hero and heroine’s name since I write romance.
If that was all I did, it wouldn’t be much of an organizational strategy and there wouldn’t be much point in you reading this, would there? Luckily, there’s more to my strategy, and if you are reading this, you’re probably unsatisfied enough with your own process to be on the lookout for new ideas. You might even be suffering from the notion that other authors have some secret way of doing things that will magically make your life easier, but let me assure you—it probably won’t.
That was a lesson I learned when my Type A side was telling me I was “doing it wrong” or that there was a “better way” to be more organized and more productive. The added pressure kept me from actually being productive because I spent more time and money trying to copy everyone else’s organizational style that didn’t work for me rather than fine-tuning my own process—and accepting it.
Groundbreaking revelation, isn’t it?
So this is what I do with all those sticky notes … and notes in my app … and blank notebooks piling up on my shelves … and index cards cluttering up my drawers … and, well, you get the idea. To help illustrate, I’ve broken down my organizational strategy into three areas: pre-story, pre-writing, and writing/editing.
Before delving into the planning of a story, I jot down whatever ideas come to me. It might be several months later before I decide the story has merit and deserves a shot. To me, it’s like I’m gathering the seeds that’ll eventually grow into my finished product, if I choose to nurture it. These notes—written on anything in front of me—are not fleshed out ideas, but little tidbits to help me remember how to shape my story later. More than likely, it’ll involve sticky notes and the ColorNote app on my phone for when I can’t write something down.
All my barely legible ideas on colorful sticky notes of all sizes, backs of envelopes, random scraps of paper, or even backs of receipts, end up in a “dedicated” pile on my desk. As time permits (i.e., when I’m in the mood) I add the scribbled thoughts from paper into a specific note in my app labeled for the hero/heroine of that particular story.
At this stage, I don’t transfer the ideas into one of my ‘purty’ notebooks because I know from experience that I’ll be too lazy to go through all the pages to find what I need when the time comes. And probably most important, I don’t like dedicating a notebook to something that’s still not quite a fully formed story yet—that’s just me.
Once I know it’s time to start planning out and writing the new story, I whip out my collection of colored index cards and start transferring my notes from my app and the latest sticky notes that haven’t made it into my phone yet. If there are ideas that now sound ridiculous, then they never make it onto an index card.
The hero and heroine each get a specific color, and once written out, those cards become a character sketch that I can reference. Plot points, scene ideas, and even dialogue snippets, all get written on their own colored cards where they can be shuffled around into different acts and scenes as the outline and story evolves. As the story gets more fleshed out in my head, I insert new cards wherever they need to go in my story’s timeline without messing anything up.
I then rubber band them together and bring them with me wherever I go.
While I use the index cards to corral all my gems, once I start writing and then editing, I use one of the journals or notebooks I’ve collected over the years to write a more specific outline of the next scene or chapter, jot down ideas I need to look into, or scribble changes I need to make because of comments by critique partners or beta readers. And I dedicate the entire notebook to that particular story.
For Book 1 of my debut, Soulmated, that notebook became a sort of series bible for all the things I need to remember for the rest of the series. Handy, right? Once the story is ready for final edits, I transfer my Word file into Scrivener, where I take full advantage of its organizational features to write myself notes for specific chapters, notes for future books in the series, or even to flag things to help me tighten the story.
And that, folks, is how I keep my head on straight.
This whole process wasn’t a conscious attempt at organization but an evolution of what I tried and failed to do while balancing my need to be in control with my natural tendency to be disorganized and spontaneous. The more I tried to be organized (driven by my pesky Type A side), the more I wasted time.
- Work your attempts at organizing your ideas around how you normally are—not the idealized image of you as an author.
- Find ways that are easy, handy, and don’t make you feel guilty for not being like this author or that author.
- Revel in the creative process and don’t let your left-brain (the organized, logical side) tell your right-brain (the creative side) how to do things.
- Do what works for your life, your chaos, your personality.
- Be happy with however you decide to do things. It’s the best way to move forward and actually be productive and not just plan to be.
I’d love to hear what you do to organize. Let me know in the comments below! And meanwhile, be very, very wary of coupons from office supply stores. Just saying. 😉
As an unabashed lover of all things happily-ever-after, Shaila Patel’s younger self would finish reading her copy of Cinderella and fling it across the room because it didn’t mention what happened next. Now she writes from her home in the Carolinas and dreams up all sorts of stories with epilogues. A member of the Romance Writers of America, she’s a pharmacist by training, a medical office manager by day, and a writer by night. Soulmated is her debut novel and the winner of the 2015 Chanticleer Book Reviews Paranormal Awards for Young Adult. She loves books, craft beer, tea, and cozy window seats—but she’ll read anywhere. You might find her sneaking in a few paragraphs at a red light or online gushing about her favorite books.
Represented by: Agent Amanda Leuck of Spencerhill Associates
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Two souls. One Fate.
Eighteen-year-old Liam Whelan, an Irish royal empath, has been searching for his elusive soulmate. The rare union will cement his family’s standing in empath politics and afford the couple legendary powers, while also making them targets of those seeking to oust them.
Laxshmi Kapadia, an Indian-American high school student from a traditional family, faces her mother’s ultimatum: Graduate early and go to medical school, or commit to an arranged marriage.
When Liam moves next door to Laxshmi, he’s immediately and inexplicably drawn to her. In Liam, Laxshmi envisions a future with the freedom to follow her heart.
Liam’s father isn’t convinced Laxshmi is “The One” and Laxshmi’s mother won’t even let her talk to their handsome new neighbor. Will Liam and Laxshmi defy expectations and embrace a shared destiny? Or is the risk of choosing one’s own fate too great a price for the soulmated?
Publisher Information: Month 9 Books
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Thank you so much Shaila for your amazing organizing ideas, and for acknowledging that we’re all individuals with different needs. We all organize differently and have to find what works for each of us! Your organizational method is something I will definitely try, though! =)
As always, a huge thanks to everyone who has participated in this feature! Your words of advice never fall upon ungrateful minds. Thank you. ❤
We hope you have a wonderful rest of your week!