Authors Answer 134 – Are Authors Organised?

Are authors organised? Many authors take notes, but not all do. Some authors have colour-coded pens, post-it notes, and different notebooks for different things. Some use paper, some use computer spreadsheets. Everyone has their own way. This week, we’re talking about how we organise our notes.

Question 134 – How do you organise your notes?

Beth Aman

For my first novel, I had a spiral notebook that held everything – all my plot ideas, scenes, characters, sketches.  For actual plotting, however, I used 3×5 notecards.  Each one had a major plot point on it, and I lined them all up on a wall in my room.  Then I could add other notecards underneath with further explanations or questions, and I could easily re-arrange my plot points.  It was a great visual, and I liked it better having it up on a wall instead of having it on a computer screen.  Now, I’ve started using a Google Doc for all my notes, because I can access that from my phone, and it’s simpler than using a notebook.  But sometimes, my notes still end up scribbled on the nearest scrap of paper/ napkin/ receipt, and hopefully they make it into my Google Doc at some point.

C E Aylett

Various ways – I start with mind mapping, just to get the main ideas down quickly. That could be plot ideas, or characterisation, background, or themes. I then expand on those notes within yWriter project and scene notes. For research, I use Evernote, mostly, because it’s so easy to organise bookmarked web pages, but also I make notes with yWriter and link to webpages or Evernote notes from within that application. There are more details on these software programs, their capabilities, and how they tie into novel writing here.

Tracey Lynn Tobin



What are these things of which you speak?

In all seriousness though, I’m probably one of the least organized writers you’ll ever meet, and I don’t really have notes, so much as I obsessively flip through the pages of my own writing when I’ve forgotten something. It’s not a great strategy, I know, but organizing my writing has never really jived for me.

Gregory S. Close

I use the notes function on my phone to take notation and then I update those notes to Scrivener periodically.  I still have a metric ton of paper notes lying around in disarray that I have to keep track of, but I try to keep all new notes digital and (very important) backed up.

D. T. Nova

A file for each category of easily sorted information, ordered by a combination of prominence and chronology; a few for particularly important or hard-to-remember details; and a miscellaneous of for everything else.

Eric Wood

I don’t. I simply open my notebook to the next blank page and start writing the idea for a story. It is truly stream of consciousness. From there I start writing, picking out the parts sequentially, and adding in the rest as I move along the story line. Perhaps if I wrote a novel I would be more organised, but organisation is not my forte.

Paul B. Spence

Notes? What notes? Just kidding. I have folders of organized files sorted, by series: people, places, types of starships, terms, technology, races, star charts, names of starships, stages of civilization, types of travel, travel times, time dilation, backstories, additional misc. notes, deleted scenes, weapons, and lots of other stuff. I’m a junkie for notes.

I don’t do notes on plot. I figure out what general story I want to tell, and who I want to experience it. I then write the first scene with that person, then figure out where I want to go along the way. It is a very organic process. I do a lot of writing in my head.

Jean Davis

What is this organization thing you speak of? My notes are like my thoughts: Scattered. There are notes in a notebook that I try to pretend to be organized by using. These notes are usually things I should fix or questions that come up later as I write that I’ll need to tackle when editing. There are also notes in red in the MS as I type so I can go back and fix things. Then there are the notes in a separate .doc file where I keep my character and setting descriptions so they can’t get lost. So three kinds of notes all in their own places. It’s an odd system but it seems to work.

H. Anthe Davis

I have way too many notes for my own health or scatterbrained focus, and I mostly only organize them when I start working on the project (aka specific book) they’re meant for.  When they’re just in gestational idea form, it depends on what the idea is for: a story?  Then it goes in the Story Seeds file.  A plant or animal?  Then it goes in the Green Grimoire (repository of all my main-world flora and fauna info).  Something about another story world?  It will either get a note in my Non-WoM folder’s main story-seed file or a file/subfolder of its own, depending on the size of the idea.  Within my main story folder (where all the War of Memory stuff is), I have it broken down by book — Early Books folder for 1-3 with the master files and any notes on tweaks or rewrites, then folders for Books 4-6 with all the story-threads info, outlines et cetera, plus stray files of general information.  Plus lunar calendars, character history files, transcripts of discussions with my betas, lists of possible titles, the full-series timeline…  I guess what I mean is that it’s not very organized — certainly not in some sort of story-organization program — but I still know where to find anything, and if I can’t, I use a full-text file-search program to locate it.  Works for me!

Elizabeth Rhodes

Notes? Organize? Hah!

In seriousness, I use a program called FreeMind to keep details straight and help me brainstorm ideas before the outline phase. The outline itself is a simple Word document, but I’ve been experimenting with a new method here. While before I’d make a bulleted list for each chapter and a quick summary of each scene, I’m taking a much simpler approach and trying the ever-popular snowflake method.

Jay Dee Archer

I like taking notes. Unfortunately, I’ve taken notes in some random notebooks in the past, and mixed them up with other notes, including writing practice for Japanese! But I have some dedicated notebooks for various aspects of my writing. I have a character notebook, a plot outline notebook, and a folder filled with hand-drawn maps. I’ve also started one with sketches for concept art. I have notebooks specifically for Ariadne, and a separate notebook for other story ideas. I’ve considered using something on my computer, but I feel that it’s safer on paper and easily accessible that way.

How About You?

Are you an author? How do you organise your notes? Or do you even keep notes? Let us know in the comments section below.