The hardest part of writing a novel — for me, at least — has nothing to do with finding ideas, getting words on the page, or fixing plot holes. My challenge is getting organized.
A novel involves many different elements. Characters, settings, dates, times, historical facts…and more. Especially when writing a series, it’s important to keep track of all the information. Even little things can cause problems. I recall reading the final proof of one novel and discovering — to my horror — that a chacter’s eye color had changed from teal to chocolate brown. I’d read the manuscript several times. So had my editor. A proof-reader had gone through it. Somehow, we’d all missed that little detail. I like to think it was overlooked because the storyline was so captivating, but sure as I’m sitting here, had the story been published without that correction, I would have heard about it from readers.
I’m constantly rummaging through character biographies. Uh, what color was her bedroom? Did I say she preferred tea over coffee? I’ve often heard it said that The devil is in the details, and nowhere is that truer than novel-writing.
Another challenge to staying organized is the fact that ideas and inspirations may come at any time. Although I keep to a fairly regular routine in writing, that doesn’t mean my muse follows the same schedule. I might be standing in line at the grocery store when something I see or hear piques my interest. While waiting for appointments, I often take a notebook with me so I can sketch out scenes for the story I’m working on. Later, of course, I have to sit down in MLWR (My Little Writing Room), sort through the scraps of paper and notebook sheets I used to capture thoughts and scribble down ideas, and find a way to get them where they all belong.
Most will be for whatever story I’m currently working on — at the moment, it’s No Regrets, the fourth book of “The Sunset Series”, due out from Secret Cravings Publishing in July — but while I’m busy working on one story, my muse is gathering up ideas and information for dozens more. I’ve found the best way for me to deal with it all is with colored folders. I have at least a dozen of them sitting beside my desk. Each one represents a different story that’s “in the works” inside my head. I can easily slip little idea notes inside and forget them. They’ll still be there when I’m ready to write that particular story.
My approach to novel-writing itself is a bit jumbled. I’m not the sort of author who starts with “Once upon a time…” and writes straight through to “…and they lived happily ever after.” I play around with a lot of different scenes — in no logical order. I usually start a story by getting acquainted with my characters, throwing them into random scenes that may or may not become part of the story, and seeing what ideas come to mind. Each scene I write sparks possibilities for the story. I scribble down more notes. My muse smiles.
Eventually I have to sort through it all. Occasionally I’ll have scenes I love but which don’t really fit into the story. I toss them out. I pull everything together, fitting the pieces of the story into chronological order. Here and there I might need to add in more information, or maybe something seems “out of order” when I look at the big picture. I shuffle. I re-arrange. Somehow, it works.
What I’ve noticed is that the challenge of getting organized applies not only to my writing itself, but to my little writing room, as well. Right now, it’s a mess. Along with my colorful file folders, I have research books scattered around, a few spiral-bound notebooks, lots of cooking magazines, a bit of music, ink pens, calendars, boxes — a have a fetish about pretty boxes — and knick-knacks. I have stacks of Writer’s Digest magazines piled up, the latest seed catalog to come in the mail, and assorted office supplies. Oh, there’s a fork on the floor, too. I thought I’d picked that up. Yes, while my husband is working, I bring my meals to MLWR. I know I shouldn’t eat at the computer. I do.
Sometimes when I first come into my room each day, I shake my head and wonder how anybody could possibly work in such disarray. Once I sit down here and begin writing, the clutter and confusion no longer bother me. At least, not during the creative part of the writing process.
Once the story is finished and it’s time to settle down to the picky little problems — editing the story, finding errors, checking those devilish details — then I’ll get up and clean up MLWR. I need everything in order then. I can’t concentrate if anything is out of place.
Over and over, I see myself going through the same cycles. Making a mess. Cleaning it up. Making a mess. Cleaning it up. It’s my process. It’s how I write. I’m getting better at keeping my stories organized, and I think that’s important. All the same, I don’t think I could create those stories without a little disorganization and disarray.