Long projects depend upon having a good foundation. When I first began thinking about just maybe someday possibly writing a novel, I made the I-can-just-knock-this-thing-out-in-a-week mistake that usually began with an idea and ended when I got tired of it. That’s why I have a graveyard of half-chapter novels firmly ensconced in my maybe-later pile.
Basically, I wanted the reward without worrying about the work. Spontaniety is great, but hammering out something of substance and breadth takes more than a few great lines, thoughts, or images.
Several years later, on the advice of David Eddings, I began keeping notebooks of the world within my novels of potential. I wrote backgrounds, character sketches, drew maps, and plotted out what I could. For the most part, these were dead ends—not because the framework wasn’t there, but because they never really “caught fire” in me.
Age, however, has made me more ecologically aware (or, more realistically, cheaper), and I’ve turned to Google Docs for all my pre-flights of fancy. To me, the setup is perfect for working on any writing project, and I can quickly share them with those I’d like to cut it down to size.
What advice I share here is simply how I do things. Take what you will or take none—that’s up to you.
Folders: One thing I find helpful is to make a folder of each large project (anything that will take some research or prep work). For instance, right now, I’m working on two novel ideas (with a third in the hopper). With G Docs, I can sort them out and find which one I need from wherever.
I’ve also got a folder I keep ideas for blog posts, story and article starters, and other random miscellany. The color coding is also a bit of extra fun.
Documents: In each folder, I keep everything I’ve done for or about that project—except for the file itself on longer projects because I’m still trying to wean myself completely from Word. With The Connection, I’ve got two drafts of my outline and character sketches. I keep all copies of each because 1) there’s no real concern for storage and 2) I never know when I might need to revisit something I tossed out earlier.
When I begin working on a large project like a novel, I often write an experimental treatment of the idea—usually the first chapter. I want to know what the characters have to say, what the world “feels” like, and how the various elements will work together. Most of the time, I at least use some of it in the final product—other times, I’m just glad no one will see it. Thankfully, this is one that made the cut (although much changed).
Whether a pen and paper or local files or some expensive program, I hope that you are using something to keep your thoughts organized. As you may have heard me say before (read: every blog post), effective writing leans heavily on the crutch of preparation (okay, maybe not in those words).
If you have a great method for keeping organized, let me know in the comments.