Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Organizational Morass




I don't know how long you have to be writing to develop your own 'style' but, if I had to describe how I write....my style, as it were, I would describe myself as a 'seat of the pants' (or pantser, in the NaNoWriMo vernacular) type of writer.

Now, I don't see anything really "wrong" with that sort of style, but that's not really how I am, as a person. I'm a pretty organized....some (my wife) would say too organized....type of guy. I like 'to do' lists, I like things to be in certain places, I like doing things "just in case", and I like preparing for contingencies.

One of the first things I did when I moved down to Florida was to make preparations in case of a hurricane...something my wife and her family have never done even after going through a few of them in the past.

Anyway, I digress.

The point of this little post is to ponder why, as a self professed "organized" person, I don't practice that in my writing? 

Why am I content to make just a few notes and then sit down, trying to come up with things off the cuff?

Why am I settling for 'organized (semi) chaos' when I wouldn't settle for that in most other aspects of my life?

I guess the only answer I can come up with is that I'm not very sure just how to get organized, to begin with.

Notes, I can do. 

Lists are really no problem.

Outlining, though, that's the tricky one. I keep reading about outlining being a "must"...especially for a well crafted story...and I think that's part of my downfall. I know how to do outlines (I think), but I'm not sure as to the extent and complexity they need to be in order to help get all my ideas across.

It's something I'm still working on as I go through character bios, world building, and the odds and ends of my new project.

With that said, I'll throw it out to all you writer folks out there.....

How do you organize your ideas? Post it notes? Notebooks? Excel spreadsheets?

Do you outline? If so, how in depth do you go?

Any good websites on the subject to recommend? 

In the meantime, I'll just be here slogging around in an organizational morass.




50 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm like you - very organized.
I create an outline and detailed character sheets. With the outline, it's nothing fancy. I just write out the basic premise of the story. Then I go back and fill in more details, noting key scenes. Each scene is just a little paragraph or maybe even just a sentence. I tend to work my outlines to death before I begin. Of course the trade off is my first drafts aren't a mess. (Just in need of more details!)
Hope that helps.

Mark Means said...

@Alex: Actually, that does help...a lot...thank you :) So, I'm taking it that you don't do the "standard" outline format (which is what I've been doing...and having fits with).

YVONNE LEWIS: said...

As I am not a novel writer I can't honestly say but perhaps when you write the organised part of you disappears as you get absorbed in your writing and another you takes over.

Yvonne.

Tyrean Martinson said...

I don't do the standard outline. I start with an idea . . . and then if I like it I dream up a midpoint and an endpoint. If I'm still writing after that, then I try to come up with a logline (the whole plot in one sentence). After that I make my three points into five, and then add in more until I end up with a chapter by chapter outline . . . not in that roman numeral, super organized way, but more like bullet points with brief bits of information.

I start as a punster and move to more organization as the project progresses. If I start with the outline, I get bogged down, or I start ignoring the outline all together.

However, I'm not super organized in real life. I use lists, yes. But I can't stand super-neatness. I have to have to do lists, sticky notes at random and a pile of papers near me. It makes me feel better - don't know why that is, but it is.

Melissa said...

My stories start out as plot notes in a Word document. I put that to a beat sheet-style outline to make sure I have all the turning points and plot points and tweak the original notes. Then (for the last WIP) I made plot cards to be sure I had the right number of scenes.

I put my story notes in a second document, then start writing, letting the notes ride the document ahead of where I'm working. I delete them as I go. Sometimes I add to the notes if something comes up to change or add to the details.

I bought Scrivener, but I haven't used it yet. I will probably use it with my next WIP. I think I'd prefer to do it from the beginning of the process, not switch in the middle.

Just Keepin It Real, Folks! said...

Who are you and why do you sound exactly like my twin?????? I'm completely organized in my personal life, have "to do" lists everywhere, always ready "just in case" and my nickname is stickler. However, when it comes to writing I have no organization whatsoever. I just go for it.

Mark Means said...

@Yvonne: While that's a great sentiment and I wish it were true, I can't claim that...as much as I would like to. Thanks anyway and for the encouraging word! :)

@Tyrean: That's a very interesting method, as well, and if it works for you there's not a thing wrong with it. I do like the idea of jotting down the main points/beats, though. I can see that helping, for sure :)

@Melissa: Usually, I do all my work in Yarny but as I've been trying to do more outlining, I've been doing that in a notebook. I think it gives me a bit more freedom as far as placement, but notecards would suit the same purpose...good idea! :)

@Deb: Ah, great minds think alike, eh? It's nice to see I'm not alone in my writing (dis) organization :D

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I do a free-form, just writing down the highlights of the story. There are a lot of programs out there, but nothing beats a spiral notebook. At least then if a new twist hits, you can write it down right away.

Do you make character profiles? I have a form I made when I was speaking to a lot of schools and I still use it to this day. I could send it to you.

Morgan said...

Oh Mark... I can't outline either... I mean, I *try* but every time, I just end up pantsing it and fixing things later, LOL. I don't know why, but outlining takes the magic out of it for me. Yet, here I am, still TRYING with my latest project!

And funny you're so organized in real life. I'm not at all--and I figured that was part of what attributed to my writing habits! ;-)

Mark Means said...

@Diane:I do make bare bones profiles, but I'd love to see your worksheet to get another take on the process. If you want to send me a copy at mmeans1(at)gmail(dot)com, I'd sure appreciate it. Thanks! :)

Mark Means said...

@Morgan: LOL...hey, there's nothing wrong with that either. As long as you get the results you want, it's all good :) I -wish- my life skills transitioned over to my writing...I'd be a little better off, there :D

S.P. Bowers said...

So funny because that almost exactly describes me. In life I'm pretty darn organized (I'm with you on the hurricane prep) but in writing I'm a chunky pantster.

I don't outline but at the beginning I do have a document where I'll just jot down ideas and thoughts on scenes or characters. As I get further into the story I need that less and less, but it's always there.

Robin said...

Someone posted this video on writing a while back. I remember I was in the middle of writing my first novel and it threw me for a major loop. It totally changed how I saw the process. I have actually started writing again and I just finished The End. I think everyone does it differently, but if you take enough pieces from enough sources you will arrive at something that works for you. Maybe this puzzle piece will help!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Quc9gWsxXZ4

Al Diaz said...

I'm just learning to get organized. I'm the opposite from that in my dragon life but it seems it makes sense in the writing. I'm using the "beat sheet" from Save the Cat. Hated the book but I'm giving a shot to the sheet, hahaha. If you don't have the book I can mail the beat sheet to you. It's good for starters.

Mark Means said...

@S.P.: Hmmm...I beginning to see a trend here, between me, you and Deb :) I was doing all that in Yarny and then went to a spiral notebook format...thinking I'd have a bit more leeway with the notes. I still like the 'jotting down of notes' in one central area (notebook) for easy reference.

@Robin: That was a great video, thanks for sharing it. Makes a lot of sense, too. The ending is where I, usually, struggle so if I get that ouf of the way, I might be better off.

@Al: Actually, I downloaded Save The Cat to my kindle a couple of weeks ago, but haven't started reading it yet, lol. I guess I should get on that, too! Thanks for the offer, though :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm mostly a pantser too but I always write out my characters, motives, goals and such. I keep a 'bible' with all that in and add as I go.

Melissa said...

Don't know if this would help, but I saw this and thought of your post...

http://jamigold.com/2013/07/a-pantsers-guide-to-beat-sheets/

Melissa said...

And then there's this...

http://melissamaygrove.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-plot-thickens.html

klahanie said...

Hi Mark,

Much like your good self, I'm quite organised. I have to be, what with all my multitasking.

When it comes to writing, I have no organisation whatsoever. However, that works for me, keeps my mind flowing to many possibilities. I do not have a style, as such. My writing is a lot of experimental stuff.

I would say I do have one ritual. I have a pen and paper on my bedside table. Just in case I come up with some brilliant idea. The paper is blank and the pen is full.

I fly by the sear of my pants. Have you seen the cost of flights these days? LOL

Be well and I leave the experts to give you some practical advice.

Gary :)

Mark Means said...

@Susan: I kind of/sort of do that, but it's not as organized as I'd like something that, potentially, helpful to be. Again with the dis-organization :)

@Melissa: Those look like they'll both help...thank you!

@Gary: Haha, those must be some expensive pants then, right? :D I think that's a great idea, the pen and paper by the bed, and something I'm going to have to make a point of doing. I'm a very heavy sleeper and rarely remember dreams or get sudden inspiration in the middle of the night, but who knows...it could help :) I appreciate your take on the subject and thank you!

Jeff Hargett said...

I think that for us organizer types, writing is enough of an escape that we often give ourselves permission to discover and explore in a tether-free zone. At least that's how I justify it.

My first manuscript had a mile marker and an ending. Everything else was a wide-eyed journey. I'm planting a few additional mileposts for the sequel, but if I can't discover some things as I go then there isn't much fun in it for me. Some of my best twists (in my opinion) came from unexpected curves and turns.

Nancy LaRonda Johnson said...

I do hate doing outlines! I usually start with a very skeletal, outline to start off with the plot, then leave it for a long time. After a while, I get sick of forgetting who's who, that I begin to fill out the outline more. The skeletal outline gets reshaped because the plot has taken some turns. The outline also helps with things, such as places, that need much more detail than I get give pulling it out of the air.

So, to sum it up, I do outlines to get me started, to help me remember, and to give the story more detail. A minimal outline since I hate doing them so much. Writer’s Mark

Elise Fallson said...

I love to be organized, but you wouldn't believe me if you came to my house. I gave up trying to be organized when I had kids, lol! And guess what? My writing is pretty much the same, Totally free and a pantster to the hilt. Down side is now I'm facing rewrites that may have been avoided had I done some kind of outlining in the beginning. Oh well, c'est la vie. I think the trick is to try a few methods out and find what works for you. As for me, I'm going to try and be more organized on my next project. But, I'm with Nancy. I hate outlining, so when I do decide to do one, it'll be a very simple outline, almost like a timeline of events to keep me organized.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Many authors don't do outlines so it's not a rule. But it is great to make notes and I'm a pantser as well. I do download fully made online guidelines to help me with making detailed character profiles though. Just filling in the questions really help.

Ornery's Wife said...

My son-in-law had a discussion relating to this very thing last weekend. He always writes an outline first, and I never do. I am very organized in the rest of my life--almost OCD in some cases--but not in any creative endeavor I pursue.

I don't have a solution for you, although it looks like you got some good ones from your other readers, but I do think that any type of artistic process defies orderly planning. If you can corral some idea into a format that makes sense, I give you kudos!

I haven't ever written anything of much length because my style is write a while, re-read it, adjust and rework, then add a bit more. THAT would be very time consuming for a lengthy piece.

I wish you well, though. :)
tm

jaybird said...

I've tried to be organized but I find that it stifles my creativity. When I forced myself to come up with an outline, I only bucked against it. At first, I really tried to stick to it, but my work kept coming out and reading like crap. Everyone likes my work, (and me) a whole lot better when I just pants it!

Jenny said...

I'm a pantser in writing and in life. I tend to outline only after I've been working on something for a while and need to impose some structure on it.

Nicki Elson said...

I might be okay that you're a pantser - everyone has their own process, and maybe you need to have a little unplanned part of your life to balance out the rest of it?? Just a theory.

The outlines I'm sure vary by author too. Mine are pretty much just a list in a Word doc off all the important events that need to take place and the order in which they need to happen. As more specific scenes come to mind, I plug them into my overall "map."

Julie Flanders said...

I'm probably the most unorganized person in the world. I love making a list but then I stop there and eventually just make another list - an endless cycle. I am a pantser all the way around but I am setting a goal for myself to get more organized and actually have a plan for my writing.

Annalisa Crawford said...

Words gets splashed on a page. If I'm lucky they'll form a coherent paragraph. If not, I've been know to cut up pages and stick them together in a different order with tape! I have no order whatsoever. This doesn't help you except you know you're not as random as me :-)

cleemckenziebooks said...

I'm an organized person in most of my life. But when it comes to writing I can't be. I turn my brain over to the "whatever" mode and let it do its thing.

My only organization happens when I save my files on my computer. Then I try to be me-tik-u-less.

Have a great weekend--organized or not.

Mark Means said...

@Jeff: Heh, I like your way of thinking!I guess there's a lot to be said for 'discovering' the story as you go...I can't argue that :)

@Nancy: Yeah, I think something like that...even barebones...can help me. It's some organization, at least.

@Elise: LOL...well, I'm sure when kids are added to the mix, all bets are off :)I guess I'm looking at making the editing process a bit less....lengthy. I've been Googling and YouTubing some outlining/organizing things and might share my results when I narrow them down :)

@Sheena: I 'pantsed' it when I did NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago and did 'o.k' with it. Some days were a struggle, though. I think character profiles are a huge help, too.

@OW: Heh, I know what you mean on the OCD front....I'm a bit that way, in some respects. I appreciate the encouragement :)

@Mrs. Bird: I know what you mean and I think it's great that you've found a method that really works. Sometimes bucking trends can pay off nicely and I'd expect no less from you :D

@Jenny: See, your writing reflects your life...nothing wrong with that, at all. :)

@Nicki: Hmmm....a very interesting theory there. Sounds like you have a pretty good method for yourself. Some structure with some flexibility.

@Julie: LOL....well, it's seemed to work for you :)

@Annalisa: Haha...I feel (a little bit) better now. :D

@Lee: Yep, I know exactly how you feel....at least you save your files, though! :) Have a great weekend, yourself!

Rachna Chhabria said...

I am trying to get more organized, but its taking time. I have A4 size sheets in which I jot down character details, make rough scene outlines, plot points. I like to have a basic plot point in mind before I start writing.

CA Heaven said...

I'm very unorganized, in general, and prefer it that way. To make sure I don't forget any ideas that pop up, I do like Hemingway. I have a Moleskine notebook with me wherever I go; in my PC bag when I ravel at work, in my pocket when I'm out skiing or hiking >:)

Cold As Heaven


Julie said...

Since I'm not a writer, I won't be much help. However, I am enjoying this behind-the-scene look at writing. I always thought writers just thought it out as it went along. Now I know. Interesting.

Tara Tyler said...

must write everything down or will forget!
idea, main characters, plot...
i pants my outline and mark it up, then i handwrite out scenes, and make notes for details or things to research, then i type...
it works for me!
im an organized person too.

we are on our way to ft myers right now

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mark - I hate being disorganised .. and am slowly getting my life into some semblance of order after the last 6 years or so.

But for blogging .. paper paper everywhere, ideas in brain all over the show ... and generally end up sitting scrubbing around trying to tie all things together!

Good luck with rationalising the writing thing -cheers Hilary

Mark Koopmans said...

I *REALLY* like Alex's suggestion, because, I must say, Montague, that I am like you... and I worry that if I outline too much, I won't have time to write the bloody book!

So, Pantsers unite... Unite the Clan!!!

Gina Gao said...

I tend to like to organize all the time. It helps with writing a lot.

www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

Christine Rains said...

I'm just like you. I'm organized in life, but not with my writing. I just go with it. I've tried to write outlines, but my stories never stick to them. I've tried character bios, but my characters grow in whichever way they see fit. I'd like to be a little more of a plotter, but I also love pantsing and the surprises it brings me.

Tammy Theriault said...

i like to take my pants, throw them in the air and yell "fly dang it fly!"

i'm definitely the same way as you...i just write.

Ella said...

I love your honesty Mark! I am wondering the same thing-like you!
Though I'm not as organized as you, but I do love To do lists and after living in Florida. I prepare for Hurricanes.

I do think there are benefits to both~
Fun to read everyone's responses~
Thanks Mark for sharing!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I'm a list maker too. And when I write, if I do a thorough outline, my OCD kicks in and I pretty much write the book in long hand. What I have found that works is to make a timeline of sorts. I guess it's the story arc, but I like to take each character and on a line plot there outcome, then I write...then later I will do a synopsis of each chapter and make sure that each chapter moves the story along and it helps me find plot holes.

Misha Gericke said...

I tend to fly by the seat of my pants in general. So I can't really plot before drafting either.

Same reason as you, I guess. When I start out, too much is going on in my mind, so I need to get everything down before I can try and form it into a structure.

But once I'm done with the first draft, I pick the stuff I liked and outline before I rewrite the whole thing. :-)

For some reason, my thinking becomes seriously organized once I'm past the writing stage. Makes editing a breeze.

Manzanita said...

I don't know anything about writing but I do know I've studied astrology most of my adult life. It's just become a part of my life. Knowing astrology makes it easy for me to understand people. They are the way they are because they can't help it. For instance, how can an earth sign person give advice to a water sign person. It just wouldn't work and it would frustrate the heck out of the water person. Be yourself. What works for someone else doesn't mean it will work for you.

Valerie said...

I love lists so hard that I'd marry them if it were legal. But it's not. I should know, I'm a minister after all.

Hugs!

Valerie

LD Masterson said...

Try thinking of a time line instead of an outline. Start with the big important things and then layer in the smaller stuff. Rearrange until the order works so you're steadily building tension until the climax. You're probably going to add, subtract, and re-arrange as you go but the timeline will give you a nice overview so you can see where everything fits in.

mail4rosey said...

I'm a panster too, and it's totally working against me w/my dissertation (that's driving me crazy).

The Golden Eagle said...

I tend to outline and write things down linearly on a piece of paper. Occasionally I transfer things to OneNote.

Samara Sonmor said...

You know, I can't formally organize my writing either. Outlines leave me cold and blocked. I think this is because writing (for me, anyway) comes from the creative right brain side which likes to do free association and a weird stream of consciousness thing.

So I try to let the right brain do its stuff and edit and organize it with the left later. Maybe one day I'll manage to get it together. :)

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