Friday Fun – Organizing Writing

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

Today’s question is posed to the group by a reader of the blog.

QUESTION:  I’d like to ask about how you organize your writing documents in the computer. I have been writing more now, and I’m not sure how to best keep the different documents organized. I have folders for completed blog posts and completed vignettes for a devotional I’m working on, but all current pieces of writing  – blog posts, articles, vignettes, pieces of fiction with nowhere to go, are just randomly on my desktop. Plus, when I go into my devotional folder, for instance, I have the vignettes just saved by title, so I sometimes have to open them up to see if I’ve already written about a certain topic.

I’m sure there is a better system. I really appreciate the advice and guidance I receive from the live to write – write to live blog, so I thought I would ask about it. There are so many prolific writers in your group including yourself who write for a wide variety of publications that I would think a number of good organizational systems have been tried.


Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson: Organizing files is always a challenge – and everyone has something different that feels right for them. What works for me might not work for you. But for your examples, it sounds like it might be helpful to create a chart – perhaps a Microsoft Excel worksheet where you can have columns for categories and rows that include the title of your piece and the folder you are keeping it in. If you create a worksheet or workbook, you could also use it to keep track of total words per piece, the market you’ve sent it to, when you’ve sent, the response you’ve received (if any), and so on.

Personally, I keep my fiction in a Fiction folder, and break it out by Short Stories, Novels, Poems, etc., and subfolders in each for Submissions, Contests, Blogs, etc. I need to create the worksheet I’ve mentioned above so I can find anything in just a few minutes. It’s so painful to try to search on a keyword that may or may not be in the story I’m looking for!

Jamie Wallace: Like some of my fellow Live 2 Write – Write 2 Live bloggers, I’ve become a die-hard devotee of Scrivener. Though I’ve only just begun to use this writing software, I can already see all the possibilities – especially in terms of organizing and indexing my various writing projects, from novels to short stories to ebooks to blog posts to the column I write for my local paper. Scrivener includes some basic “project” templates that are designed to help you organize typical types of writing – novels, short stories, research papers, etc. However, now that I understand the basics of how the software works (much like a folder system, but with much greater tagging, search, and synopsis features), I already know how I’m going to create custom projects to accommodate some of my other writing assignments. In addition to helping me keep everything straight and easy to find, Scrivener also makes it easy to group relevant information together. For instance, say I’m working on a blog post and have collected a few inspirations and resources which I’ll use when I draft the post. I can store all of these links and documents inside Scrivener and associate them with the draft copy for the post so that everything I need is right at my finger tips. It really is a beautiful thing and definitely worth investigating – especially if you have multiple projects with multiple parts to manage. Good luck!

Diane MacKinnonDiane MacKinnon: I do think the way you organize your work is very individual, but I’m happy to share what works for me. I try to name all my folders in such a way that I will know what is in the folder by looking at the title. Therefore, I keep all my blog posts in one folder (titled, of course, Blog Posts). Then I name each document so I know what it is (or at least have a hint.) For my blog posts, I name them by date and detail (HCbpDec12012dr1 is the first Healing Choices blog post of December 2012 and it is the first draft.) For other works in progress, I use the title of the piece, plus the draft it is. So in my folder “Short Stories,” I have multiple drafts of Heart Trouble, each one named for it’s draft. If it’s final and sent out, the most recent document will be named HeartTroubleFinal (for example). I may start a new folder soon called Blog Posts 2013, as my first blog folder is getting pretty full.

It’s worth putting some time in up front to organize your work, as it is very frustrating to spend time looking for something that you know is right there. I haven’t yet gotten to the stage where I need a spread sheet, but I think I’ll ask Lisa to explain that to me a little more in the near future! Good luck organizing! Put on some good music, have a cup of tea at your elbow, and dive in!

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: I am another Scrivener convert, and see the potential for streamlining my work. As for tracking my writing? I am challenged as well. I do have separate folders for short stories, blogs, etc. I wish I had the discipline to track on an excel sheet, but I don’t. For my short stories, I will name them very long descriptive names. For blogs (when I save them) I will add the date to the name. For my novels? Each one gets a master folder. And I put EVERYTHING in that folder. Research, character sheets, outlines, ideas, drafts. And then I save new versions of the manuscript every so often. When the first draft is done, I create another folder and add more versions. Again, Scrivener is going to help with that process, since the program does it all.

DLLDeborah Lee Luskin: I’m file-challenged. I wish I could blame it on being an immigrant to digital media, but my paper files are a mess, too. This means that all my desktops, real and virtual, are littered with folders and documents. It doesn’t help that with Sherlock (I’m a Mac user), I can almost always find what I’m looking for – which means I don’t have enough incentive to clean up my act. This is especially true for pieces under development and on spec. For the big projects and for the regular gigs, I have folders, and within those folders more folders. For Live to Write, for example, I have a folder labeled NHWN, and inside that one, folders for posts by year, for images, and for ideas to develop. The same for Vermont Public Radio and The Commons, the other places I publish regularly. And I have one for the novel I’m working on, with folders for each chapter. The two things I do religiously are: 1) save each day’s work with the file title and date (FF120712), and 2) back up to an external hard drive using Time Machine. When it comes to something as important and big as the novel, I back up the entire work to a thumb drive at irregular and irrational intervals. I’m trying to accept my somewhat haphazard system – which works, albeit without the precision tidiness I fantasize.

Susan Nye: Although I’m pretty low tech, I am blessed with a pretty good sense of organization. I also have a pretty good, sometimes even uncanny, memory so I can usually find things.

To stay organized, I start with a folder for each major category of writing. For example, I have one for each blog, a freelance journalism file and a fiction file. Each of these folders is then subdivided. For example, the journalism folder has a subfolder for each magazine. Each magazine folder is divided again into sub-subfolders by topic, season or series – whatever makes sense.

When it comes to document file names, I don’t worry about being succinct. My document file names include my name (for the editor/publisher’s sake not mine), the publication name or abbreviation, topic or key word(s) and date of publication. A recently published story in Here in Hanover was labeled NYE_Apres_Ski_Hanover_Winter_2012.

When I need to find something, I try to think of a word or words which are unique or at least somewhat unique to a particular document or topic and use them for the search. It could be the name of someone I interviewed, a particular ingredient in a recipe (I do a lot of food writing) or a specific location. Let’s say I want to use my Butternut Squash & Goat Cheese Crostini in an article and can’t remember if I’ve already published it. I run a search on Butternut + Goat. That will usually narrow it down to a few files.

You might want to consider a putting together a list of topics for your devotionals. For my food writing, I try to keep lists of the recipes I’ve used on an excel spreadsheet. (Unfortunately, I’ve been lax lately and need to update it.) Even when a list grows to hundreds of articles, spreadsheets are easy to sort and search with key words. My list includes the article’s file name, publication and date, recipe name and key ingredients. Your devotional list will be made up of categories that make sense for you.

Good luck!

18 thoughts on “Friday Fun – Organizing Writing

  1. One thing you must never do: create multiple copies of the same document. You will revise one copy, then later not know which is the correct version. If it is a big project, email it to yourself from time to time. When I finish, I print a copy and put it in a notebook.

    I see it is snowing on my screen. Perhaps that is indicitave of the weather in New England. Texas? partly cloudy and 71 degrees.

    • I agree Robert, except when it comes to revising plot outlines and such, but I get around that by putting an addendum number at the end, so I know right away the last number is the most current version I’m working on. I find this helpful because I can look back and see how I’ve developed the story by comparing my outlines.

    • Robert – I would love some real snow. It’s cold and rainy in NH with a possibility of icing tonight … ugh!

      I agree – multiple copies in different folders and back-up devices is a nightmare. I even avoid keeping too many draft versions. I rarely go back to them – so why take up the disc space. Interesting that you email yourself. I don’t do it with everything but I do the same thing with one of my columns. Take care, Susan

  2. Getting organized is one of those ” kicking and screaming” things for me. Worse yet is Staying organized. I think Julie has convinced me that it may be time for a Scrivener intervention ….santa list?

    • Mom – I agree – staying organized is the hard part. One slip up and then another and another … before you know it – everything’s a jumble. Thanks for stopping by – S.

  3. Here’s my file categories:
    CRITIQUE GROUP (w/ subfile entitled My Critiques from Group)
    WORK LOG (for listing what I’ve worked on each day – which I am lax about)
    JOURNAL (private thoughts on writing or my life in general)
    ARTICLES (w/ subfiles indicating company name/name of article)

    WRITING with the following subfiles:
    BUSINESS RELATED (including sub-subfiles for Freelance Article Markets, Literary Agents and Publishers) – this including various articles written by a number of people related to the business of writing.
    APPLICATIONS (for scholarships or residencies of interest)
    CREATIVE RAMBLINGS (self explanatory but mostly nuggets of writing “stuff”)
    TRADE MAGS (I get digitized versions to help me manage the mounds of paper in my office)
    CONTESTS (with a file for each month listing type and deadline date)
    PROF. DEVELOPMENT (listing Openweave courses or any other training)
    TIPS (writing tips of every kind that I come across that make sense to me)

    Last but not least, this is how I organize for my novel (a separate folder):

    JUDITH THE GIANT (Novel tile with the following subfolders: Author’s Thoughts; Basic Plot Outline #1, Basic Plot Outline #2 (each revised version has a new number), Book Synopsis; Chapter (# and/or chapter name); Character List; Character Profiles (subfiles for each character); Notes & Ideas (subfiles for plot, character, etc.); Research (subfiles for each category of research); Scene Synopses.

    I know it’s alot, but I never have to search around in my computer.

  4. Wow organised. Hmm, well I am not too strong on that. However, I do have a wife who INSISTS everything should be on the desktop. I file in topic. For example freelance, personal, speaking engagements. I do know I can and will be a whole load better in 2013, ahem.

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  8. Hey there! Quick question that’s completely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My site looks weird when viewing from my apple iphone. I’m trying to find a
    template or plugin that might be able to correct this
    problem. If you have any suggestions, please share. Cheers!

  9. I like to collect information from various sites. There are time when I like few points while reading a site. I would like to blog my findings. Will I face a copyright issue if i directly copy paste the few points from other sites? I have seen the usage of “source”. If i mention the source, will it help?.

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