Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Organizing your writing notes

by Stephanie Morrill

A writer asked me a really great question: How do you keep track of all these good questions [for character development] and examples from other writing books?

My short answer - and this is my answer to many organization questions- is a 3-ring binder.

Ah, so simple. So beautiful.

When you open my Writing Notes binder, this is the first thing you'll see:

I keep notebook paper in the front for two reasons. One is so I can jot down writing quotes that I like. The other is because I grab this notebook when I'm headed to writing classes. Keeping paper in there ensures that I'll have something on which to take notes. After the notebook paper, you'll find the notes I've taken organized by subject:

I have dividers for: characters, story, editing, pitching/proposals, marketing/business/internet, resources. (Where I have a list of things like writing contests,or handy websites.

Of course I also have a lot of electronic notes, especially now that I'm a girl with a laptop. So I have a folder on my computer called "Classes and Notes" where I keep stuff as well. I can be a little obsessive about organization, so for a long time I tried very, very hard to make all my notes physical or all digital. I finally came to the conclusion that it didn't make sense time-wise, so I would just have both. Kinda like having a Kindle but buying books too, you know?

As for how to remember it all ... it's impossible. Which is why I like to reread my favorite craft books every year or two. I loved what Erica Vetsch said on the Go Teen Writers Facebook group. "The beauty of writing fiction is that you never learn it all, you've never arrived, and there's always something new to learn or something to try or to take deeper or higher."

The way you improve at writing isn't by studying it more - as helpful as craft books can be. It's by doing it more.

I'm an organization nerd, so I have to ask. Anyone want to share how they organize writing notes?

Tomorrow I'll be posting the winners from last round's contest and some of the winning entries. The judges both commented to me that this was the strongest batch of entries they'd seen and how impossible it felt to pick the winners. Great job, guys!


  1. I don't have too many writing notes yet...but the ones I do have I keep in my binder. :) I've got about four novels worth of notes crammed into that's done me well, even though I got it at a dollerstore a few years ago.

    I do the online thing too, sometimes...unfortunately I tend to get stressed that I'm going to lose something, so everything I consider important is backed up somewhere safe. :)

    1. YES. Must back up everything! I store all my writing stuff on my hard drive, and my husband backs our computers up pretty frequently. But if I've had a good writing day, I'll often send the updated document to my email. Just in case :)

  2. I keep almost all my notes on my computer. I have a folder marked Books. Inside that is a folder marked with each book's going title and in those folders are all my notes, character interviews, chapter outlines and the working draft of my WiP. In my Books folder there is also a folder marked Ideas where I put everything that I'm not ready to start yet.
    Thanks for a great post, Stephanie!
    ~Sarah F.

  3. I actually don't make too many writing notes. I like to keep everything in my head until I use it, which works great for me because I can go over scenes as many times as I need BEFORE writing them to revise them nicely. It's like watching a movie play out in my head.

    I have started keeping a little blank notebook to jot down notes and ideas for my fantasy, and I paste pictures and maps in there too. I like this because I can just wander with it.

    Then comes the terrible day when I get an explosion of ideas, write them down on the nearest piece of paper, and promptly lose it. lol

    Another great post! Thanks! :D

  4. *sigh* I set up one of these. The problem is, I tend to keep all my notes in my head, and am usually too excited to write them on paper. I really need to. :/ Thank you for reminding me to use mine, Stephanie. :)

  5. I'm totally addicted to Evernote. I used to keep notebooks like you do until I had notebooks taking over every room in my house. Evernote works on all of my computers (and my phone), syncs without issue, and keeps everything in a virtual notebook for me to use whenever I need it. I love it!

    1. I use Evernote too! Also love it! It's one of the few apps I refuse to delete off my phone, no matter how much I'm running out of storage space!

  6. I am horribly horrible about keeping my notes together. Once, I'd written down a good couple pages worth of research on one of my characters town, college, location etc. only to find a couple weeks later that I couldn't find any of it! To this day I don't know where I put those pieces of paper. :P

  7. Lydia Grace HartApril 4, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    I actually stole and played with the thing you'd mentioned a while ago Stephanie: ideas and inspiration notebook. It's getting filled with writing prompts (including the ones that didn't make the cut in my standards), poetry, random story starters/scenes from my book ideas, all my ideas, and some songs I'm writing too. A little crazy - just the way I like things...

  8. When I started writing my novel, I typed it on the computer. As it got about 50 pages long, I was freaking out about what would happen if the computer crashed and all my hard work went down the drain. Since then, I've printed out what I had typed, and continued writing my novel out by hand. I keep is, as well as my other WIPs and ideas in a big lime green binder. It works pretty well!

  9. I love the fact that there is always more to learn about writing. As Eric Ludy said (about Christianity but applicable to writing), "It's an endless frontier. Never pitch your tent!"

  10. I saw the post title and new that I had to click on it (like I wouldn't anyway!) because how do I organize my notes? Oh, on about a million scraps of paper that you'll find in drawers, boxes, diaries, books, bags... pretty much anywhere, actually.
    I admire your notes book. A lot.

  11. I don't do a whole lot of notes, except for ideas, but I put them on little tabbies that I post on my wall or in a binder.

  12. A binder is a wonderful idea! I usually use my phone to write and make notes for myself, but I'll occasionally use a notebook. I always email my stuff to myself just to be safe. Once I can get my own laptop I'll definitely make an 'techno-binder'. Thanks for the great tip!

  13. I loved this post!

    I have all kinds of folders on my computer and an ideas and inspiration notebook. :)

    Also, with my recent discovery of yWriter, I've become totally jazzed about the notes feature in there. All my notes about each project at my fingertips! It's fantastic!

    :) Thanks for this great post, Stephanie!

  14. I'm extremely obsessed with organization (I inherited my mom's perfectionist abilities) and I use a large 3 ring binder to organize EVERYTHING in! I have the work I am editing, practice writing and prompts to guide me, completed papers that I love to re-read (wins from contests, articles, etc) and everything in between! It helps me to flip through it and work on something every day.