Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.
The first week of August brought happy news—my agent had read the first few chapters of my new book and loved my new idea! She wanted to see more! Hooray!
Except ... I didn't have more. Not of the pretty, polished stuff anyway. So I told her I was working on edits and would get the rest of the book to her as soon as I could.
Fast-forward to the last week of August, and I was one stressed out writer. I'd barely managed to edit three chapters all month long.! With only one kid being back in school, and with Connor saying, "Thanks but no thanks" to most his naps, I was desperate to get edits done but simply had no blocks of time to make progress. On the one day of the week when grandparents whisked Connor away to play, I struggled to edit even a page.
For a while I would stare at the scene. Wait, what's going on again? What just happened?
Once I was reoriented, I inevitably ran into something that required research. I would then spend precious editing time trying to answer questions like what were school lunches like in the 20s, where was the closest train station to Lake Shore Drive and Irving Street, and when were Oreo's invented?
My crawl through edits deeply discouraged me. Especially because I usually enjoy edits. What was wrong with me? After a little wallowing, I looked at my calendar, my office, and the scene I was struggling through, and I identified problems:
1. Time. I simply didn't have sufficient time to blog, edit, keep up with email, and be a good little marketer on social media. But I knew that once my son started school after Labor Day, this problem would fix itself.
2. My messy office. My desk was covered in rumpled story notes for two different books, writing receipts, and a number of other to-do/to-file/to-throw-away stacks ... that had all merged. I needed organization. Serious organization.
3. I didn't understand a few key characters. That's why this scene was reading flat to me. I didn't know this character. And I didn't understand my villain yet either.
Since I knew the time thing would sort itself out in another week, I decided to focus on items two and three so that I'd feel ready to edit as soon as I had more time. Enter my week of getting organized:
The first thing I did was clear everything off my desk, the ledge beside my desk, and my giant bulletin board. This left me with a big messy pile that I could sort ... and a beautiful empty space to put it all!
I started with my bulletin board. I had four different kinds of notes, a smattering of maps, and a bunch of research books. A lot of my story notes had been compiled into my synopsis, so I recycled what I could. Then I decided to use folders so that I could access what I needed easily. The result was this:
I need the maps handy while I do my edits, so I put those lower. That way I can glance at them or reach them easily. Then I found all my research books and put them in one easy-to-grab location.
It was a good start to getting my head clear enough to edit, but I still had that whole not-understanding-several-vital-characters issue holding me back. This spawned another burst of organization.
I printed off Jill's character worksheet and used it a few times before I needed to make my own. (When I'm brainstorming, it works best for me to write by hand, so I needed more space.) For a few days, I was carrying around a mass of papers, notes, and articles about personality types. I was dragging a mess everywhere I went, until I had the thought, "Wouldn't it be so much easier if I organized all the tools I use when I'm brainstorming?"
Enter a 3-ring binder:
I made a section for the worksheets that I use during the writing and editing process.
I have a few of each printed out and put into sleeves so that I can easily grab them as I'm working. This is the handwriting-friendly version of Jill's character worksheet that I made:
Here are some blank calendars that I often use to track my dates in a story:
I also have editing worksheets and story brainstorming questions in there.
When I work on my characters or plot brainstorming, I typically do it away from my computer. This meant there were several articles and lists that I needed to print out so I could have with me. I made a section for articles on personality types, a section for archetypes, and a few others. (Jill and I have made a bunch of this stuff available to you here.)
Now if I'm leaving my office to do some brainstorming, I can grab my 3-ring binder and know that I have everything I need!
As frustrating as it was to pause progress just to organize, edits have gone much smoother since I did!