Friday, May 13, 2016

Collecting Creativity (and figuring out where to put it)

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

I've been in the process of putting together a lesson for my teen writing class and it's brought up all sorts of things.

Memories, of course. Lots of those. Bookish memories of where my author journey began a handful of years back. But also, practical, organizational things. 

I've been sorting through paperwork trying to find old query letters and pass pages and editorial letters. I can't haul all of these things into the classroom, but I'd love to show these very real documents to the aspiring authors in my class--visual proof that dreams really do come true, you know? In lieu of renting a U-Haul to get everything to the school, I thought I'd snap pictures of the things I want to share and create a slideshow. 

Of course, I have electronic copies of most everything, but the originals--the documents I marked up and doodled on--those are all here somewhere as well. And the hard copy real deals are somehow so much cooler than the e-versions. 

So, I've been searching.

And I've been thinking. 

Because the truth is, while I'm a very detailed, organized person, when it comes to the business side of my creative endeavors, I've failed. Shockingly so. I mean, the stuff's all here. I've collected it. It's just . . . 

I need a system.

And while I don't expect you to help me file my contracts, it crossed my mind that it's not just my official documents that have taken over the office. It's everything to do with my creative life. My brainstorming notebooks and my index cards for plotting and my books on craft.

These things are all buried under my daughter's art projects and my son's electronic devices--all of which seem to find their way onto my desk. 

All very real, all SO NOT YOUR PROBLEM. But I'm being real here. Being honest. And the bigger problem is that since I know that I know that I know that I'll never find anything on my desk when I need it, I've started recording my story ideas and saving them as email drafts. 

A fabulous thing to do, because even though I swear to myself I'll remember all my ideas, I don't. If I don't get them down somewhere, they flutter away--to the next author perhaps, an author smart enough to scribble them down.

And therein lies the problem. I have ideas everywhere. They're in my drafts folder in my inbox. They're doodled in one of fourteen notebooks on my desk. They're on index cards pinned to my bulletin board. They're scratched onto last week's sermon notes. 

And so, I come to you now, throwing myself at your worn-out, Sharpie scribbled Chucks and I ask you . . .

How do you stay organized? I need your greatest tips, tricks, and secret weapons. 

And while I realize that it's MY JOB to give you advice, I thought we could do a little something different today and simply share strategies that have worked for us. Organizational strategies for the the paperwork that comes with being a writer, but also for the ideas that really will leave us if we don't jot them down. 

Fair warning, I plan to steal all the best ideas and implement them. 

My office (and my future novels) thank you.


  1. I really am not a super organized person, but I do kind of have a way to organize my ideas. I have a binder dedicated to writing stuff. If I get a random idea, I write it down on a loose leaf sheet of paper and get it in that binder as soon as possible. The binder isn't exactly organized, but I have a bunch of writing ideas, sketches, and characters in one place.
    It isn't the greatest strategy, but it might help a little bit.

  2. Oooh, I love organizing!! For my ideas, I have them in one of those little index-card holders (even though not all my ideas are on index-cards), but an accordion file would probably work too. From there, I have four dividers labeled Titles, Characters, Summaries, and Storyworlds. That keeps all my ideas organized pretty well.

    Then, while I'm actually writing something, I have a binder dedicated to it with four dividers: Plot, Characters, Worldbuilding, and Notes. The Notes section is there in case I need to jot down an editing note or something I want to change when I finish the first draft. When I finish writing, I move all those papers into a manila file folder with the book's title written on it, which goes into a filing cabinet that's organized alphabetically. That way I have the binder and its dividers ready for my next WIP.

    That's about it! Happy organizing. :)

  3. Me? Organised? No way.
    Organising my unwritten stories? I make a list. Then I make sure I have a plan to match up. I keep then in the back of notebook.
    I like Making lists of all the stories I have ideas for. So I'll see "okay, ten story ideas that need to be developed ". Maybe colour code them--written, unwritten, being written

  4. I'm with you a hundred percent, Shannon. I am exactly like that, jotting ideas whenever I have a chance. I'm just a mess. I've got a cardboard box, ripping at the seams, overflowing with paper, sticky notes, notebooks, you name it, in the way back corner of my closet that I throw my idea papers in, so...I'm not exactly the best person to ask. So, not much advice here, but one small thing that's been working for me is that since the May challenge, I dedicated a shiny new notebook to my collection of ideas. I have to get an idea every day, so when I jot it down on the church bulletin, say, I make sure I write it into the slot of today in my notebook. I also take a bunch of pictures that I'm still aspiring to print out and paste in there. I'll have to utilize some of these ideas, because it's beginning to overwhelm me. :)

  5. I scribble down my story ideas in a notebook or on a post-it and stick it in a safe place, like the main bulletin board or my diabetes care counter. Then, when I can, I type the idea into my Idea document on my laptop. I have that organized kind of in a weird way: I have a bunch of story ideas all nicely written up in no particular order, each with a title, a genre, a short summary, and sometimes a hook. That's what I try to make all my ideas look like, but it's really the very last step.
    I have several sections where I can list character names or story titles I thought up and liked, so I can pull them out whenever I need.
    Then I have a long, long list of quick ideas I thought of but didn't develop yet. These almost always have a hook which will help me remember exactly what I was thinking when I wrote it, like comparing the MC to this other character, or the story world to this place.
    And then, when I can, I fix up these ideas and flush them out, and then they go up with the rest of the complete ideas. And when I'm ready to work on that story, I open up a folder and start worldbuilding and plotting.

    I hope this made sense, and that it helps somebody.

  6. I wouldn't say I am the most organized of people (I literally have three sketchbooks full of maps and drawings, and I struggle to remember what I drew where) but I do have a few strategies. I usually like to jot down new ideas or spontaneous quotes on sticky notes I take everywhere; they can be easy to lose. So every few weeks I take the sticky notes off their pad (I don't rip them off individually) and glue them all onto large sheets of paper. This pleases my creative side because its a grid of colours and doodles as well as storing all of them in one place. I put all the pages of glued sticky notes together in a binder, and it's super fun to flip through page after page of it from past months. It shows me how my ideas for a novel have changed over time.
    Apart from that, I usually have journals for certain things. I have a small one near my bed for late night bursts of inspiration only, and one for keeping track of my writing goals that year. For me it's mainly about designating what I use for what, and sticking to it.
    Hope this helps! :D

  7. I use Evernote. It's been sooooo amazing. I used to have the same problem, a million papers and file docs and emails, but Evernote can clip from the web, take pics of documents and store them electronically, and lets you type up text notes. Plus it's one account that you can use across all your devices. It's also pretty easy to organize because you can make "notebooks" and sort out your notes into them. I have one notebook called inbox that everything goes into by default and then I sort out my inbox.

    I use it the most on my phone, but it's nice to have all the prep work you've done for a project in one place that you can open in another window while you're writing.

    As of right now you get free unlimited storage, but you get 60 MB to upload monthly. I use it excessively, and I've never gone over.

    And then for actual projects I divide them into folders on my flash drive.

    1. Ooh. It's finally letting me post! I've had trouble for the last few months being able to reply

    2. This sounds great! I might have to try this! Right now I have a file in Google Docs that I put my ideas in. It's nice because I have the app on my phone--which is always with me when I am away from a notebook or computer. But I'm with you Shannon! I wish I was more organized :)

    3. Ooh, sounds awesome! Do you have to pay for Evernote? (I know, that may seem like an odd question.)

    4. No. They have extra bells and whistles if you pay, but the free version works just fine for me. :)

  8. I have a cork mood board in my room which I use to stay organised. It means I can jot down random ideas on scraps of paper, pin them up so I don't forget it. Then later I can rearrange the good stuff I want to keep and get my thoughts in a kind of mindmap. As for the stuff I don't want, I put all those ideas into a folder which I can go back to later if I realise there might actually be something okay there. The cork board also means you can pin up things like drawings and pictures, which I find quite useful too. Hope this helped in one way or another!! X)

  9. I like to say I'm organized, but everything is just scattered around my room.
    All of my WIPs are on my computer along with other documents that are a lists of scenes. My map sketchbook and other notebooks are somewhere in my closet (they used to just be piled by my bookshelf). One of the notebooks is the five subject type. Each section is for one of my WIPs. Random story ideas that I'm saving for later are on my phone so I can write down random thoughts even if I'm away from my computer or notebooks. These include characters, parts of plots, possible settings, etc.

  10. Different colored notebooks work best for me. I have one dedicated to my current WIP and another is the catch-all for random ideas. I keep both by my side all the time. Sometime during the week I like to transcribe them onto my computer. I use Office OneNote for random thoughts. It's easy to make folders and pages with it.

    The rare times I have to use whatever paper I can get my hands on, I make sure to pile it all on one side of my desk. That side must always be clear for such purposes. I know some people who find highlighting their words in different colors helpful. Yellow=plot ideas, Blue=Scene ideas, Green=Character ideas; Pink=Writing tips. That sort of thing. Then when you're going through a notebook you can tell at a glance what a passage or snippet is about. Color-coded sticky notes work the same way.

    1. That's really smart. ☺

    2. You're welcome! ☺

  11. I write all m ideas in one notebook until it's all filled up. Some of my docs are on the computer. It's not that helpful, but that's what I do. I keep my notebooks on my desk or hidden somewhere where no one can read them. Hehe.
    That's what I do.

    1. I meant 'my' instead of 'm'!

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  13. I love Google Keep for this. It's in the cloud, it's on my phone (you can get it for iPhone too), and it's on my laptop. It's literally with me 24/7. I write/type all my ideas into it (or just record them if I'm lazy). It comes with tagging and color coding. Take full advantage of it. I normally tag all my audio recordings as "Audio Stuff" (so creative, right?). I color code all my story notes, it makes them easier to spot when I'm scrolling through other stuff.

    One more handy thing, you can put reminders there too. Google Keep has all the bells and whistles. Super handy, absolutely recommend it.

    Don't feel guilty if you steal this idea. Writing is basically taking old ideas and dressing them up in new gowns. Why shouldn't that extend to writing advice? XD

  14. What is this 'organized' you speak of? Wait a moment, I might have something to help you...
    Oh, yes! I use Office OneNote to keep just about anything that I need to 'jot down'. I have it on both my computer and kindle fire and love having it handy in case I'm on the go and need to quickly write down an idea.
    I also use Office OneDrive to store just about everything, and it's extremely helpful for writing. I have a writing folder that I can also access using the OneDrive app on my kindle (OneNote and OneDrive apps are made for other devices; the kindle is just what I use), making it so much easier to view and edit my docs on the go.
    With a notebook, I have everything organized by colored dividers, one for character profiles, one for maps, and others for other things.
    I have found that I benefit from having two copies of things like maps and character profiles: one to look at, and one to write changes/additions onto so I can add those to the copies on my computer.
    Also it's great to have a document that has a list of where everything is. So, if you have something in a notebook, it might look something like this:
    Alexandra's Character Profile: Notebook 2, Section 3: Characters
    Or, if you have something on the computer (like many of my resources and docs are), it might look like this:
    Alexandra's Character Profile: MyFakeComputer/Documents/Writing/StoryIdea23/Characters/Alexandra.fakedocx.
    I also have two cork boards in my room that I can pin up things like maps, drawings, scene ideas, and others.
    Hope this helps! I'll comment again if I think of something else...I think I might have missed something.
    Have a wonderful evening!

    1. That sounds like a great plan!! ☺

  15. I, uh ... I don't really even try to stay organized? I don't know why, I kinda like it all scattered around, actually :D. Feels like I don't have to take everything too seriously, and I like that. But I DO at least try to keep all of my story stuff, notes, etc. on one shelf, so I (kinda) know where everything is.

  16. Staying organized is always a challenge. Color coded files in an actual file cabinet is helpful. Some people find Google Docs is a good way to stay organized. I often jot ideas down on a notepad. I also set up a designated shelf in my office for notes.

  17. Staying organized is good. But I am not organized. I might steal some ideas from these other comments, hehe. I have a zillion ideas in my head and I write them all down. Everywhere. I need to start being organized.
    Is there a post for what to do with two crushes? I need a strong purpose why the Female Main Character (FMC for short) won't get together with this other guy. (GMC) I have written a little story (not published) and after the end, we all know (my future readers...maybe) the FMC is going to get married to this guy she likes. Then (in book #2) she likes this other guy and is torn. He's nice, but we (Future readers) all want the FMC to marry the guy first introduced. I need a strong purpose why the FMC can't (and won't) marry the second guy.
    Any advice or posts? I searched for a post, but found none.
    Thanks! This comment may be confusing.
    ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺

  18. Scrivener is my best friend for organizing story ideas. It helps so much to be able to keep them in one place.

  19. Oh my goodness, I do the email drafts thing too. *facepalm* I have over 50 drafts right now...And seriously, my desk is a disaster. I never actually sit at it and write.

    As for organizing...well, I use two websites/apps that have been majorly saving my life. The first one is a cool to-do list with a twist, called Habitica. The twist is that you have a little avatar and checking stuff off your to-do list helps it level up, and if you join a group you can go on "quests." It makes stuff fun. :)

    The second is OneNote, as someone else mentioned. I use it for literally everything. You can make yourself as many notebooks as you feel like, but I tend to stick with one so I have everything in one place. Then the notebook can be divided into sections--I use each section like its own category. And within the sections you have pages. (Three tiers of organization--gasp! I LOVE IT!!)

    So, for example, I have a section called "lists." Some of the pages are: Plot bunnies, "thinky" things, blog post ideas, prayer list, names, and scholarships. Another section I have is called "random." Some pages there: Encouragement, things that make me smile, random research-y things. I also make a section for each school subject and a page for each chapter or whatever.

    Really, OneNote has helped me keep track of those random little important pieces of info soooo much. But any good note app would work. The trick is actually getting into the habit of using it.

    Hope this helps! :)

  20. For story ideas, I have a Word document where I store all the tidbits. It has several categories, and I type the idea under the one it best fits: Novel, Short Story, Poem/Song, Places, Characters, Elements and Items, Scene/Skit/Play, and Random/Uncategorized.