On Organization

Remember how I said that I’m not big on outlining? I’m a sort of free-wheeling, make it up as I go along writer? I scoff out you outliners with your self-imposed rules, living your boxed-in little lives, et cetera?

Well, last week that came back to bite me in the ass. I lost an entire afternoon to searching for a scene I knew I’d written. My manuscript, now getting to the halfway point, is unforgivably long, currently sitting at about 107,000 words. I started writing a scene last week, but kept having waves of deja vu. I finally gave up writing because I knew that I’d already written what I was writing. I even vaguely remembered it, looking up reference images and listening to music.

That’s when I started the search. I checked the three latest (in story time, not my time) sections from that character’s point of view. No luck. I checked my massive complete file. No luck. I asked my fiancé, who is currently reading the complete file on his Kindle. No, he hadn’t read it. I checked my ‘discards’ file. Not there either.

At this point, I was pulling my hair out. I double checked all of the above, growled a lot, and ate some chocolate. Nothing helped. I racked my brain, and finally dredged up a new keyword to search for in the ungainly complete MS Word file… and after about 30 hits of my keyword, found the scene I was looking for.

There’s a valuable lesson from writers somewhere in this story. With my organizational system, I probably couldn’t find it for you, but I know it’s there.

After this little experience, I tried Liquid Binder very briefly, but the size of the program and sheer number of options quickly overwhelmed me. I’m not entirely sure how useful it would be to switch programs midstream, and I think it’d simply be too much work to haul my massive manuscript over to Liquid Binder and make it fit into all the program’s little categories. But anything has to be better than my current system…

I use the term “system” loosely, because really it’s just laziness labelled with numbers. I name each “chapter” or collection of related scenes after the POV character, followed by a number indicating where it goes in the character’s storyline. As a result, I have “Eva 1” through “Eva 7,” “Albert 1” through “Albert 8,” and “Constance 1” through “Constance 6.” Looking back, these titles tell me little, but as I finish each file, I paste it into the complete manuscript. When I first started, I summarized the contents of each file in the handy little info section of the file properties… Which, incidentally, I can’t find in Windows 7.

Help me. This is not working. How do you organize your long manuscript? Word doesn’t like long files. How can I do this better?

Later that night, my fiancé looked up from his Kindle and said, “I enjoyed the dinner scene.”

“Dinner scene? Which dinner scene?”

“The one where they’re talking about going to town.”

“…That’s the scene I was looking for all day.”

“Oh. Well, it was good.”

“Yes, yes it was. That’s why I wanted to find it.”

Oh well.