In an earlier post, I mentioned in passing Jack Kerouac's remarkable feat in typing the entire first draft of On The Road onto a single roll of mimeograph paper. The irony is that no matter how "cool" such a trick may have appeared during the 1950's Beat era, it can only seem to us today hopelessly antiquated. The obvious advantage twenty-first century novelists have over their predecessors is the ability to write and edit their works with the help of word processing software. What's often overlooked, though, is the computer's ability to assist the writer in organizing his work. No longer is it necessary to sift through reams of paper in search of a passage written months before and now misplaced.
Anyone who's ever used a computer (and who hasn't?) soon realizes that files and directories are no more than folders within folders. As long as these are properly labeled, they can be easily cataloged and retrieved. The trick is to set them up in a logical fashion before writing even a single word of the text.
The first thing I do is to create a folder for the entire novel and label it with that piece's working title. It's not necessary to agonize over the title, though, as it can easily be changed at any time using the "Rename" feature.
Having done this, I then create several other folders within the first. One will be entitled "Cover" and will contain the artwork and layout for the the book's cover when it is eventually published. I use my own photography for this task and find it helpful to work on this aspect while at the same time writing the text. (I intend to discuss the mechanics of designing a cover in a future post.) Again, it's not necessary to fret unduly over the cover before one has even begun writing the work. If a third party is to do the cover design, it's not needed at all. The point is to have things set up so that they are readily available when one reaches the stage where they're needed.
Another folder I create within the first is entitled "Research." While a novel does not require the exhaustive research needed for a scholarly textbook, it is still imperative to have one's facts straight. This is especially true if a writer is setting parts of the story in an actual location, such as a NYC restaurant, or referencing within the novel real life events that have been reported in the media. Into the Research folder I cut & paste news items, Wikipedia articles, descriptions given on travel websites, etc. I never have so many that I have to trouble myself putting them in any sort of order. I do, however, make sure to keep headlines in bold large-point type so I can locate them easily.
The third folder I create within the first I label "First Draft." It is here I put the actual writing. Before beginning, though, I start within this new folder a file entitled "Chapter Summary." This is a standard Word table consisting of rows and columns. I use one row for each chapter. In a column on the far left, I put the date on which I began work on that particular chapter and which I also use as the file name; in the middle column, I write a brief summary (one or two sentences) describing what occurs in that section; in the column on the far right, I put the number of pages in each chapter. I also include in the Summary a list of characters so that I can remember what name I've assigned to each.
It's only after all this has been done that I actually commence writing the first chapter. I find that when I start out I usually have five or six "scenes" already imagined, and I devote one chapter to each. Once these have been written out, it's fairly easy to come up with ideas for additional chapters. I go on this way until the entire novel has been completed.
It's important to create a new folder for each draft. That way none of the chapters in the First Draft folder are overwritten. I can always go back to them if I'm unhappy with the revisions I've made in the following draft.
While all this is admittedly very basic, taking the time to organize one's writing day by day can save a tremendous amount of time once the editing process has begun.