Organization in Reading
January 14, 2013
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The wonderful Ms. Wonders and I have been having a little dialogue (dia-blog?) about organizing our thoughts as regards writing. I have to admit that my method is more madness than method, and when I see her amazingly regimented and thorough system of keeping track of everything interesting that crosses her path, I am rather envious. If I imagine myself implementing such a system, my imagination wanders to a vision of myself sitting paralyzed in a room stacked to the ceiling with notes and lists, trying frantically to create a list of all the lists. I carry a small notebook around with me, and though I often write down things in it, I rarely go back to look at it except when I am specifically looking for story notes I’ve made. My process tends to be much more organic. I trust my brain and subconscious to notice and retain important things and do the sorting for me. This process has worked pretty well, with some minor failures, but what system doesn’t have those?
That said, there are a few ideas I got from her post, and a couple things I wanted to comment on:
- Wordcount tracker. I have a couple friends who meticulously track their wordcount written. I confess that I only do this when I’m drafting a novel, and then only because it’s easy to do: all my words are in one file, and Word puts the wordcount right there at the bottom (unless you are working on a Mac and your file goes over 100,000 words; did you know that?). I know it’s useful to keep track of how much you write and when, but I spend enough time reworking and editing stories, and how do you note that down as wordcount? So I kind of go by “wrote X number of novels and stories,” unless I am doing something like the Clarion Write-A-Thon (which you should all do).
- Submission tracker. Everyone should do this, and do it better than I do, which is to throw all submission-related e-mails into a big folder and/or use Post-It Notes on cardboard.
- Pre-made bios. This is a terrific idea. As an editor, I know I’m often nagging people to get bios to put in the back of magazines. Having something pre-written (and updated regularly with most recent credits) is really helpful and ensures you don’t write something quickly in a panic that will then be sealed in a publication for all time.
- New words. This one is interesting too. I certainly love discovering new words, but as with the rest of my knowledge aggregation, this tends to happen organically. I hold with the Stephen King “toolbox” method of vocabulary, which says basically that you should only use words you are familiar with; if you stretch to use big impressive words, you’re likely to miss shades of meaning and use. King does recommend reading widely and accumulating word knowledge that way, and Brooke’s new word lists are just a formalization of that process to ensure that the new words are retained and used properly (I cannot imagine her using a word IMproperly).
The thing that I really need a good list for is my “to-do.” Right now it mostly sits in my head, which is pretty reliable but occasionally prone to failure. Post-It Notes (again) litter my desk, because even if I have a program that reminds me reliably in e-mail of what I have to do, I eventually get numb to those e-mails and stop noticing them.
For story ideas, I’m not as worried. If I have a really good idea, it eats at me until it becomes the beginning of a story and I start writing it down. If it’s worth continuing, I’ll remember it and finish it. I have lots of half-finished stories in my folder, and sometimes I go back to them, but mostly I am moving forward. Things get lost, but so far I don’t lack for stuff to write about, so it seems to be working.
And in general, my organic approach and Brooke’s meticulously documented approach are two different methods that both work for us. The key is to find the things that work for you and keep using them, but also to identify the places where your method is not working and try different solutions until something does work. If word count is important to you, track it. If you want to be a professional, track your submissions. If you find yourself lacking for books to read (I cannot imagine anyone in that situation), start keeping lists of interesting books you hear about.