Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Files You Keep

Jennifer keeps lots of files...

As a writer, I get lots of ideas for stories that flit through my brain. Ideally, it would be wonderful if all of my ideas pertained to my current story, but unfortunately, my brain doesn’t work that way, and I’m usually struck by inspiration for multiple stories are random times.

Quite often, the times those ideas strike are inconvenient—when I’m finally drifting off to sleep, when I’m in the shower, when I’m walking the dog or when I’m driving. I keep a pad by my bed so that if I think of something, I can write it down without getting up or waking my husband. Of course, there’s no guarantee the next morning I’ll be able to decipher what I wrote the night before, but I try. For other times, I have a robust dictation app on my iPhone that I use.

Once I’ve dictated those thoughts and gotten home, I can send them to my computer, where I store them in files. Some of the files are called “Story Ideas.” Others are called “Characters.” When I’m stuck for an idea, I go back to the files to see if anything inspires me.

I also keep files of “Extras,” things that I’ve deleted from my manuscript but that I don’t want to get rid of right away. You never know when you’re going to need that extra piece of backstory, or a deleted scene. If I don’t need them for the actual manuscript, I can offer it as a bonus to my newsletter subscribers or put it up on my website.

I also make files of “Outlines.” I don’t write outlines ahead of time—I’m unable to write from one. But I find them useful afterwards as a type of roadmap. I can refer back to it to make sure I’m consistent in my character descriptions, or if I want to go back to a particular place to fix something or flesh something else out.

And I make files of “Character Development”—a cheat sheet for each character as I develop them, so I can get a picture, both physical and emotional, of them.

What files do you keep?


  1. I wish I was as organised as you. The only files I keep are character studies of my hero and heroine. Quite detailed ones - some of it I might never use but it's there just in case. Otherwise I might jot notes down on a piece of paper as I go along but that's about it.

  2. You are far more organised than I am! I have one notebook, and everything gets scribbled into that! Sometimes I circle, underline or star things in it - but, having just looked through it, I'm trying to remember why I circled the words 'pirate witch' LOL!

  3. Okay, ladies, just so you don't misunderstand me and think my files are alphabetically organized and color coordinated, these are files on the computer. And the dictation program enables me to email what I spoke to my computer where I can cut and paste it into a word document and just save it. So I'm not nearly as organized as you think--darn, maybe I shouldn't have said that.

    1. That's still more organised than me! Occasionally I might save something as a possible story idea, but I've never actually used any of those 'saves'!

  4. I have files of 'craft' type help: one for characters, one for developing plot, one for research, one for setting, etc. Unfortunately, the only one I really ever go back to on a regular basis is my synopsis file which has my go-to seven-step synopsis guidelines.

    I sometimes keep a file for each story, which I empty out when I'm done. That's usually just for full-lengths, not the novellas so much. I do keep one titled "misc" in case a random idea or line of dialogue comes to me.

    I do keep a small notebook by my bed and one in my purse for jotting ideas. I had to laugh, Jen, because in the morning those scribbles definitely are open to a lot of interpretation. One night I wrote four or five pages, and in the morning I had...nothing. Apparently I was trying to write with the pen poised above me and no ink was getting to the tip. I guess I need one of those NASA pens that can write upside down. Ha ha.

  5. I have files from workshops and writing group posts on 3 computers, and I keep adding to them. At the time I think I'll need them. Organizing them now would be a hurculean task.
    I get ideas when I'm driving alone. I keep a pad and pen on the passenger seat, and become a road menace when an inspiration strikes.
    Good thing I don't go far very often.

    1. That's why I love the dictation app, Ana. No road menacing going on here!