Folder Structure for Novelists

A bunch of people have asked me about how I keep track of ongoing novel projects. I can pick up a project after months away and tell you exactly what stage it’s in and what I need to do next. I know exactly where to find every file or piece of information from any stage in the process, which is incredibly useful because novel projects are complicated.

For these parts of novel project management, the key is folder structure.

It’s the basis for how I organize all my notes, drafts, and anything else related to the process of writing, editing, and sending out a novel: where to store files, what to save, what to name them, all of that.

I applied this method to my writing projects out of necessity/rage after one project that spanned several years for which I’d create a new system of organization every time I picked it back up. Nothing was standardized. I was always unable to find what I needed to work on particular parts but knew that work existed somewhere. It was a mess, and it made a project that was already unpleasant for other reasons maddening.

I also worked as a project manager for a while, and I swear this is one of the easiest, stupidest, most useful things I learned.

So here’s how I do this.

The first stupid trick is to number your folders. This keeps the folders, and the progress of your work, in chronological order. Eventually, the project folder looks like this:

But you don’t set all the folders up right away; you create folders as you progress to each subsequent step, which helps track where you are in the process.

So start with 0, which I inventively call “BG” for background. Every one of my background folders has been organized differently depending on the needs of the project, but this folder is for general information you may need to refer to at any stage in the process. This is where my world-building notes go, for instance, since I’ll need them during drafting and editing. (It’s also where information goes before I’m at later stages but already have, say, notes on potential beta readers or agents to query.)

When you’re ready to start writing, the next folder is for your first draft (“1 First Draft”). This is where material you’re using and/or changing while working on your initial draft goes. If you’re using an outline from the background folder, copy it in here; that way you can make changes to it while you draft, but you’ll still have the original in your 0 folder if you mess it up.

The only file that has to be in this folder is the manuscript draft file you’re currently editing. Title your manuscript file something basic, even if it’s not the actual title, and STICK WITH IT, because it helps with the next stupid trick:

Numbering versions. It seems obvious. But it can also be easy to think, “Oh, I’ll definitely remember this is the most recent one.” DON’T FALL FOR IT. NUMBER YOUR VERSIONS. Know which is the most recent version, and still keep your previous ones so you can go back to them if needed.

(Please do not comment about how superior you think Scrivener is for doing this for you. Thanks in advance.)

After my first draft, I create a new folder for the initial clean-up pass for general grammar/spelling and anything I already know needs to be fixed, copying the last draft from the first draft folder and the ongoing notes I’ve inevitably made for myself of things I already know to fix.

Why not just do this in the first draft folder? Because this isn’t initial drafting. This is editing, and I want a record of when changes occurred and why. If I decide not to make changes I thought I needed during the first draft, I note that; if I later decide I had it right the first time, or I need to reconsider, I still have that text.

My next step is to solicit feedback from beta readers. You copy your cleaned-up draft into this folder and, if the file name didn’t already include the actual title and your name, rename it. You also want a new folder for this step to copy in other files, like the list of beta readers to contact and what in particular, if anything, I’ve asked them to focus on.

(I may do another post on this later, but those questions can include things like, ‘Is the romance between these two characters working?’ or ‘Were you confused about any of the world-building?’ Down the road, I’ve found it useful to see what I was worried about in earlier drafts.)

And this is the final, important, stupid folder structure tip, which is: save everything in your folder structure. Everything.

If you get feedback from a beta reader, don’t just save the file with track changes they sent you, save the additional comments they wrote in their emailed response. Keep everything in one place. Yes, your email probably saves it, and we can talk about email folder structure another time. But the less searching and clicking around you have to do, the fewer barriers (including lack of internet connectivity) there are to your workflow, and the easier it is to keep track of everything.

I start my feedback folder by making a folder for each reader who’s confirmed they’ll get back to me, and it progresses something like this.

Do you see how this works? Just glancing at the folder I know exactly who to follow up with if I haven’t heard back from them by the requested deadline. (The 0s in front of the Canceled and Received folders keep them easy to visually separate, rather than mixed among the alphabetical list of names.)

Incidentally, if you need recommendations for awesome female characters from SFF novels published in 2017 to nominate for awards, I’ve got you covered. =D

I’m not going to keep going through folder by folder; you get the idea. To review, the basic principles are:

  • Number folders (and versions) in chronological order.
  • Internal consistency is your friend.
  • Create a separate folder for each new stage in the process.
  • Save and document everything in your folder structure.

Have questions? Let me know in the comments!

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Centering

Two weeks ago, I finally, finally finished a revision that’s been part of my life for months. I’ve done the two biggest revisions of my life in the last year or so, both for the same book. Thankfully I got my web serial project going in between for my own sanity, but I’ve essentially been revising for about a year. And before that… well, I actually can’t remember the last time I took a writing break. It’s been at least two years.

An actual break, I mean: no projects I’m supposed to be working on. No deadlines I need to start working toward.

So I’ve been taking one, and it’s been surreal.

First there was the realization of how burnt out I was, because it didn’t hit me like an introvert crash. I flailed about unable to remember what else to do with my time, because I didn’t especially feel like doing anything. Then I did remember, but still, the prospect of doing–hobbies, projects I’ve had on hold for months, anything–made me shy away hard.

More than anything, though, it was the realization that I didn’t know what I want to write next (sequel to the web serial excepted). It’s not a matter of ideas–I always have ideas–but of not being able to tell what excited me. My creative well was too dried up to be excited, and I’d lost my center.

I can’t write stories without starting from who I am.

So I started taking in media. Books, anime, long essays I haven’t had the bandwidth for for months or longer. Inserting ideas into my conscious mind so they can start percolating down, forming connections with other ideas for my subconscious to burble back up later.

And sometimes just sitting quietly with my thoughts, because private synthesis matters, too.

I refused to make myself to-do lists, but trying to do whatever I want when I can’t tell what I want is a special kind of maddening. I did accomplish things in the meantime (see: my completely reorganized library!), but it’s taken me almost two weeks to start feeling like a human again instead of just a stuffed sack of warmth. (Cats provide incentives to believe the latter.)

(Before! BOOK INVASION)

 

(After! BOOOOOOOOKS)

At any rate, I’m pulling the pieces of myself back together from where they’d floated off, and sometimes from the depths they need to be dragged back up from. Reminding myself who I am, and what I care about, and what I can do, what I’m going to do, with all that means.

So I just wanted to say a brief thank you, to friends and readers alike, for your patience as I get caught up (I am back to to-do lists and going through my backlog of messages and tasks, I promise). I hope to have more to share soon now that my brain is at last beginning to tick again.

Fairy Cat!

He shelved himself under “Mighty Hunter.”

on pushing

This one goes out especially to my fellow overachievers.

If you’ve noticed I haven’t been around on the interwebs much recently, it’s because I’ve been neck-deep in revision. “Neck-deep in” is an understatement; “breathing” is more accurate. I have always (A L W A Y S) been revising this book. This year’s been hard, not just for *gestures at trashfire political landscape*, but a variety of reasons I’m not talking about publicly.

But I’ve buckled down for the final push on this revision to make my deadline, and I cannot tell you how ready I am to be DONE. Not that I don’t still love the book, or working on it. Not that I think this will revision will be perfect and not need more work. I’m still ready to be done with this revision, and revision in general, for at least a little while. And there’s the shining deadline beacon to reach for. THE END IS WITHIN SIGHT.

But.

It was getting harder to pull ideas out. Not that I couldn’t, but that’s not the part of writing that’s normally a fight for me. I wasn’t totally burned out, just. Tired. I could push if I had to. But I had been pushing, and I had a long stretch of pushing left to look forward to. So even though I had an evening free, and a deadline, I dropped everything to read a book instead.

I finished the book and could practically feel the sensation of my replenished creative well. I considered going back to revising right then—and instead picked up another book.

I slept better that night than I had in weeks. I slept for something like eleven hours. The next day, the threads of a character arc I’d been struggling with stitched together neatly without any fuss. (You know that feeling when you KNOW you’ve done good work in your art? I’m not usually so confident in revisions, but it was that.)

Then my dayjob asked if I could switch from the morning to the evening shift the following day, and even though I knew it would interfere with my revision schedule, for once I decided to do it anyway. Because if I’d slept for eleven hours, I figured maybe I could use another day of extra sleeping. And the next edit on my schedule was going to take even more brain than the last.

That morning came around, and I didn’t expect to get good revision work in. I didn’t have much time, was barely caffeinated. I gave myself permission not to push, picked up my book, sat down… and started having Ideas. I spent the next hour noting down connections as fast as they came to me, as the biggest plot problem I had left just solved itself.

One night off. One book read. Two good sleeps. Back in action.

Because sometimes you need to work smarter, not harder. Or at least I do. If thinking in terms of “self care” doesn’t work for you, consider that, just because you can push through a project, even if you do good work, doesn’t mean the work hasn’t suffered.

Did I lose a day or two of work time? Yes.

Did I sacrifice my ability to meet my deadline? Possibly.

Does that bother me? EXTREMELY.

(I have high standards. I am competitive. I dislike failing. DID I MENTION HOW VERY READY I AM TO BE DONE WITH THIS REVISION.)

But.

Ultimately, it’s still more efficient for me to do it right (right-er) the first time than to have to fix it later. It’s worth it to do better work rather than faster work. (insert caveats about circumstances varying, etc. here)

Because, yes, I care about timeliness, and professionalism. Writing is a business. But writing is also an art, and I can spare a couple days for the sake of the story.

Obviously there is such a thing as avoiding work because it’s hard. It can be hard to tell. In my case, right now, that wasn’t it. But sometimes, if everything is hard, it’s not just because writing is hard. Sometimes you need to step back and breathe. To let yourself breathe.

And sometimes you can’t! Missing this deadline isn’t going to cause me dire consequences. Yours may be less fungible. You’re the only one who can judge for yourself.

But, friends, if you can. Read a book. Eat good food, exercise, pet a cat. Sleep.

For the love of everything, SLEEEEEEEEEP.

The work will still be there. You’ll just be more ready to meet it.

tl;dr If you’re pushing yourself through creative work, make sure it’s because you really have to, not because you think you should/can.

Happy Holidays, friends. Wishing you coziness and good reads. ❤

SLEEEEEEEEEEEP.

The Choice to Fly

I love flying. And this year, I went paragliding.

 

photo by Drew McNabb from Acroparagliding

Starting my annual birthday flying adventures is the best tradition I’ve established for myself. It’s a chance for me to step outside my day-to-day, to reflect on what I’ve accomplished and who I want to be and whether I’m on that path.

This year was hard, for a lot of reasons, and I have been pushing hard. On the writing front, I wrote another book’s worth of words in the course of revisions, and I have revised more–both in thoroughness and in quantity of time spent–this year than I’ve revised in my life. And amidst everything else, I wrote a new book (which you can read for free!), which was a new kind of challenge and adventure. But I’ve gotten so caught up in the minutiae of that daily work that I was desperately ready to fly.

For my birthday flying adventures, I’ve been skydiving, flown on trapezes, sped through the air on ziplines. There are spectacular views to be seen this way, but it’s ultimately not the external perspective I value. It’s the act of flying itself that I love, that I can never get enough of.

When I’m in the air, I don’t feel adrenaline rushes from fear or even thrill. It’s a quieter feeling, but it centers me: flying, I know who I am. I know what I can do, and what I will do.

Every time, I wonder if it will be hard to jump. This year, I wondered if I’d feel nervous running off the hill with so much air below me. I’m familiar with that feeling, standing at the edge of a cliff and making myself jump, and I was prepared to do it, to prove to myself that I could. But there was no doubt, no fear; just launching into the sky.

This year, though, something else struck me. Throughout the trip–doing the paperwork, riding the van up the mountain, strapping in amidst endless jokes to test whether I was going to panic (they, clearly, had not met me)–people kept asking, with some confusion, some disbelief, “you’re here alone?”

Like it was so rare not to need people to come along for moral support, or to witness me. Like I really was there just to fly.

And when I responded affirmatively, they just said, “Good for you.”

Good for me, for taking steps to pursue my own path. Good for me, for knowing when I am enough, for being enough, by myself.

But even though I came alone, I came to a community. People who joked, knew each other’s hopes and struggles, looked out for each other, expected the best. A community of people who have learned to carve a regular space for adventure into their everyday lives, as though flying above mountains is a normal part of everyday lives.

Because it can be.

And the other consistent refrain throughout the trip was when people asked me what I did, and I said I was a writer, and they all marveled.

At first I thought they were impressed by my ability to make ends meet as a writer, but after a couple interactions I realized they hadn’t considered that the challenging part. It was the fact that I write, and I write novels, and multiple, and fantasy, facts I always take as a matter of course, that was what wowed them.

Writing has become such an integral part of my everyday that I sometimes forget what an adventure it is, to pour my time and energy and thoughts and passion into creating stories with words, to throw myself off the cliff over and over and trust that I will fly.

When I fly, I remember I’m an adventurer.

photo by Jenny Scott

Approaching Cons as a Professional Writer

I just returned from a fabulous Sirens, where this year I was reader, presenter, writer, and staff, a new intersection of roles for me. As always, I’ve returned with a lot of thoughts, more a coalescence of ideas accumulated over years of cons rather than a response to a particular experience. (Which is to say, if you think I’m talking about you, unless you know I think of you as a scholar and a gentleperson, you’re probably wrong.)

I’ve had a chance to attend a variety of cons over the last few years before traditionally publishing, which has given me time to realize I have opinions not just on what kind of writer I want to be in the sense of storytelling, but also on what kind of public professional I want to be. I hear writers talk regularly about their public internet/social media presence, but less about the way they approach con-going. Professional writers go to different cons for different reasons, those broadly being:

  • Networking/Meetings
  • Learning craft
  • Selling books
  • Being with friends who get you

Attending a con will usually involve some combination of those goals, but some cons are better for particular priorities. Big cons–like book expos or comic cons–are the best way to get books in front of lots of fans. A tiny regional con or workshop is a better bet for craft. A genre establishment con–WFC, Nebulas, RT–is going to have a high density of pros, which is ideal for scheduling meetings with a lot of publishing professionals.

A con is also an investment: of money, and of time. In general, writers are paying their own way to these events, and they’re events that take time away from writing and editing. More than that, they’re exhausting, physically and emotionally. It’s hard to be “on” all the time. Add to that, a lot of professional writers are introverts. Being social, in public, with people we don’t know, is hard.

But writing is also a job. Cons are, ideally, rejuvenating in a personal fashion, but for a professional writer, they’re also work. I think it’s important to consider what writers get out of cons, and what they want to get out of them, and what that means in terms of approach.

It’s possible for writers to only talk to people at cons they already know–whether because they have many people to catch up with after years of attending a con or years of being away, or many meetings scheduled, or overwhelming shyness and enormous relief that they’re no longer fighting to break in, that they have their group, that they don’t have to put themselves in awkward social situations anymore.

It’s not only possible, it’s easy. It sometimes takes more effort to not end up only talking with people I already know, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to learn to be aware of that so I don’t, because I think it’s a huge missed opportunity. If I only wanted to talk to friends, I could schedule a retreat, or set up a private group chat. Part of the value of cons is not just bringing together people I already know, but people I don’t already know.

When I go to cons, I want to make deep connections–in ideas, and in relationships. I always want to learn, grow, and make friends.

And not just with other writers and publishing professionals. Readers are smart. Some of the most insightful story craft and emotionally supportive discussions I’ve had were with people who will never type a word of fiction in their lives.

I do also want to make friends with people in my field, but the idea of “networking” without friendship fills me with unease–the kind of hollow foundation it implies in my head is harder for me to navigate than the prospect of demonstrating sincere interest in people and knowing them better. That I don’t have to fret about how to do well, because I am interested–if anything I’ll have more trouble keeping my interest in hearing absolutely everything contained.

So here it is: if I go to a con you’re also at, I want to meet you. No matter whether you’ve been in the industry for decades or never been to a con in your life, I want to hear what you’re excited about, and I want to have a conversation about it and not just small talk.

That’s a choice, and every choice has consequences. I know it means I won’t sleep enough in favor of talking with people, and although I’m an introvert I won’t spend much, let alone enough, time alone. I know it means I’ll need to compensate for the sleep deprivation with making sure to eat extremely healthily, which is often complicated at a con. I know it means I need to stock up on introversion before and after a con, that I’ll lose another day to get my body and mind back in working order. I know it means I need to schedule time at the con, not just to see my friends, but to make sure I have time to see people who aren’t already my friends. I know it means I’ll end up in conversations I want to flee, and I’ll miss visiting with some people I care about.

But I’ll also make new friends, and I’ll have conversations and thoughts I couldn’t have had otherwise. That’s the goal, and that’s the reward.

Cons are a balance, and for every person that balance falls differently. Selling books isn’t currently a top priority for me, for instance–but even once it is, I don’t think my choice on this will change much. One of the professional benefits of putting effort into a public presence is to help readers feel personally connected to writers, which encourages them to buy books and spread the word, and in my experience conversations are way more likely to establish connections than listening to someone sitting up on a panel pedestal. For another, everyone has different mental and physical health needs, but I’ve had time to learn how to balance mine in a con setting. Not everyone can make the same choice I do, nor should they necessarily want to.

But I know how much I’ve valued the people over the years who have taken the time to be patient, to listen, to take me seriously, to engage with me earnestly and thoughtfully, to see me when I’ve been alone. How much it’s mattered, and how much I’ve learned. And I know that’s the kind of professional writer I want to be.

So the next time we’re at the same con, I hope we get a chance to talk. I want to hear what you’re excited about.

experiments in defensive fortifications

Happiness as Resistance

I’ve scaled back my social media consumption a lot in the last year. My feeds have become so full of anger, and not unjustifiably. It’s not hard to make me angry, too, but past a certain point, anger doesn’t help me get anything done. So I filter.

Of course, while filtering social media heavily has made me happier on the whole, it brings the unexpected complication of making me feel guilty about being happy when so many people are suffering. I try to remember my being so unhappy and angry I can’t do my work doesn’t help anyone, including myself. And being happy—not just as an absence of anger and grief, but actively experiencing joy—takes energy.

But I think it’s also a form of resistance.

To keep being able to do my work, the work I believe matters.

To be happy, despite all the systems’ best efforts to grind me down.

So I’m working, not just on keeping myself from being overwhelmed by the state of the world, or even on seizing happiness where I can find it, but on doing what I can to put happiness into the world. So that maybe I can help give someone else pieces of joy to hold onto when everything is falling apart around them. I want that in my life, and in my art.

Putting happiness into the world is my rejection of a world in which there is no space for my happiness, for small moments of joy. And I will keep putting it in, even when screaming into the void is the only rational response.

It’s not a substitute for other forms of resistance. This is an “in addition to,” not an “instead of.” But it’s one that, while arguably trite, I think matters.

It’s easy to add more anger to the world. Joy is harder.

But here, have a cat picture. =)

Literally Covered in Cats: the Casey Blair Story

when there is too too much

Sometimes there is just too much. You have already condensed and prioritized and cut out everything but what absolutely cannot be cut, and there is still too, too much.

I can marshal my resources and dig my heels in and get through when things come to a head. Oh, can I push.

The problem is when the rough time isn’t temporary. When the “too, too much” doesn’t have an end in sight—or at least not a near one. When everything promises to be too much for not just days, or even weeks, but months, or longer.

Friends, I have been running over capacity since at least May. Life happened: I was already full up, then was thrown a few big things I couldn’t afford not to catch. But there are only so many unplanned and enormous commitments I can accommodate.

It’s taken me four months of pushing myself to the breaking point over and over to admit this isn’t just a matter of “if you just work hard enough you can do everything.” I can’t. I hate that, limitations are infuriating, but I don’t enjoy being slow on the uptake, either, so here we are.

This post is part confession, part reminder, and part promise. How do you get through overwhelming commitments when they’re not a sprint, but a marathon?

Pacing.

I’m still learning that, pacing. I expect I always will be. It’s clear I’m better than I used to be, or I wouldn’t have made it this long, as over capacity as I’ve been. But just as clearly I have more work ahead, or I would’ve realized months ago how this could only unfold, the way I’ve been going.

Cutting yourself some slack.

I’m… extremely bad at this. Ha. My self-worth gets tangled up in my productivity, and when it’s impossible to be productive enough, it makes it harder to do anything at all, let alone everything, let alone well. When life is calmer, I’m better at untangling this. When stressed, old habits of thinking rear.

Letting go.

I’m always going to expect more from myself. I’m always going to reach for it. I try to set the bar slightly out of reach, but sometimes I miscalculate, and then I keep expecting myself to be able to somehow fly to reach it anyway. Which is a lot of wasted effort for a faulty goal I shouldn’t even be trying to reach, but the lure of how great it would be if I were superhuman is sometimes ridiculously hard to shake.

But these are the things I need to do to pull myself together, and I’m doing them.

The work I care most about needs me to be in a better mental place in order to meet it. So do the people in my life; so do I. So I will. Please be patient with me, and each other, as I work on being patient with myself.

Take care out there.

synchronized sunbathing naps