Friday, August 18, 2017

My Trick Is To Keep Everything By Keeping Nothing

Writers gather a huge miscellany of info - drafts, notes, contracts, plot ideas, pix, reviews, etc; do you have any tricks for keeping it all organized?

I remember a conversation via blog I had with Dietrich and the awesome Sam Wiebe about this. I mentioned how some authors have papers, but I have data. If I write anything down longhand on paper, Post-Its, in grease pencil on the windowsill like John Nash (or Russell Crowe doing his best John Nash,) I'll never look at it again. The cleaning lady will have plenty of good material for her own novel because once I put it on paper it's out of mind. I'd rather take a cake out of the oven halfway through its baking time and put it in my closet. The results would be the same.

Some other tidbits:

A half-hour, and half a burrito ago, I just emailed the editor of an anthology project what is to be my seventh published work of the year.  I've kept multiple windows in at least two browsers filled with tabs of research. The stuff I needed for the short story, and the stuff I came across that I could use later. And strategy guides for whatever video game I'm playing that's too damned hard for someone my age.

I may not use hand-written Post-Its, but the Stickies app in Mac OS X is vital. I may have the word count of an entire novel in there. That helps me keep a lot straight. I write to write, so in the middle of a manuscript for one project, I'll click and dump all my tangential impressions, ideas and inspirations there so I can keep moving. It's how I cast off intellectual weight.

I don't keep my cuts from my work while editing. I know some writers do it, especially when they find a passage that isn't right for that particular piece so they save it for later. Me, if it wasn't good enough then, I lose interest. I have yet to approach a work wishing I hadn't deleted something from some other manuscript. I think it's one of those things like stretching after workouts or focused breathing during childbirth. I have a hunch it doesn't really work, but folks gotta figure out something to say because they see you're in pain.

If you emailed it to me, I still got it, 'cuz Google got it, and, for real, where are they goin'? If I had to print it to sign it and mail it back to you, Google still got it. I really don't like printing. At my funeral, the order of service will be texted to you by the mortician. If you use iMessage, it'll be in rich text format with emojis and whatnot.

I keep my photos where everyone keeps theirs: on my phone until I'm running out of space. Then I look to see who I'm unhappy with so I can delete images of them and make room.

I draft in Storyist, which is linked to Dropbox, which is great for writing productivity. Once I was on set for hours, doing absolutely nothing, so I started a short story project with my phone and it was waiting for me when I got home. So I could do absolutely nothing.

Essentially, I keep it all alive by keeping it all in some sort of active window, be it my phone, my computer, my reader/tablet or my brain. If I haven't looked at it in six months, I put it aside for deletion/tossing. After another month, if I still don't need it, out it goes.

Then a week later, I'll need it.

- d


Thursday, August 17, 2017

"One of these days, I'm gonna get organiz-ized!"

James W. Ziskin

"Writers gather a huge miscellany of info - drafts, notes, contracts, plot ideas, pix, reviews, etc; do you have any tricks for keeping it all organized?”


I quote the poster from Taxi Driver every now and then to remind myself how disorganizized I really am. As a writer, I pride myself on being a plotter, not a pantser, so I'd naturally like to believe that I'm organized. The truth, however, is that I am not. I plot out my stories in advance precisely because I’m disorganized and forgetful. Without an outline, I’d be lost.

But I have managed somehow to forge some work habits that keep things (mostly) on a steady course while writing my Ellie Stone novels. Instead of folders and to-do lists, I make use of the efficiency tools built into the computer programs we all use. Why re-invent order? For instance, I mark e-mails as unread if I haven't yet dealt with them. That makes for a constant reminder that I have something outstanding to do. It dovetails well with one of my more compulsive behaviors: a manic desire to keep my unread e-mails down to one or two at most. Another pense-bête I use is the calendar on my iPad. I travel everywhere with my iPad and write all my books and stories on it, so the calendar is always handy. To keep track of my reservations for writers conferences, for example, I enter flight and hotel and panel information in the calendar as soon as I finalize the bookings, never before. That way, later on when my mind has completely erased all memory of the preparations, I know I’ve paid for the conference, the flight, and the hotel.

So that’s how I stay up to date on appointments, dates, and commitments. Keeping my writing ideas straight is another matter. First, I save my work regularly (on the Cloud) with a sequential number, e.g. Heart of Stone18.DOCX. That way I can always go back and recover something if I change my mind.

Heart of Stone, 2017 Edgar, Anthony,
Lefty, and Macavity Award finalist


I work from an outline, but as I proceed, I tend to get new ideas, especially for subplots and twists and turns. I add notes to the end of my file, ideas of what to put into the story, and I delete them only once I’ve written them into the book. Not the most elegant system, perhaps, but I will never forget to incorporate those ideas into my book if they’re tacked onto the end of my file. If nothing else, my editor will discover them and ask what the hell is this gibberish after THE END?

I used to bookmark websites that I consulted for research for my books. Then, once I’d finished with that part of the book, I’d delete the bookmark. Another manifestation of my mania for keeping e-mails and bookmarks to a minimum. And then one day my editor challenged me on a word usage in historical context. I was sure I was right, but couldn’t find the proof I’d once had. Reluctantly, I changed the word. But that taught me a lesson. I now save my research as I go in the Word document of my novels. Any detail that I think might need justification—like sunrise or sunset times in August—I copy a URL link and paste it into a note attached to the word in question in my book. Then I can delete the bookmark I so desperately want to be rid of. This works extremely well for references, including photographic ones. I’ve pasted photos of newspapers from 1962 into my work in progress, A STONE’S THROW. Look, there’s the weather report for August 11, 1962, in the upper left-hand corner!






















Or maybe I anticipate that my meticulous line editor will want confirmation that “Jetliner” was the name of the aircraft Ellie took to Los Angeles and needs to be capitalized. There's the flight number and timetable as well, both of which I used in Cast the First Stone.

 Cast the First Stone



Or I need a note to myself to remind me that Ellie’s 1957 Dodge Royal Lancer’s gearshift was on the dashboard, not the steering column. And note the handbrake on the left. Ellie needs to pull, not step on, the emergency brake.

























These are just a few examples of what I paste into notes in my manuscript. I’ve made peace with my creative, disorganized side, and try to keep as many of my ideas and as much of my research close at hand while writing. What tricks do you use?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The bits and pieces

Writers gather a huge miscellany of info - drafts, notes, contracts, plot ideas, pix, reviews, etc; do you have any tricks for keeping it all organized?

by Dietrich Kalteis

I don’t plot or outline my stories, it’s all seat-of-the-pants stuff, but under the surface I’m fairly organized. Electronic files and folders, that’s the key. I keep a general file on my computer for each category of what I write: novels, short stories, screenplays, etc. Then there are sub-folders for the drafts, edits, final files, cuts, reference files, character files, character names used, references, timelines, graphics, photos, marketing files, and so on.

When I finish a novel, I cull through the files and folders and toss out anything that I don’t need anymore. Clearing the clutter. And I start new ones for whatever I’m working on next. The trick is to keep it simple and organized, and in the end I just hold onto what I really need. 

Right now, I’m sifting through the final files for Zero Avenue, and except for copy edits, I’m pretty well finished the one after that, Poughkeepsie Shuffle. Meanwhile, I’m close to sending my publisher a final draft of a new story I’ve been working on, and I’ve got a longhand draft ready to key into the computer for the one after that. Then there are a couple of short stories I’ve been working on. So, with all that going on, I have to stay very organized.

I back up all electronic files on two separate drives. Everything. Every day. Hitting ‘command save’ has become a reflex — as my character Zeke Chamas from Zero Avenue might say, “It’s automatic, like scratching.” And it’s something I learned back when I was in the graphics field (saving, not scratching) — and yes, I learned it the hard way, by losing something I had been working on.

I write first drafts in longhand, keeping the pages in old-school folders. There’s something organic about working with pen in hand. Then the second draft gets keyed into my computer. I wish I could write the whole thing in longhand, but I edit and add too much, and my studio would just end up being a sea of crumpled paper by day’s end. Before the computer came along, I did type out a novel on my old Selectric. Working drafts were a mess of lines scratched out and scribbled notes, and the final draft was painted in Wite-Out and had cut strips of paper taped across the pages, not individual letters like a ransom note, but pretty close. There was never a clean final copy. It was all smoke, mirrors, correction fluid and tape by the time I had a submission ready to photocopy and send out. I guess I sometimes have this love/hate relationship with my computer, but it sure saves me a lot of time.

I still write myself little notes for whatever story I’m working on, and these litter my desk. They’re the little ideas that pop into my head and need to find their way onto the page.

When I wrote House of Blazes I did more research than for the novels set in present-day. The setting was the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and in addition to the usual files, I had to keep some on ships, autos, dress, which buildings were destroyed, street maps, statistics, newspapers, files on army involvement, ships involved in rescue, a time sequence of actual events that ran concurrent with the story’s events, personal accounts, and so on. When I started out, I thought all that research and organization would drive me nuts, but I actually liked it and learned so many interesting facts along the way. After which I’ve gone on to write more novels steeped in history.

Back when I was writing mainly short stories, I kept lists of where each story had been submitted, often making simultaneous submissions to three publishers for each story, keeping track of rejections and what was still out there. Once a rejection came in, I’d send the story right back out to another publication, keeping track of all that.

In the end, coming up with a system that keeps me organized and avoids disaster sure gives me a lot more time for writing. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

My mother would be amazed

By R.J. Harlick

Writers gather a huge miscellany of info - drafts, notes, contracts, plot ideas, pix, reviews, etc; do you have any tricks for keeping it all organized?

Yup, I do collect a lot of stuff, particularly when I send Meg to a wilderness that is new to me. I find during my research trips I collect no end of information from maps and brochures to notebooks filled with observations and interviews. I like to speak to as many local people as I can to get a good feel for the place, so that when I place Meg in this wilderness, it’s as if she is actually there.  I also take a huge number of photos to refer back to when I have Meg exploring its various byways.

I imagine by now you have images of my desk being piled high with all this information and me desperately searching through the piles to find one tiny morsel. But there is nothing I hate worse than wasting valuable writing time looking for stuff. So I practice a filing approach I learned fairly early on in my other working life. I use folders, be they physical or automated.

From the moment I start planning a book, I pull out an empty file folder and label it Book N with N being the number of the book in the series. I use Book N because I never know the title until I’m well into the writing of the first draft. Anything related to the research aspects of this book I throw into this folder.  For anything found online, because I do a fair amount of internet searching, I create a bookmark folder in my web browser, calling it Book N and add the urls for all the pertinent sites. For the photos, I create an album in my photo software and throw in all the relevant photos.

For the actual planning of the book, I create a variety of word processing files, one that addresses the story line and its continuous massaging as the writing progresses and one for the characters with pertinent details including names, ages, relationships with other characters and physical descriptions. Purple Palette for Murder is basically about one extended Dene family.  During its writing, I found myself getting confused, so I created a family tree to keep track of their names, ages and relationships to each other. I will also create timing charts to ensure that when I write that something happened two days earlier, that it really did happen two days earlier.

As for all the other stuff related to the book, yup you’ve got it, I create specific file folders. I have one for contracts, one for reviews, one for events and so on and so forth.  And yes, I have a filing cabinet, so it is all neatly tucked away. But my desk isn’t empty. It’s usually stacked with all the relevant folders. But at least I can cut down on the search time by going directly to the right folder.

Boy, I read through this and am amazed at how organized I have turned out to be. My mother would be amazed too, given the perennial mess of my bedroom in my early years.


And now for some BSP. Purple Palette for Murder will be in stores two months from now. But if you want to reserve your copy, you can pre-order at any of the online bookstores or with your favourite independent. There is something else that happens two months from now. Yup, you’re right, Bouchercon. So those attending will be the first people to get their hands on Purple Palette for Murder. My publisher is also planning a bit of a launch at the conference for my book and a couple of others that come out at the same time. So you have another reason for going to Bouchercon 😊



Monday, August 14, 2017

Organization Tricks

Terry Shames, here, giving some hints about how I deal with:

BUSINESS:  Tricks for staying organized.

Hahahahahahaha.

Excuse me while I try to gain control of my hysterical laughter.

Tricks? No. Hard-won methods? Sort of.

I used to be organized. I used to write lists, do tasks at once so they wouldn’t back up, and generally have control of my life. That was before I became a published writer. Who knew being published took up so much time and energy. Here’s how I thought it worked: write a book, get an agent, find a publisher, turn over everything regarding the book to the publisher. Do the book tour the publisher organized. Collect the money. Repeat.

Now a pause for me to wipe my eyes from weeping.

What follows is a list of what I have done to stay at least somewhat organized:

1)         Start a new file folder for each book. Seems easy, right? The problem is what to call the folder: Book Three? Possible Africa mystery? France? I was halfway through writing a book before I realized I had another whole folder of notes for the book that I had forgotten about.
2)         Flag emails that are important. Seems easy, right? A few hints: different flag colors for different categories (I wrote the colors down and promptly lost the cheat sheet). There need to be flags for things that need to be done soon and those that will occur eight months from now. Another hint: remember to flag things. If you have forgotten to flag one email that is relevant, your whole system is useless. Guess how I know this.
3)         Write things on your calendar. There are actually calendars that have ways of color coding what you are writing down (i.e, personal, business, family, urgent) I actually have one of those calendars. If I bothered to use it, I bet I’d love it.
4)         Drop emails into separate folders with useful names. Sorry, but “To Do” is not useful unless, unlike me, you have the discipline to look at it every day, not once every six months.
5)         Keep a file cabinet for paper documents. Especially helpful if you file things in it, instead of “filing” papers in a big pile on one corner of your desk.
6)         Send remainder emails to myself. Only useful if I actually read them, instead of thinking, “Oh, I know what that is. I’ll get to it.”
7)         Keep a list with the names and email addresses of: book store contacts to set up readings; publicity department contacts for newspapers and magazines that publish notices when I have a new book; all the miscellaneous people I meet who might be willing to give me a plug, an interview, etc. I have such a list. If I kept it up-to-date, it would be really useful.
8)         Keep a running list of blogs that I enjoy reading and that might be willing to host me when I have a new book coming out. See last line of #7.

And here is a list of things I wish I had done or hope to do:

1)         Keep a book bible—a list of names of people, places and things that crop up in each book with a short description. Great idea. Instead, I seem to enjoy spending tedious time looking back through books, trying to find out what I called “that barbecue place on the road to Bryan,” or the name of Samuel Craddock’s banker, or… In my search, first I have to figure out which book it was in, and then where it was in the book. I seem to enjoy this because if I didn’t, I would have kept a book bible, right? I actually start one with each book. Start one. Not finish one.
2)         Hire an assistant. What keeps me from this? I don’t actually insist that the person has to “think like me.” No, what I think is, he or she has to BE me. Also, if I hired an assistant, I’d have to give her instructions. Enough said.
3)         Learn how to use the following effectively: my computer, my word processing program, my printer (ha!), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all other social media. Gosh, it’s so much easier to stumble around making stabs at being effective, finding something that works sort of okay, breathing a sigh of relief, and failing to write down the discovery.
4)         Go through all those folders, deleting or pitching out everything that has become irrelevant. Of course that requires deciding what is and is not relevant.

Don’t even get me started on photos. I have some wonderful photos from readings, meetings, and conferences. However, would it really be interesting to anyone if I were to publish a photo from a reading I did three years ago and never got around to sharing? How about that zany photo of a favorite author whom I posed with back in 2013? If I posted it now on Facebook, would he think I was stalking him? I must have 200 photos of conference panels with tiny little faces on the panels because the photo was taken from the back of the room. Do I really need to keep these? I will delete them. Eventually. Just give me time to get organized.

And speaking of photos, here is one from my fabulous vacation in British Columbia: