Intellectuals solve problems; geniuses prevent them.
In the first article of the Organized Writer series, we talked about getting your thoughts for your book in order, putting those thoughts into the computer, and handling electronic backups. Here, we’re going to talk about the next step, content.
Once everything is organized on your computer and you’re ready to begin drafting, it’s time to put all your prework to good use by creating a premise statement: one or two sentences that explain the overall course of your book. (Don’t worry about the details yet; if all you have is a bare-bones idea, that’s all you need to write down.) As an example, the basic premise for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum is that a girl, Dorothy Gale, gets transported by a cyclone to a magical world and must find her way home again.
Once you are satisfied with the premise statement, look back at all the ideas you had during previous brainstorming sessions and see what fits—and what doesn’t. Don’t delete anything yet; rather, use the best and most relevant ideas to create a plot diagram or outline.
In keeping with the above example, the plot diagram for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz would look like this:
- Introduction: A cyclone hits the farm of Dorothy’s aunt and uncle.
- Rising action: Dorothy wakes in the Land of Oz. To find her way home again, she must make a journey to the Emerald City.
- Climax: She and her friends are chased by the Wicked Witch of the West, whom they eventually confront and kill.
- Falling action: Dorothy and her friends meet the Wizard, and the Wizard shows Dorothy the way home.
- Resolution: Dorothy awakens back in Kansas, glad to be home again.
The plot diagram or outline can be as simple or detailed as you like, with extra details filled in as you work them out. Above all, remain flexible in these early stages. During the drafting process, you will almost certainly find something from your original outline that just doesn’t fit: a character’s name, a subplot idea, a quote … When that happens, it’s absolutely okay to make changes. Write what you need to write, but you may want to also revise your diagram so that when you refer to your outline during the revision process, you don’t get confused.
During the next phase—revision—we recommend creating a subfolder titled “Revisions” in your book’s main folder on your computer. Each day, create a new version of the manuscript with the current date in its name. For example, “The Wizard of Oz Revision 07-03-16.” And remember to save the file you’re working on often. Thanks to the ease of processing programs like Microsoft Word, all you have to do is click a button, and a copy of the file you’re typing in is tucked away, safe and secure. Do this often enough (ideally, at least every page) so that when your computer hiccups (and it will), you won’t be looking at a soul-crushing hours-long rewrite.
During the editing process, make a separate folder for any material that comes back from your editor, using a similar naming convention as above (i.e., “The Wizard of Oz Edit from Joe Smith 07-03-16”). This will allow you to look back at and even take material from previous versions as you revise.
We have one final note: a caution about being plugged in. When the time comes for actual writing, turn off any distractions: Facebook, Instagram, e-mail, cell phone … Otherwise, it’s too easy to slip off into the abyss of the Internet instead of getting work done (cat videos on YouTube, anyone?). You might even want to do your actual writing on a pad of paper, then come back to the computer later to type it in (and even edit as you do so).
Tim Ferriss, bestselling author of The 4-Hour Work Week, believes that “Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing, and is far more unpleasant.” If that’s true (and we believe it is), then “Being selective—doing less—is the path of the productive.”
His advice? “Focus on the important few and ignore the rest. … Lack of time is actually lack of priorities.”