Home > The Editor's Corner > Editor’s Corner: The Organized Writer, Part I: Collecting Your Thoughts, Gathering Your Files, and Creating Backups

Organization is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up.

—A. A. Milne


the writing process

As we have learned in previous Editor’s Corner articles, writing is a process that consists of four main steps:

  • Brainstorm
  • Draft
  • Revise
  • Edit

In this article, we’re deconstructing the nuts and bolts of brainstorming. After all, if you can’t think about your topic clearly, there’s no way you’re going to be able to write about it clearly.

Our first and best piece of advice is simple: When you have an idea, write it down. Whether a line of dialogue on a Post-it note, historical dates on an index card, or even an artistic sketch of a main character, literally take note whenever the inspiration strikes.

Once you’ve got one or more ideas down, even just in fragments, it’s time to go electronic. Although you can certainly travel the low-tech route (as J.K. Rowling did¹) and gather everything in a single notebook or file folder, we suggest a computer, which can be an invaluable resource for organizing. For example, short notes can be typed into a word-processing program, larger files and images can be scanned, and self-sent emails and text messages can be stored for future research.

Create a main folder named with the working title of your book, then add as many subfolders as necessary. We also recommend looking into programs that are specifically designed to help with organization, including Evernote, which offers a free basic plan.2,3 These can be especially indispensible for nonfiction projects, because the enormous amounts of research that may be involved require a systematic method to help writers steer clear of madness.

Once you begin putting all of your notes and versions of your manuscript on the computer, you should also begin keeping multiple copies of everything (especially your manuscript) and in different places. This is for two main reasons:


  1. If you’re disorganized, you’re likely to lose one or more of those copies.
  2. If a drink spills or a computer crashes, you will have a backup to … well, fall back on.


writing process steps


Ideally, we recommend multiple electronic versions and one hard copy that may not be quite so recent but has the most recent major changes/developments. Also remember to back up often, whether via an online service like Dropbox or an external hard drive.4,5

Lest you get the idea that only novices need to stay organized, please note that even George R. R. Martin, creator of the wildly successful Song of Ice and Fire series, “keeps charts, maps, genealogy and other files on the book series [Winds of Winter]. This helps him to refresh himself about what is going on in the story.”6

With everything right where you need it when you need it, you may find that you’re able to form all the fragments you’ve collected into a cohesive concept before you begin prewriting. This should make the prospect of creating your first draft that much easier – and every little bits helps, right?




1 http://www.openculture.com/2014/07/j-k-rowling-plotted-harry-potter-with-a-hand-drawn-spreadsheet.html

2 http://www.artofmanliness.com/2014/02/12/one-app-to-rule-them-all-30-ways-to-use-evernote-to-improve-your-life

3 https://evernote.com

4 https://www.dropbox.com

5 http://www.wikihow.com/Copy-Files-to-an-External-Hard-Drive

6 http://www.ibtimes.com.au/winds-winter-author-george-rr-martin-talks-about-his-writing-process-ending-book-series-1509353


Angela Wade
Angela Wade

I have one goal: to create and shape cohesive, fluid, accessible copy that shifts perspective and makes a connection. With more than twelve years of experience in the writing and editing industry, I accomplish that goal through a passion for brainstorming, researching, planning, writing, and editing everything from grants to novels to marketing materials to websites. My articles, interviews, poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in various print and online publications, including Calyx Journal, Inkwell Magazine, Mindful Homeschooler, and Home Education Magazine.

Stephanie Stringham
Stephanie Stringham

As a child, I read everything I could get my hands on, and I dreamed of getting paid to read books and of helping people. With this dream, I propelled myself through college to earn bachelor’s degrees in English (minor in Writing and Publishing) and Business Administration while working as a peer tutor in the university writing lab and interning with a publishing company in college. After graduation, I stayed on with the publishing company, where I fell in love with book publishing. Editing is my avocation. I began freelancing right after college, while earning a master’s degree in Health Communication and then working as an editor for Eli Lilly and Company and for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. I have edited everything from class materials and newsletters to master’s theses, scholastic imprints, professional journals, and books in all genres. I feel my calling as an editor is not only to improve text but also to teach those with whom I work so they can constantly improve their writing. When I’m not editing books, I’m planting and growing things on a small homestead in Indiana with my husband and two children.