I’m offering a look at the nuts and bolts of how I organize my writing, in four posts. 456 explains the system I used for years. 457 tells how I keep order while writing today. 458 gives the gory details on why this system works and 459 shows you how to keep track of your research. Take what you can use and ignore the rest.
The best thing about doing novel research on a computer is that you have access to the world, instantly and right on your desktop.
The second best thing about doing research on a computer is that you don’t have to copy things down longhand.
I am very careful to respect the rights of other writers, especially on copyright issues. However, those rules don’t necessarily apply to copying into your own research notes to be considered, modified, used for inspiration, and not quoted.
You can’t copy everything you find on the internet, no matter how useful. Sometimes you have to bookmark. I found an 1868 map of London which I returned to a hundred times. It lives on Safari, along with bookmarks for thirty other websites I have used. A few of those which would be of general interest to steampunk fans and authors are: Beyond Victoriana, All Things Victorian, Historical Emporium (even if you don’t buy the clothes they sell), and The Victorian Web. That doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Another map from Wikimedia Commons was available in jpg. It lives on my desktop, along with a number of maps, coats of arms, and photographs whose jpgs could be snagged.
Whenever I copy from the internet into a word processor program, I always also copy the URL.
Most of what exists in the folder for The Cost of Empire consists of things I have written myself. I would guess that my character, historical, and world building notes probably run about half as many words as the novel itself.
So how can we keep track of all this?
Here is a low-fat version of what my folder looks like, with 11 files instead of 77. It starts with important research files, then has chapters, and ends with less important research files.
changes (notes on changes planned)
Delhi Durbar Ebook ( excerpts from an Ebook)
Sleeves, color (on uniform sleeves, color denotes rank)
0.1 chapter outlines
1 “Tick tick”
20 “Death of an Airship”
American submarines (notes)
Naphtha engine (excerpts on the real thing along with how I modified them)
The German War (I made it up, but I had to write a history of it to keep track)
You may not see it, but there are two spaces before “ changes”, and one space before each of the next three file names. The three file names after that begin with numbers. The last four begin with letters.
Here’s why it is done that way. The computer puts numbers (in numerical order) on the top of the stack. Letters (in alphabetical order) come next. However, a space comes above anything else.
If you want your most important files to be above your chapters, put a space in front of their titles. If you want one of them to be at the very top, put two spaces in front of that title. Once a file is no longer a priority, don’t throw it away. Put a “z” as the first letter in the title and it will drop all the way to the bottom.
“zTimeline” is an early attempt; I didn’t want it at the top where I might use it by accident, but I also didn’t want to lose track of my original thoughts on the order of in which things happened.
It’s amazing how simple this is in practice, and how well it works.