Idea Management: When you are in the office

Last week we talked about a couple of ways in which you can capture your ideas as quickly as your highly developed imaginative minds can churn them out. Now we are going to talk about different methods of corralling those unruly puppies in your home office. Each of these systems will help you track both general writing ideas and specific works in progress.

1. The Notebook System

This system is perhaps the simplest way of keeping track of your ideas. All you need for this system are stacks of notebooks, a marker pen and empty space on your bookshelf. This was my system years ago before I got my first computer.

All I did was label each notebook with the aspect of writing that it concentrated on. For example, one notebook could be labeled “Characters”, another “Plots” and so on and so forth. Then it became a matter of transferring the notes from their temporary home in my pocket to their permanent home in the office.

One disadvantage of this system is that when I wanted to find something I had to flip through pages and pages of written text which, inevitably, took forever because I would get distracted from what I was looking for by thoughts of all that I could with the other ideas I was flipping past. Therefore if you have a computer, as I and most people do, I recommend the electronic version of this system.

2. The E-Notebook System

The electronic notebook system can be as basic or as complex as you want it to be. The simplest way to set up this system is to open up your word processing software (I use Microsoft Word) and to save a document labeled “Ideas” or…whatever and off you go.

The edit functions in Microsoft Word helps to make the document infinitely more manageable. Instead of having one long unformatted page, you can use the “Page Break” function to break it up into sections. With the “Bookmark” function you can setup bookmarks for each section of your document that, like hyperlinks on webpages, allows you to jump around the document, saving you from having to scroll through the entire document. You can even create a mini index at the top of the page and link to each bookmark via internal hyperlinks. (Tutorial coming soon!)

A slightly expanded version of this and something I did when I first started writing seriously, is to create a separate document for each writing topic and then to just open up the one the idea belonged to. However my internet life has forced me to expand this a little further and actually create separate folders into which I can save WebPages that I come across.

The major disadvantage to this system is that you are stuck if you don’t have access to a computer. However, one of the major benefits is that the advent of the flash drive makes it portable. So if you are not always writing in the same place or worse are forced to share a computer, a flash drive will go wherever you are and preserve your privacy.

The other nice thing about this system is that you can also file your voice recordings under each individual file. Be careful, though, audio files do take up a lot of disk space so you may want to think about transcribing your notes if you plan to use a flash drive.

3. The Three Ring Circus

If you don’t have regular access to a computer or the money to spring for a flash drive, never fear, other organizational options are here.

The offline version of the E-Notebook System involves a three ring binder, a few dividers and some loose leaf notepaper. This is the system I use for individual writing projects. I don’t like to lug my laptop around with me when I’m working on a project. First of all, it’s getting old and, consequently, temperamental. Secondly, with WiFi available just about anywhere you go, the temptation to go online is just too great to ignore. What can I say? I’m addicted!

The way I have the binder set up is that I label the dividers with the different aspects of the story (Character Development, Plot, Background etc). When I’m ready to work on a project, I print out all of the relevant pages from its file on my computer and organize them under the appropriate tab. With a few pens and a ream of notebook paper, I’m ready to go.

The only disadvantage to this that I’ve found, so far, is that I have to transfer my updated notes back to my computer when I’m done and sometimes writing manually for too long makes my hand hurt.

4. The File Cabinet

If you are one of the lucky ones and have a space that you can call an office, the tried and true file cabinet system may work for you. You can use the standard 2 and 4 drawer file cabinets but if you are like me and are living a somewhat nomadic life, file boxes will fill the role just as well.

I have two file boxes. One I use as long term storage facility for those stories unlucky enough to have been forsaken for greener pastures. These are projects that, for one reason or another, I’m no longer working on but I don’t want to abandon completely. It is alphabetized with enough hanging file folders that each project doesn’t have to share a home. I’ll print out everything I have saved on my computer about the project and put it in a file folder. This is nice because if I suddenly have an inspired thought about one of my old stories, I can write it out and drop it in the file for later processing.

The other box is for my offline inspirations such as newspaper or magazine articles. Sometimes I take pictures with my camera phone of various oddities (some of which I’ll post online one day) that also find a home in this box.

The disadvantage to this system is that it’s not as portable as the E-Notebook system. However, you can pull files from individual projects and if you have a car you can throw the file boxes in the trunk for when you are on the road.

5. The Index Files

In the previous article, I stated that if you setup your index cards right they could be integrated, seamlessly, into your filing system. With the exception of the E-Notebook, this is true. Index cards can be taped to notebook paper or dropped inside of a file folder. Or, you can set them up with their own system.

All you need is a file box the same size as your index cards and a set of dividers. Label the dividers appropriately and voila, instant filing system. The major drawback to this system is that, unless you are only working on one writing project at a time (perish the thought!), it’s really only useful for saving general writing ideas. Also, those index boxes don’t leave a whole lot of room to add anything other than the cards.

We covered a lot of ground in this article which I sincerely hope helps you in your writing endeavors. When you become rich and famous authors, I do expect to see my name somewhere in the credits. Even if it says “To that girl, whatshername, who helped me get organized” I’ll know you were thinking of me.

Next week we are going to talk about how to stay organized when it’s a group effort.