Organizing a Hectic Schedule

It’s 1:47 am as I type this… and that’s an early night for me. I’ll probably have my head on my pillow by 2:30 and maybe, just maybe – if I can turn off my ever-twirling brain, I’ll be asleep by 2:45.

Maybe.

Life has been crazy these last few months. It all really took off in July of last year, but now.. Now I’m wondering what I did to get myself where I am. And where is that, you might ask (after all, my veiled comments about a hectic lifestyle could, quite literally, mean anything… except of course that I’m sitting on my butt doing nothing all day. Because that is the opposite of hectic and pretty much what I’d like to do.)

Well, I’m working. My freelance business is keeping me busy and on my toes… well, at the very least awake, until nearly 3am every night. Granted, that’s partially due to my quasi-inadequate time management skills and the procrastination I learned from my mother, but mostly it’s because I’ve just got so much work.

And it’s amazing.

Keeping on top of the projects is proving to be a test of my organization skills. I have a system and it’s working for the time being. It’ll change – evolve if you will – as my project load increases… but for now it is what it is. And I want to share it with you in the hopes that it’ll help you keep on top of all the projects you have in your life.

Keep a list

I have a list of every project for each client that I write out and tape to the front of a folder. I update this list every time I pick up the folder to work for that client. The physical action of writing a project down and then crossing it off when it’s complete is indescribable… I realize that there is a virtual and more environmentally friendly way of doing this, but for me… writing my list by hand and crossing off projects really drives home the progress (or lack thereof) that I’m making.

You might find that your computer folders are adequate for your purposes; if that’s the case, here is how I suggest going about this list-thing:

  1. Create a folder for each of your clients.
  2. Create sub-folders for each project.
  3. Create a “list” file – this can be a word document, excel document or even a note pad file; the key is to ensure it is the only free floating file in your client folder. \
  4. Every time you get a new project from the client, open the document and add it to the list, complete with due date and any notes you need to remember.
  5. Every time you do work for that client, open the file and review your list.
  6. Every time you complete a project, cross it off the list by using the strike-through option, adding a “submitted” or “completed” date or just deleting it from the list.

This might seem like a lot of extra work but you might already be doing something like this. It’s just another method of keeping your ducks in a row.

Keep a Calendar

Next step, after you’ve organized all of your projects into neat lists, is to plug everything into a calendar. Again, I’m a hard-copy kinda gal, so I have an agenda I bought at Bureau en Gros (that’s Staples to everyone else in North America). I tried to use an electronic calendar – Google Calendars is actually quite good for this, except you have to enter each project as an “event” rather than a “task”. My problem was that the Google Calendar requires internet access… and for my computer to be open… and for me to have the program up and running while I work. Plus, you can’t scratch things off. And I can being to explain how satisfying I find it to actually scratch things off. The sound. The feeling. The texture. Oh man.

However, oddly enough the Google Calendar system works really well for me at my 9 – 5 job, where I have a ton more projects on the go than I do at home.

Anyway, here’s how I keep my calendar:

  1. At the beginning of every month – create initial schedule
    1. Review previous month’s projects and move forward any outstanding projects
    2. Review the project lists for each client, adding all important due dates and assigning days to work on the projects
  2. On Monday of each week – update schedule and assess project load
    1. Review previous week’s projects and move forward any outstanding projects to early in the current week.
    2. Review the project lists for each client, plugging in any new due dates and adjusting the workload for the week depending on availability and responsibilities.
  3. On the completion of a project – scratch that sucker out… scratch it hard.

So far, this method has aided in keeping me on track… at least for those projects with hard, solid deadlines. It also helps me quote a time frame for new projects because it clearly shows how much work I have in a week. Which brings me to my next tip for staying organized….

Keep deadlines reasonable

If you’re just starting out in the Freelance world, it may take a while for you to accurately quote time-frames to clients… because sometimes you just don’t know how long it will take. The key, I’ve found, is to always give yourself enough time… in fact, give yourself more than enough time to complete a project. Why? Well…

  1. You never know what’s going to come up – family obligations, social engagements, rush projects, the common cold – all of these things come out of the blue and could prevent you from meeting the 48-hour turn over you’d promised that new client. You don’t want to miss the deadline but you also can’t afford to be up for 48 hours straight.
  2. It’s far better to overestimate how long something will take, than to underestimate. If you consistently deliver projects before a deadline you set for yourself, you will impress the client and show them that you’re reliable.

In conjunction with this – learn to ask for more time or to say that you’re not available at the moment. Keep the lines of communication open. If you don’t think you can have something to the client by the time they’re asking, give them a time frame that will work for you. That shows that, though you’re busy, you’re still available and willing to work on the project. Most clients will accept the revised timeline… just be sure to deliver!

There are a few other organizational tools – such as emptying your inbox of all emails except those that apply to incomplete projects and keeping those same emails marked unread on your smartphone – that may help. The trick is to try out different things until you find one that works the best for you, personally.

On that note, if I’m going to meet my 2:30 head-on-pillow deadline, I’ll need to sign off right now!

Do you have any tips you find have helped keep you on track? Share them in the comments!

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Half Way with 10K

Preamble: I listened to Christina Perri’s Jar of Hearts for the first time tonight and it’s amazing. Great writing music, especially for emotional sections. Listen here.

November 15th is officially over (it’s 12:06 am as I write this sentence)… and I am, at the moment, a full 15K words behind in my word count. I *should* be at 25K right now… but I’m not. So what do I do? I write a blog about it.

What has been keeping me from writing? Well, thank you for asking. The following are a list of all the things that I like to blame for my not writing, even though I know that the only person (thing?) to blame is myself:

  • Work. 9-5 is draining. Yes, yes, I realize there are people out there that work 9-5, have three kids, social functions and whatnot and are STILL writing. These people are amazing. These people are busy. These people are not me. I’d say work is the least of my reasons, but it still keeps me from writing because I have to be working. Besides, I had the exact same job last year and I kicked word count’s butt (I think at this time in 2012 I was at 35K or more by the 15th).
  • Freelance work. This one is an “it’s ok” type of “distraction”. It’s much like work, except I’m choosing to do this because this is my future I’m developing. That being said, I’m actually having trouble sitting down to do Freelance work as well… (hope none of my clients read this).
  • Soccer. For about four hours a week I’m out playing soccer. I’m also the captain of my co-ed team and that takes up another hour a week, just to write emails and coordinate things.
  • Pinterest. Have I mentioned yet that I’ve discovered Pinterest and now I’m hooked? Originally I didn’t understand it (no outsider does) but now that I do understand, I find myself on it for hours just looking at things. And I don’t even realize that time is passing. It’s a very very very dangerous thing, Pinterest. (Also, I’d like to make a public apology to all of my friends that follow my Pinterest account – I’m so very sorry for the sheer number of geeky Doctor Who and Firefly things I pin. I’m pretty sure no one will understand them… And that’s ok.)
  • Procrastination oh max. I wanted to name this particular entry “Writer’s Block” but writer’s block is just a myth we writers like use as a scapegoat. “I’ve got writer’s block” gets a lot more sympathy than “I opened up my word document, took one look at the crap I wrote yesterday, saw how many more words I needed to write today and decided I would watch Supernatural instead.” Yeah. No one’s going to give you any sympathy there. So anyway… I have writer’s block.
  • My boyfriend. He’s very supportive and does his best to keep me from watching Supernatural for hours on end and tries to push me to write more. But I’m a stubborn person and when he’s home, I like to spend time with him. So there’s that.

So that’s what has been keeping me from writing. Well, that’s not ALL there is, I’m sure there are a million other excuses I could come up with. Instead, I’ll share some of the Pinterest images I’ve found in the last 15 days that have *almost* convinced me to open up my Word document and work on my story. Almost.

This one just made me chuckle and say “No”

ANNNND we end with Neil Gaimon. Because Neil Gaimon is the be all that ends it all. Or something like that.

Post-script: I also didn’t mention that I changed stories COMPLETELY after I’d written my first NaNoWriMo blog. I’m now writing a fantasy with a whole bunch of characters and magic and stuff like that. It’s fun. It’s also a fantasy story I’ve been planning for something like two years, so it’s really intimidating. Which is ANOTHER reason why I’m not writing as quickly – my plot and characters intimidate me. That’s weird right? Things I’ve made up scare me. I don’t want to give them life because they might jump off the page and bite me! Or maybe I’m dreaming right now. That is entirely possible.

Freelance… and Life

You remember how I started that freelance business way back when and then nothing really seemed to happen?

Well… something happened. And it’s been glorious for the last four months. Busy, but glorious. My dreams seem to be paying off and now it’s the sweat, tears and hard work phase.

Here’s what that phase looks like:

I work 9 – 5, come home, take a “short” break (short sometimes translates to none…… or long) and then work some more. I’m averaging about 3 hours of work every night, give or take. With about 4 or 5 hours on the weekend, total. I try to give myself Saturday off. Or Sunday. Or Friday night. Or two of those. But no more than two. If I go for three, I’ll miss a deadline.

If my math is correct – and it’s not usually – that’s about 20 hours of freelance a week. Which is AWESOME, because hello – I have enough freelance work for it to be considered a part-time job.

Go me!

How did I do it? Well, if you’re here because you’re a stranger and you’re looking for advice… here are my tips:

1. Sign up for at least one decent online networking/freelance site.

I know. It’s a bit scary and everyone is skeptical about them. Those sites have hidden fees and no one is offering decent work and etc. etc. etc. All of those things COULD be true. But they could ALSO be false. You won’t know until you try.

The site I use is oDesk.com and honestly (no really, I’m being completely honest) – I had to lower my rates from what I wanted to what I think would get me a contract. Once I had completed two contracts at that lower rate and had two stellar reviews, I started getting invitations to interview. I get about 2 a week (though this week I’ve already received 2 and it’s only Wednesday).

My point – I’ve been using oDesk for about 6 months and I’ve already raised my rates up to almost where I want them. I also have two steady clients through the website and both of them are amazing.

If you’re a freelance anything and you need help kick-starting your business – join oDesk. Be awesome. Make money.

2. Network like a champ.

Know someone in your field or in a similar field that might have contacts? Tell them you’re available. Make it so that you’re the first person they think of when someone mentions, even just off-hand, that they’re looking for someone with your skill set. Let me clarify:

a. you tell your friend/colleague/coworker/the girl who makes your coffee at Tim Hortons  – let’s call her “Ali” – “I’ve got this business and I do X and Y… if you need X or Y, or if you know anyone who needs X or Y, give me a shout!” (hand her a business card)

b. she goes about her day thinking, “gee, that girl. She’s so cool, starting her own X and Y business…”

c. a customer talks to her later in the day about this project he’s working on, but they’ve hit a snag… he really “wishes that the X of his project was completed in a more timely fashion (or something to that effect)”

d. Ali remembers you and says “hey, I know someone who’s awesome and tips really well…”

Networking is great. It’s even better if you have business cards and gave one to Ali when you spoke to her. Business cards are great too.

3. Schedule the crap out of your life.

Start this early, my friends. I didn’t. I still haven’t actually. I’m working on it on a week by week thing… I’m kind of waiting until soccer starts before I solidify my schedule (so I say… that’s really just my uber-awesome procrastination skills at work). Anyway – set a dedicated freelance time aside for yourself. Sit down and work during that time. Follow this religiously. It’s still a job even if you do it on your own time and at your own pace and in your pajamas (mine are plaid.) A job means that you show up (relatively) on time and complete a set amount of work for a specific due date.

If you don’t have work yet, use the time you’ve set aside to find new clients, network, write blogs about things you do/want to do. Get your name out there. (side note: I didn’t do this part. Well. I did it once… or twice… every three months… and THIS is why it took two years for my Freelance business to take off. Learn from the error of my ways!)

4. Join groups of like-minded Freelancers and follow people in your industry on Twitter/Facebook/Linked In.

Yes, they may be your competition or your idols or people you think you can never be like… but they are also just like you. They’re looking for clients, they’re facing the same road blocks that you are, be it the market flooding with contractors willing to work for $1 an hour, or clients who have outrageous requirements and deadlines, but “very tight budgets.”

They will have possible solutions to the issues you face, can suggest sites for you to look at and, if you are outgoing and initiate actual conversation with them, could become great friends or mentors.

Groups/clubs/associations are also really helpful. I recently joined  PWAC (Professional Writers’ Association of Canada). I haven’t been able to use their resources to the fullest, but I didn’t browse through them and hope to (one day) get elbow deep in that. It’s worth it. So totally worth it.

Anyway, those are my four tips.

Have any other pieces of advice or tips for budding freelancers? Share them with the class!

Social Media & NaNoWriMo

Tonight’s post is about Social Media and how awesome it is for writers. Especially NaNoWriMos. I have never felt this connected to a group of I’ve only just recently met, be it online or in person. Period. And all because we all share the same incredible goal of writing 50K words in 30 days.

Amazing.

(anyone who has seen that episode of Bones where Brennan goes on that kids’ science show as the bone lady will understand when I say that I can’t say “Amazing” normally… ever.)

That being said, there are some things I’ve noticed about Social Media that could deter or help a potential success story. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Twitter can be painfully distracting. Especially if you have it on all of your devices. There’s nothing more annoying/distracting than being in the middle of a writing sprint and seeing your phone beep, then hearing your ipod chirp, then seeing the notification on your twitter tab… Granted, my mistake here was opening and signing into twitter on every one of my devices… which is why my advice to you is to keep it open on one device at a time and only check it when you’ve finished your section/hit a wall in your story.
  • Twitter can be incredibly helpful.  It’s a very efficient way of staying connected to the other NaNoers across the globe. You can ask them about their word count, post your frustrations and receive suggestions on how to resolve the plot device you’ve been over thinking… I have even used it to let other people in my area know when I have gotten to a write-in location and where I am seated. In fact, I believe on at least one occasion  my talking about a write-in with another NaNoer convinced a third NaNoer to attend!
  • If you’re on twitter…
    Follow @NaNoWordSprints
    – these guys helped me write 5K in just under 3 hours. Craziness. Granted my hands and forearms hurt like the dickins and I thought my shoulders would never relax, but I wanted to reach 5K and still have an evening out and I did. Because I did NaNo Word Sprints. Do them. Use them. Abuse them. Ok, don’t abuse them, but definitely do them. Why? Because I said so.
    Follow my Writers/NaNo/BookCountry list – I’ve done my best to ensure that all of the people I follow that are participating in NaNo or are writers in general (with helpful writing tips) are on this list. Follow them. Talk to them. They don’t bite, not people they just met anyway… that comes later.
  • Support groups are required for every challenge… and Facebook has become mine. All of my friends and family are there (ok, not ALL, but most) and they have been liking my statuses and commenting when they feel they can offer some support or whatever. I am so grateful and, even though I’m sure that by the end of the month they will all hate me with a fiery passion akin to the flames burning bright in the devil’s land… I will still be grateful to them for their support.
  • Google + … same thing from the point above, just with a different group of people… Ones that are more friends-through-interests than friends-in-person. Except for one guy. One guy is on both sites… he’s a good friend. He has to hear me update my word count TWICE every day. He will probably hate me TWICE as much as everyone else, that’s how special he is. A shout out to him…. if he hasn’t already started ignoring everything I post
  • Chats/Online Hang outs – these are great for those days that are cold and dreary… or that you just don’t want to get dressed. You go online, sign into your region’s “designated” chatting method (in my case, a site called goodchatting where we have a forum for our region) and you chat. That sounds counter intuitive, but it’s not. Because, while you’re chatting someone will randomly suggest a word war. Word Wars are the reason why I’m at 28K. Honestly. On the weekend, I did several 15 minute word wars in a row and wrote 6K. The following day I went to a write in and wrote another 3K via word wars. I’m starting to think I won’t be able to write without a word war from now on.

So, if you’re reading this and you are being a recluse (ie. not participating in write-ins or haven’t introduced yourself on the nanowrimo forums) then get you butt out there. Make yourself known. Draw attention to your word count and your story. Your friends and family will cheer you on, your fellow NaNoers will compete with you AND cheer you on, and I’ll watch, grinning the whole time telling people “I told him/her to do that.”

However, if you don’t know who to contact or don’t have a social media account, at the very least hang out in the forums. Or contact me and I’ll help you get connected. It’ll be fun! And trust me, your word count won’t suffer.

Have any other Social Media tools to help the NaNoers of the world reach their goal? Share them here! 

A Writer’s Playlist

Bria’s voice rang out, the tone slightly off key. Just enough to make the ears of any innocent bystanders bleed. She danced in her chair, not at all worried when the legs bounced dangerously off the floor. Her cursor blinked at her, a menacing reminder that she is supposed to be writing. She ignored it, waving her arms in her air as she sang, revelling in the procrastination of her favourite song.

End Scene

In all fairness to me, that didn’t actually happen. What actually happened was I found myself staring at my computer and singing or typing out the lyrics to a song. Which is just proof to me that a good playlist is essential to a writer, especially during this challenging NaNoWriMo.

I don’t know about the rest of my fellow writers, but I have a very hard time focusing in a quiet atmosphere. At least at first. Once I’m immersed in a project, a marching band could pass right in front of me or the only sound could be crickets and I wouldn’t notice. So, until I get into that groove and for those moments when I am jolted out of the groove, I need music playing in the back ground.

This is my CD collection. It’s not so impressive…

First let me say, yes. I still own CDs. Second, I’ve got a wide selection of different genres from Michael Buble to Justin Timberlake and over to Staind. Now, usually I write because I’m inspired, so getting into that groove isn’t hard. But with NaNo, I’m forcing myself to write, so the groove is not coming as easily as I’d like.

As such, I’ve decided to post a review of a few of the CDs I’ve played. Which CD is the best for me, personally, and why. Hopefully this will help you and other writers in their quest to create the perfect playlist.

A Music Review of Sorts

Artist: Michael Buble
Albums: Self-titled & Call Me Irresponsible

(just so you know, I realize there’s an accent on the e in Buble, I just haven’t figured out how to create that particular accent on my laptop keyboard)

I put Michael’s CDs in first because I thought they would be great. I mean, easy listening, smooth beats, great voice, what could go wrong? Well, I found myself singing along to almost every song. It’s just so easy to do!

Artist: Linkin Park
Album: Reanimation

I used to listen to Linkin Park a lot in high school… more specifically in high school art classes, which were pretty much the only time of the day where it was acceptable for me to put my head phones on and ignore the world. So I guess it makes sense that listening to this CD while I wrote was pretty much perfect. I didn’t have to block the music out, I could let it take me where I wanted to go. Except one song. One song is really annoying. But it was only 2 minutes or so long, which is nothing when you’ve been writing for hours.

Artist: A Perfect Circle
Album: Thirteenth Step

I realize now that A Perfect Circle and Linkin Park are *kinda* in the same musical family…. That being said, I didn’t really write while I listened to it. The soft voice of whatshisface, the lead singer, is perfect for lulling me into that comfort zone that precedes the groove, but I have become what I like to call a compulsive editor – where I go back and reread what I did yesterday and change things that don’t sound great. I claim that it’s to see where I am in the story line, but really it’s because I have a problem. An editing problem. So that’s what I did while listening to A Perfect Circle.

Artist: Outkast
Album: The Love Below

Does anyone remember Outkast? Do they still make music? I could Google this but I’m too lazy. I decided to try something upbeat and pop-like for my next writing “sprint”.  It seems that this is good background music… except for the interludes where they have rather humorous dialogue.

Artist: Electric Six
Album: Senor Smoke

This guys are a bit eccentric. Their tune is funky with a bit of humour thrown in for fun. I like them, sometimes. It was actually a good writing CD because it was upbeat, but I didn’t know all of the words. There’s only one interlude that distracted me, mostly because it’s hilarious… Note to self, stop putting in CDs with funny spoken interludes.

Artist: Staind
Album: Break the Cycle

This is an album from my teenage angst days. It’s all angry and annoyed. It skipped a few times, which was inconvenient because I was in the middle of a word sprint and had to pause my timer to change the song. I did catch myself singing along, but these songs are so ingrained in my brain that I can sing along and still write. Overall a fairly good writing CD. Especially for tense, angry scenes.

Those are all the CDs I will review for today. My playlist for the rest of the day includes:

  • We Are Augustines, Rise Ye Sunken Ships – if you haven’t heard of them, you should check them out. I really enjoy their music and the lead singer has a very soothing voice
  • Gwen Stefani, The Sweet Escape – this is for some upbeat, pop-ish music. Shouldn’t always listen to mellow-y rock or that could bring you down.
  • Green Day, 21st Century Breakdown – because Green Day is awesome.
  • A bunch of others that I haven’t really decided on yet.
My Conclusion

There are two types of music I would suggest to writers. The music for when you’re inspired and the music for those tough times when writing akin to pulling teeth.

Inspired Put on an album that you love, that you can tune out when you’re in your groove but that will keep you motivated and happy.

Pulling Teeth Put on an album with no words or with words you don’t know. This will reduce the desire to sing along and keep you from dancing in your seat to a song you particularly love.

And that, my friends, concludes this review of a Writer’s Playlist. I hope it was helpful!

What music inspires you? What is your current writing playlist – share! 

Cooking up a Character Part 2 – Organizing the Chaos

“Now, where did I put that character sheet,” Bria said, staring at the mess of papers that littered her floor. Her knees creaked as they unbent. “Oh geez, how long have I been sitting here… JAMES?!” Her voice echoed off the bare wood floors outside her circle of chaos. “JAMES! WHAT TIME IS IT?”

“Check your computer clock dummy!” The thick cement walls muffled James’s voice, but she still blushed.

“Oh, right.” The computer told her it was 10pm. She’d been sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the blinding screen for almost 3 hours. All around her papers were strewn, as if the wind had picked up at one point and made a mess of her neatly organized piles. “Shit. Where is that sheet.” The cursor on her screen blinked frantically at her, reminding her to remember that thought she was having so that she’ll keep remembering it when she remembers where she threw that character sheet she needs because she can’t remember what colour this characters hair was supposed to be. She took a deep breath, her run-on-sentence-like thoughts giving her a headache.

She dug through the pages, looking for that familiar orange-coloured border with the scribbles on the top and clippings on the back. Her fingers came out of the pile bloody; thin slices running along each digit from where the papers got violent.

“Damn it!! Her hair is blonde now.” Her fingers rested on the keys. They didn’t move. The cursor blinked at her. Mocking her. Nothing happened. She’d forgotten what she was writing.

She swore like a truck driver.

End Scene

After Part 1 of the Character Cooking project is complete, you’re left with all of these papers or notes that you’ve made. And trust me, over the course of one novel, you’ll probably make about 30 + character sheets & a dozen or so more minor notes about one-time appearances. So, what happened to Bria should never happen and yet I’m sure  it happens all the time. You’re writing away, a perfectly good story developing as you type. Your mind takes you from one fantastic plot device to another then suddenly, you can’t picture that side character you’ve used before. What was her name again? Georgia? Tina? It had to have ended in an “a”, right? Wrong.

Character sheets are supposed to prevent this. They’re supposed to help you keep all your facts in nice neat lines. Unfortunately, if you can’t find the character sheet, well. That defeats the purpose doesn’t it. That’s why, sometimes, being organized can be one of the most important things you do to prepare for your novel.

(Side tip – if this DOES happen to you, just put “Insert Name/Description Here” then put a Comment around it so that you can easily find it later. Trust me, this will prevent you from losing that flow you’d tried so hard to cultivate.)

Organization the Old Fashioned Way

James V Smith (author of You Can Write A Novel for those of you who are visiting my blog for the first time)  has a whole section in his book about how your *could* organize your character sheets (remember, these are all paper and pen things…)

I read it over and went.. uh… no.

It involved folders and tape and flipping through sheets and more tape and I’m probably exaggerating but I think there was a lot of tape involved. Now, when I’m working on a story, I don’t want to stop what I’m doing to flip through a pile of paper to find the information I’m looking for (I used to do that when I was writing essays in school. Then again, I used to write all of my essays by hand first then type them out. I was a weird child. I grew up to be a weird adult, so I think it all worked out in the end.)

Organization the Digital Way

I propose an alternative. A digital alternative. When you file digitally (be it through an online cloud type service, like Evernote, or on your computer) then you can easily sort and search your files without getting paper cuts. Because there is nothing worse then trying to type with a paper cut.

There are many ways to organize yourself digitally. I like to keep everything in Evernote, with one notebook dedicated to a story… So lets dive into the craziness that is MY way to keep shit organized…

1) First, lets start off with generic file naming.

I like to arrange things by category, then by type, then by specifics; this is how I name my files:

Category – Type – Specific

So in the case of my MC, it’s:

Character – Master – Clara Reid

In the case of a Minor Character, it would be:

Character – Minor – Gillybean

In the case of a  Scene outlines, it would be:

Scene – Major – When Clara and Gillybean defeat the Ogre

Scene – Minor – When Clara sneezes & someone comments on it

(I’m going to assume that from here on “In the case of” is implied)

Drafts of scenes/Writing “clips”

Write Up – Clara sneezes & someone comments on it

Setting Description/Notes

Setting – Ogre’s Home

Revision Notes & Ideas for things I’ve DONE that need to CHANGE

1 – Revision Note: CHANGE Clara’s back story to include an Ogre grandparent

1 – Revision Note: ADD Gillybean to the list of major characters

Overall Outline of my Story

0 – Clara’s Journey Outline

You might be asking myself why I am so detailed in the titling of my files. Well, when you have all of your files in a folder, you can sort them BY NAME. Using the above strategy, you’ll have all of the files of similar content in the same place. Then, it’s a matter of looking for the right title.

But what about the 0 and the 1 names? Well well, when you sort by name, numbers are grouped before letters – this way your outline and revision notes will ALWAYS appear first. So easy to find when it’s a the top, no?

2) the Filing and Sorting

I have one “notebook” in Evernote dedicated to a story. Here’s what it will look like:

This is my NaNo story prep so far. A little bit unimpressive, I know. I’m working on it!

It looks a bit daunting, but this is an almost fully planned out story… I still have about 10 character sheets to fill out, but all of my Master and Major characters are developed, the Major scenes are there & the settings have been organized… It’s easy (for me) to find what I’m looking for… and that’s ultimately all that matters.

Granted, if you’re keeping your files on your computer instead of storing them online anywhere, then you can easily make folders for each grouping (Characters, Scenes, Revisions, etc) and then have sub folders for major & minor character. The one problem I see with that, is the amount of clicking you’ll have to do. Click to the folder. Click to the subfolder. Find or not find your character/scene in said sub-folder because you can’t remember if you called it a Master or a Minor. Click out. Click into other folder. Click to open. So. Much. Clicking!

The other disadvantage to keeping your files local is that you can’t access them when you’re away from the device on which you’ve saved them. So if you’re on the bus and the inspiration fairy has smacked you on the head, you’ll have to write without the benefit of your notes (again, remember to put in big letter “INSERT DETAIL HERE” – that will cue you when you’re typing it up later).

How Cloud Note services like Evernote are GREAT digital Organizers

  1. I have it on all of my devices – computer, iPad, iPod, Blackberry. I also have it downloaded to my computer at work. This way, no matter where I am or whether or not I’m connected to the internet, I can access the information. So if I AM writing by hand on the bus or something, I can look on my blackberry. If I’m at work and get sudden inspiration, I can look on my computer. When I’m at home, I keep my iPad (or iPod, depending if one or the other is out of batteries) open as a reference tool while I work.
  2. I had Evernote to begin with – I had it. I used it regularly. Therefore I thought of it when I was working out a more organized way to keep track of my character sheets than the paper-folder-tape method.
  3. All of the information is backed up on the internet – if (heaven forbid) my apartment burned down or I lost all of my devices for some reason, all of my prep work (and some of the scenes I’ve written) will still be accessible online. It’s like the safety blanket of all note keepers. It comforts me to know that my work will never die (unless I accidentally delete it. Then I’d probably cry for years).

The only fear I have of using cloud services is that someone will hack into my account and steal all of my work for their own use. That’s why I never leave fully written work in there. That is always saved locally and backed up onto something I can carry. See – now if someone is going to steal my planning, well, they’d still have to write a novel from that planning and it definitely won’t be the SAME novel. Besides, I think I could take the would-be thief down.

So, just try it would be thief. I dare you! (but don’t really, because I’ll probably cry)…

Do you have any tips for keeping your novel prep work organized?
Do you think I’m crazy and put way too much thought into my system?
(You’re probably right on that count… I’ve noticed that organizing is a great method of procrastination.)
Comment! Share with me and the world! 

Cooking up a Character Part 1

“Developing characters is like giving birth,” Bria said. “You spend hours thinking about names, developing their personality, giving them backgrounds and then, as you’re writing, they decide that what you’ve carefully planned just isn’t working for them. In fact, they rebel against you, talking back and pulling you in all directions. Just like children.”

She’d never given birth before. Ever. Her clean clothes, well manicured nails and stylish hair gave her away. Her friend, Rachel,who’s daughter will be turning six in a week, scoffed and rolled her eyes.

“Have a child first and then we’ll talk,” Rachel said, smoothing her ruffled shirt. Her short, bitten thumb nail absent mindedly picked at a stubborn peanut butter stain.  Bria rolled her eyes.

“You don’t understand,” she said. “Characters require so much effort. If they aren’t taken care of, they fall flat. Dry. Boring. They carry the story!”

“Yes,” Rachel interupted, voice strained. “And children require all of your attention. You can’t leave them alone for one minute. You can’t even take care of yourself.”

“So you do understand!” Well-groomed Bria said, clasping her hands in excitement. “I’m so glad we can share this trial together.”

End Scene

Sooo, I’m just practising writing from scratch. Word count, apparently, is moved along by writing random things as often as possible. And given the content of some of my posts, I’m not that worried about my ability to write randomly.

This is the first part to my two part series on character prep… I will be mentioning Evernote and James V Smith’s You Can Write a Novel kit a lot, because those two things/people are my saviours and safety blankets. They’re the cuddly stuffed toys I hug during a storm to keep calm and stop me from worrying about my building falling down.

In this post, with the help of Smith’s kit, I will cover Character development from Names to Sheets to tips and such. In the next post, I will talk about how to keep all of your character stuff organized (and really, the rest of your preparation notes).

Character Names

Probably one of the best (and most time consuming) strategies for character names is proposed bySmith in his kit…

“Divide a sheet of paper into three columns… Open a telephone directory to the A listings. Copy some interensting last names into the first column of your name directory. I suggest you collect three to five last names [in each letter].”

~ page 30

“Pick any page in the phone book and write down the best male and female first names you find. Fill the last two columns of your directory with these names.”

~ page 31

I have yet to finish this task. For one thing, I don’t actually OWN a phone book. (Does anyone?) For another, I keep starting, then stopping. Then starting again. Then stopping. I literally have four names in addition to the ones that are already associated with characters. It’s sad. I just KNOW I will need this later.

Sigh.

Character Sheets

My You Can Write a Novel kit has helped me immensely with my plotting and planning… for my other novel (I haven’t really used it for my NaNo novel. You’d think I would, but that would just make too much logical sense, now wouldn’t it?)

In the kit, Smith provides Major/Master Character sheet and Minor Character sheets. These are the best things since the written word, people, when it comes to organizing your novels. One of the things he includes that you need to work out are three different goals for each character – from your Main Character’s (MC) main goal to your one-dimensional random character’s main goal.

“Cardinal Rule 13: Give major characters – and even minor characters – goals and motivations of their own. Permit them to have personal reasons for being in your novel, rather than using them as set pieces for your convenience.”

~ page 55

He actually provides an example of how giving a character, no matter how minor a role the character plays, a goal makes your story more real:

“Naturally, you, the author, have a purpose for inserting a character into a scene. It might be as contrived as inventing a drop-in friend so you can write dialogue instead of having your heroic character musing…. but if you want all your characters to come alive on the page, you must give them reasons to live…. for instance, the friend isn’t an idle drop-in, after all; he’s broke and wants to borrow money. The heroic character refuses, revealing that he was arrested… and had to put up a cash bond. The friend challenges this as an absurd excuse. They argue. The friend storms out…. Notice what happened. The action focuses on the argument, which allows information about the arrest to be revealed and shows the worsening circumstances of the heroic character.”

~ page 55

This will make your characters real. Lets face it – everyone you meet in your life has their own personal vendetta to complete. Everyone. Even if you only meet them for a second of polite conversation over the counter of the coffee shop. These personal vendetta’s are what make characters come to life. They are the souls of your story. Use them.

I don’t know how much of the character sheet I can provide, given I’d rather support a fellow author and he has put a lot of work into this kit – so go buy one if you think these will work for you. As an overview, here’s what his Major/Master Character sheet entails (the ingredients if you will):

  • The stuff you expect to be on a character sheet: Name, Age, Bio/Back story, physical appearance & notes to self to remember
  • Goals/Motivations (I divide these into three: the goal that benefits the “whole” – ie, the story; the goal that benefits them – ie. their selfishness; their romantic goals… that one’s self-explanatory)
  • Fatal Flaw & Saving Grace – the two things that make us truly human. Our flaws and our gifts. Think of something for your characters and use that. I’d have to say that a fatal flaw of new writers (myself included) is to make the good guy without fault and the bad guy without any virtue. Don’t do this. Make your characters real. Give them a Fatal Flaw and a Saving Grace – maybe your MC is good, but too good. So goody goody that they’re ridiculously naive. Or the bad guy is evil but treats his animals and underlings well.
  • A Striking Feature – Smith says every character should have something that people will notice. Big breasts, a hooked nose, a lazy eye… hunched shoulders, an icy glare. What makes the other characters in your novel look at this particular character and go… whoa!
  • Clippings – this was my favourite part of my character development. Smith suggests that you search through magazines (or you can just do an image search in Google) and clip out images of people you want your characters to look like & paste them to the character sheet.

Smith’s description of each part of the character sheet is much better (fyi, he also explains the difference between a Major/Master character and a Minor character… he explains a lot now that I think about it. I highly encourage people to read his book if not purchase the kit. OR borrow it. I’m sure it’s available in a library somewhere).

From what I could gather, the different between a Major and Minor character sheet is in the detail. You’ll provide more details for the Major character than the Minor character; also, all of the minor character’s details will be biased towards how they effect your MC. Instead of – she was born in a small town – it will be – she was born in the same small town as the MC. Instead of – she works at a coffee shop – it will be – she’s the barista that knows the MC’s order before it’s placed.

Character Clippings

As I mention above, Smith suggests finding clippings for your characters, and your settings, and basically everything… this way you can have a visual representation of what you’re writing about.  I suggest using Google Images. From there you can copy and paste everything into your character document (assuming you’re using a digital method of recording all of this information).

Character Tips

In the course of my prep work for NaNo, I have read through a bunch of character development blogs. This time I remembered to keep track of them (in Evernote btw… for anyone interested). And here they are:

25 Things you should know about Characters by terribleminds

8 Ways to Write better Characters by Elizabeth Sims

A Character Checklist by Margo Berendsen

A Character Interview by Donna Sundbland

Great Characters by Kristen Lamb

How to Craft Compelling Characters by David Corbett

Have you read any good Character developing tips lately? Share them with the class! We will all benefit from your generosity. I think. I hope. Maybe. It’s possible. Just type people!