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Seeking ideas about storing paper-based creative writing

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  • Seeking ideas about storing paper-based creative writing

    On the floor in a corner of my office, a white cardboard box sits in a somewhat crumpled heap. Its lid is missing. Out of its shadowy depths rises a foot-high stack of papers, spilling a couple of sheets slightly over the edge.

    The box has sat there for weeks now, without my so much as touching it. Of course, I look at it all the time. Each time I do, a surge of guilt passes through me. If this box were a person, it would be looking at me forlornly as I type this on the computer. It would murmur, ďPlease organize me.Ē

    The box is my hastily constructed Frankenstein monster of an organizational system. It evolved during my weekend of Big Processing, put together from bits and pieces of other haphazardly designed systems that never really worked.

    My stack of creative writing includes a number of poems, ten-minute plays, screenplay scenes and ideas, screenplays themselves, sketches, short stories, observations, notes, treatments, outlines, etc. -- you name it. I hadnít really developed a system to store the material that Iíve accumulated over the years, and that hasnít changed.

    I feel bad for the box.

    Basically, Iím having trouble with figuring out how best to organize this writing, and would much appreciate any ideas for a good system or product that is well-suited for organizing thick stacks of categorizable material in an easily accessible format.

    Normally, Iíd just sort the writing by category into file folders, but thereís too much of each category. For instance, my sheaf of disconnected screenplay scenes is probably three inches thick. Ditto on the stories. I donít really feel much of a need to alphabetize this writing, but Iíd like to have them readily available if I wanted to pick them out.

    I was thinking somewhat of those Bisley file cabinets they sell at The Container Store, but Iíve seen them in person and theyíre a bit flimsy (and a bit expensive for the flimsy side).

    If youíve encountered this problem before (with creative writing or any other type of paper-based mementos that youíd like to keep), Iím grateful for your ideas.

    Many thanks,
    GB

  • #2
    Originally posted by gernblanston View Post
    Normally, Iíd just sort the writing by category into file folders, but thereís too much of each category. For instance, my sheaf of disconnected screenplay scenes is probably three inches thick. Ditto on the stories. I donít really feel much of a need to alphabetize this writing, but Iíd like to have them readily available if I wanted to pick them out.

    If youíve encountered this problem before (with creative writing or any other type of paper-based mementos that youíd like to keep), Iím grateful for your ideas.
    Don't give up on file folders quite so soon. You could try color-coded file folders (blue for poems, red for screenplays, purple for notes and sketches that are still in a fluid state and haven't yet reached category status) and then have separate folders within categories for thick files like your disconnected screenplay scenes. Label them any way you like (recognition scene, Bob+Carol+Ted, fruit bat poem drafts) that makes sense to you, without feeling any need to alphabetize.

    This would probably strike the desired balance between complete chaos and unnecessary over-organization.

    Comment


    • #3
      Under what circumstances would you want to review this material again? Do you plan to extract the most promising bits and polish them into publishable form? Do you go back and review every so often, whether for inspiration or to see how your writing has changed?

      I have much the same problem, and I'm not completely happy with my own solution either, so I'll be reading the responses you get with interest.

      For me, the raw materials are a large pile of notebooks, dating back a decade or more. I keep them in chronological order, in labeled banker's boxes. Every so often, I read through one and highlight the "good bits," which I then transcribe to electronic form. The electronic excerpts are also organized by date, except when some kind of coherent project seems to be emerging from the pile.

      I've found that the transcription step is a huge bottleneck. It's boring and time consuming, so I tend to avoid it. Dictation software helps, plus hearing a chunk of writing often helps me decide whether it's worth bothering with. If I were in a hurry, I'd hire someone to do the transcription for me, though that approach presents its own problems because of my handwriting.

      Katherine

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by kewms View Post
        Under what circumstances would you want to review this material again?... Do you go back and review every so often, whether for inspiration or to see how your writing has changed?
        Hi Katherine,

        I don't review the material too often, but when I do it would really help to have it organized into categories that made sense. Right now it's the "amorphous blob of stuff" that David Allen writes about. More precisely, I guess it's an "amorphous blob of creative writing."

        Originally posted by kewms View Post
        For me, the raw materials are a large pile of notebooks, dating back a decade or more. I keep them in chronological order, in labeled banker's boxes. Every so often, I read through one and highlight the "good bits," which I then transcribe to electronic form. The electronic excerpts are also organized by date, except when some kind of coherent project seems to be emerging from the pile.
        Oh yes, I forgot to mention that. I have another whole box full of handwritten notebooks. Much of it is creative writing. (This box also begs to be organized, and I suspect it will be rolled into the first box.)

        Originally posted by kewms View Post
        I've found that the transcription step is a huge bottleneck. It's boring and time consuming, so I tend to avoid it. Dictation software helps, plus hearing a chunk of writing often helps me decide whether it's worth bothering with. If I were in a hurry, I'd hire someone to do the transcription for me, though that approach presents its own problems because of my handwriting.
        I neglected to mention that while some of the material in the box is in handwritten form, the majority of it is in printed form. I've always wanted to take the time to sit down and transcribe some of the handwriting into electronic format, but as you described it's time-consuming and boring.

        It's nice to know I'm not the only one suffering from this problem; thanks for writing. I, too, look forward to the responses of others.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by gernblanston View Post
          Normally, Iíd just sort the writing by category into file folders, but thereís too much of each category. For instance, my sheaf of disconnected screenplay scenes is probably three inches thick. Ditto on the stories. I donít really feel much of a need to alphabetize this writing, but Iíd like to have them readily available if I wanted to pick them out.
          I work as a writer and editor and this is how I handle loose paper pages. (Notebooks are another story. I'll share what I do with those in a separate post.) First of all I minimize those pages by leaving digital files digital, not printed out. Ideas can go into a single Word file: Ideas. (By now I use several Word files: Poetry Ideas, Nonfiction Ideas, Fiction Ideas.) Scenes get typed up, one to a single file, titled with some mnemonic and filed under a digital folder called "Scenes." I don't need more than this; my search program (x1) pulls it all back easily.

          For actual printed pages:

          I have one file cabinet drawer dedicated to writing only, with its own A-Z system. I prefer standing files, but my system works with hanging files, too. Disconnected scenes, images, poems, etc. are separate pieces of input. They are Someday/Maybe items until you decide to turn one or more of them into a written project.

          So three inches of screenplay scenes makes perfect sense (to me) as the category for a single file. To store it in a standing file drawer, I use what are sometimes called "file pockets" or "file jackets." These are expandable to about 3" or more. If I needed 6" of screenplay scenes, I would simply use two of them. A half inch or less of a single category goes into an ordinary file: Images, say, or Character Sketches. These expandable-bottom files are also available for hanging file systems.

          Because until I want one as part of a project, the only use I have for disconnected scenes, images or other pieces of writing is occasionally leafing through them for ideas and inspiration. The minute I see that three or four scenes go together in any way--they share a location, a character, a plot, etc.--I would put them together in a single file.

          Let's say I think three or four connected pages might give rise to a screenplay. I would make a file, put those pages in, and label it with its genre and a subheading that names the connector: Screeplay-Chocolate (filed under S). Maybe I have 10 of these type of Screenplay files, 8 nonfiction files, 15 fiction files. Now I can scan all their top tabs easily for review or inspiration or project selection.

          I can also put a single line on my writing projects Someday/Maybe list: Screenplay: Chocolate. When this becomes an actual project--i.e. I am working on it several days a week--Screenplay: Chocolate moves to my Projects list. If all I'm doing is occasionally gathering a bright idea for it, I either scribble the idea down and toss it into the file or (more often) write the idea into a notebook.

          How I keep track of those ideas in my notebook I'll cover in a separate post.

          Dina
          (first post--hope I understand the formatting!)

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by kewms View Post
            For me, the raw materials are a large pile of notebooks, dating back a decade or more. I keep them in chronological order, in labeled banker's boxes. Every so often, I read through one and highlight the "good bits," which I then transcribe to electronic form. The electronic excerpts are also organized by date, except when some kind of coherent project seems to be emerging from the pile.

            I've found that the transcription step is a huge bottleneck. It's boring and time consuming, so I tend to avoid it. Dictation software helps, plus hearing a chunk of writing often helps me decide whether it's worth bothering with. If I were in a hurry, I'd hire someone to do the transcription for me, though that approach presents its own problems because of my handwriting.
            I feel I could revamp Asleep at the Wheel "I've got miles and miles of notebooks..." Okay, yards not miles, but dating back 30 years. I write about 4K to 5K words per week, longhand, and every one of my best projects started out in a notebook.

            I used to handle them exactly as you describe, Katherine. For the last few years, though, I've changed my system and find it MUCH easier to handle. For many years I used spiral-bound ruled notebooks, the ordinary 10-for-a-dollar kind, college ruled. Now I use Moleskine extra-large cahier notebooks, squared paper, 120 pp. This system works with either kind.

            For this system to work, I need a margin down the side of the page. These come provided in the cheap notebooks; I hand-draw a quick line down the Moleskine. (I used to use a ruler, but I don't care how even the line is. As it turns out--pretty even.) I also need the front and back of one page left blank, either at the beginning of the notebook or the end.

            The writing is essential. The rereading is essential. The transcription gets in my way, so the key for me is indexing my writing rather than transcribing it--until I know for sure that I want a piece as part of a project. I try to read weekly, but what I like about this system is that I can skip ten weeks in a row and still have a manageable, enjoyable task of processing all those words.

            This morning when I was finished writing I had six pages. The first paragraph or so is almost always something immediate: the birds I hear, the view outside the window, the taste of the coffee. When I reread this on Sunday I'll probably label it in the margin as "daily," a tag I use to describe random daily thoughts. If I actually pulled off a cool image about a jackdaw I would label it "jackdaw." If I were so lucky as to have a vivid dream and wanted to remember its images I might label it "dream" or "dream: jackdaw."

            Then I brooded about various undone jobs, mail to send, banking issues, mental clutter. I label anything like this "wm" as a shorthand for "What's On My Mind." I put a blank box in the margin next to any item I actually want to do something about. This makes it easy to pull up in a weekly review.

            The next couple of pages were snatches of dialogue, scene ideas, and plot points for a story I'm writing about a character named "Lily." This is my current major creative work in progress, so all I need to label both pages is the word "Lily." I use arrows running down the side of the page to show that all two pages are about Lily.

            Next I had a few plot points that intrigued me--but they didn't go with that story. They would work for a new project, with a hiking theme. This gets indexed as Idea: Hiking.

            The rest of the pages were several projects for paying clients. These got labeled with project shorthand that I recognize:

            LBC-Winter
            ATN
            WriteTools

            etc.


            On my weekly reading, I number every other page in my notebook in the upper right hand corner. I write the number large and circle it, because I want it to be easy to read. On the reserved blank pages for my index I make very short notes, using capital letters when I want something to stand out.

            So my index for a day's writing might read:

            p. 6 daily. wm. dream: JACKDAW.
            pp. 7-9 LILY. IDEA: hiking.
            pp. 10-11 LBC-Winter. ATN. WriteTools.

            Writing takes time, and I don't want to shorten that. Rereading takes much less, especially if I do it weekly, when I know no jackdaw is going to pop up in my dull daily chatter. I enjoy the rereading, too. Indexing takes hardly any time at all.

            I can scan a year's worth of indices in 10-15 minutes when I want to find all the entries about a specific project. LILY started out as a line here, a paragraph there, across three separate notebooks. When I knew I wanted to turn those notes into a story, I used my index to find them all. I typed them up in about an hour, and that provided a running start to this new project. In other words, I do no transcribing at all unless it intrigues and pleases me.

            I've used this system for almost 10 years and I'm not really interested in delving too much in the notebooks I wrote before. But every now and then I pull out an old notebook and use a different colored ink from the one I used then to label the writing as best I can, in any blank spaces I can find. I paste a page to the inside front cover of the notebook and index those labels.

            Because this has rarely turned up material that interests me as much as the material in my current notebooks, I don't do this often. If an idea is great it will probably come back to me. If not--plenty more where that came from.

            Dina

            Comment


            • #7
              DinaS, I'm not a writer by profession, but I have started recently to use a notebook at the suggestion by some on this forum. Many times I find myself writing out thoughts for my business that I really don't feel the need to or can't spend the time to bring into its proper files. I want to thank you for your posts, as this will help me in indexing my different ideas, concepts, ramblings, mappings etc.

              Comment


              • #8
                Thanks Dina

                Hi Dina,

                Thanks very much for your detailed postings... it was just what I was looking for. I'm sure I'll find many of your techniques useful.

                Regards,
                Michael

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