Messy Works in Progress: How I keep my writing organized so I can easily switch between multiple projects and never get anything done

I meant to post some writing this week, but I wanted to post some art along with it and I can’t find the charger for my tablet pen (poor excuse, I know). So, I’m going to talk a bit about how I stay organized with multiple writing projects on the go. The main tool I use for this purpose is Microsoft OneNote.

Side note: I did actually get a book done last year, now I’ve been editing it for over a year and that’s where the “never get anything done” comes from.

OneNote screenshot showing Proejct Messer notebook with sections Parts 1 2 3 Characters Plot World Setting Editing Publishing Drawings, plot section is selected with pages B2 Brainstorming B3 Ideas B4 Ideas Plot Points Book 1 2 3 World History years going back from 2019A glimpse into my world.

Word vs. OneNote

I used to be obsessed with organizing Word files in a ridiculously complex folder structure under a main “Writing” directory. At some point in university, I discovered OneNote and realized had a real hallelujah moment. Now is the age of digital notebooks and I’ve migrated just about every Word doc into my notes.

When a manuscript gets past the “ideas and snippets” phase I do put the bulk of it into a Word doc, but all my background info on the project stay organized in the project’s notebook. This includes basic ideas, themes, story structure, plot, setting, character information (way more than what makes it into the novel) and random “parts” that I (usually) work in at some point in the book. I usually write a book from start to finish, but along the way I’ll write bits and pieces that happen at a later part of the book and just set those aside.

The everywhere notebook

My personal computer is a Macbook, which is unfortunate in this case as OneNote for Mac is missing many of the features I loved on the PC, including the ability to minimize nested pages. Still, I like that I can use OneNote it on various platforms/devices, and where it comes in particularly handy is my phone. OneNote syncs everything I write to my OneDrive, so if I write something on my laptop over breakfast in the morning, I can continue on my phone on the bus during my 90-minute morning commute (sigh). It’s not perfect, but it works for me. I can even use my stylus to write/draw in it.

How to organize chaos

I have one notebook for all my “new” ideas, though many of them are quite old, it’s just the ideas that haven’t been fleshed out. If an idea grows to the point where I’m writing more than bits and pieces for it, it gets its own notebook with these self-explanatory starter sections:

  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Characters
  • Parts
  • (genre specific, e.g. Research, Lore, Creature Manifest, World History)

So far, only one project has gotten to the point where I add these two sections:

  • Editing
  • Publishing

And it’s easy to move pages from one section to another, rename things, and get my colour-coding jollies as you see in the screenshot above. It’s extremely satisfying, but also far too easy to switch between projects.

Overchoice

I’ve even tried “closing” notebooks—they’re still saved on my OneDrive, but I don’t see them and theoretically I can focus on a single WIP. Doesn’t work. I’ll come up with something for one of the closed projects and well I have to write it down, put it in the right section, which means opening that notebook again and seeing what I’ve already done for it and getting re-obsessed with it—so much for that.

More recently I’ve been compromising with the part of me that wants to write everything all the time (aka the Scatterbrain) and I’ve picked three (okay, four, but one’s small it doesn’t really count) projects to focus on. They’re very different (funny fantasy, dark fantasy, high fantasy) so usually whatever I feel like writing can fit into one of them. Of course, it’s going to take me forever to get anything done, but the alternative is it takes even longer than forever to get anything done, so this is what I’m going with.

PS, My hair is as purple as this background right now and I have work tomorrow. Also, I’ve been listening to “Pure Morning” by Placebo.

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