Friday, May 13, 2011

My Secret: Organizing Book Notes

Plotting worksheets, scraps of paper, URL's, e-mails, research--everything needs to be organized. What's a writer to do?

When I started writing my first book, I threw all my project notes in a manila folder and called it good. But as time wore on, my work-in-progress files became more complex with detailed plot sheets, and pages of notes, charts, and writing logs.

I knew I needed to create a time-saving, easy-to-use filing system. It took several different attempts to find the right method, but after a devastating computer crash last fall, I stumbled on my current--and ideal--system: Microsoft One Note.

There are other programs similar to One Note, so it's really a personal preference on what software you use, but I find One Note perfect for me. I'm very organized and a massive plotter, and I find thumbing through a stack of manila folders too time-consuming, not to mention, I often forget to print pertinent information.

One Note allows me to keep every tidbit of info needed for a book in one spot. Think of it as a virtual file folder. You can pop just about anything into a page. I routinely copy/paste URL's of research sites into an unfiled note and transfer them into the correct notebook later. Text and photos are easily manipulated too. You can move them all over the page and resize them as needed. The best part? Anything you copy and paste from the Internet is tagged with the URL it's from. Easy reference!

You can also create tables and perform simple calculations--a big plus for me.

Here's my method.

I created a master notebook as a template for my books. When I start a new book, I create a new notebook and save it as the title of the book. Then I copy/paste each tab and notebook page into the new notebook.

My tabs for a book:

1. Plotting

I have pages for all of the worksheets I fill out before a first draft. I also have a page for the summaries and blurb.

2. Research

I copy/paste any info I find. I also save future unfiled notes in this section. All I have to do is click on the URL to go directly to the source.

3. Write/Revise Log

I keep two pages, one for my writing log and the other for my revising log. When I'm writing a first draft, I keep track of the date, the amount of time I wrote, the pages added, the words added, the total amount of words and the total amount of pages. I have a similar log for revising. It's interesting to see how long a first draft or a complete revise takes me.

4. Scene List

I have only one page in this tab and it consists of a long table. I create the scene list before I write my first draft. The sections in the table are: Scene Number, POV (which character's viewpoint the scene is written in), Setting, GMC (the character's goal, motivation, and conflict in the scene), Mood, Growth, Chapter, Notes.

5. Revise Notes

I let the first draft sit a while before I revise it. This section allows me to jot notes about problems that jump in my brain during the in-between phase. I also write notes here while I'm revising (like, remember to add conversation with mom in chapter three or four).

6. Business

I keep track of my estimated schedule here. Start date, finish first draft date, begin revising date, end revising date, date I send the book to critique partners, and date I send the proposal to my agent. I also create a page to copy/paste any important e-mails from my agent.

You don't have to reserve One Note solely for your books.

I keep track of my 5 Easy Questions interviews in a virtual notebook. It contains a table of authors I plan on asking as well as the authors I've already asked. Monthly tabs allow me to copy/paste the answers, links and bio's the authors send me. I'm able to keep track of a ton of information in one spot, which saves me time.

Other possible notebooks:
Business: I keep my business plan, monthly goals, and promotion ideas in one.
Writing Craft: Possible tabs--dialogue, plotting, descriptions, genres...
Writing Business: Possible tabs--agents, editors, platform...
Marketing/Promotion: Possible tabs--e-newsletter sites, blog information, Facebook ads, etc...

My favorite part of using One Note is that I can access ANY piece of information on a project just by opening the notebook. No more hiking upstairs and shuffling through different folders or wondering if I filed the slip of paper I jotted a note on. The program has made my life easier. I hope you'll give it a try!

How do you organize your book notes?

Have a fantastic Friday!


  1. When I grow up, I want to be Jill Kemerer! You're the! :)

  2. I'm with Jessica. I am in awe!! I can hardly find my keys most days and here you are laying out a beautiful system of organization. I bow to you, Jill!

  3. Hi Jill -

    I missed out on this particular gene. As a SOTP writer, I do any "plotting" in my head and put it on paper.

    Susan :)

  4. Good evening! Boy, Blogger threw me off today.

    Jessica P: Aw, thanks! I'm an information junkie, so One Note works for me!

    Jenny: Ha! I dig in the bottom of my purse daily for my keys. It's never fun!

    Susan JR: It's like One Note is in your brain--what a gift!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. I have got to start using One Note. I've heard such good things about it!

  6. Wow! Great ideas and perfect timing for me. I've used One Note for blog post (but have not managed to publish yet from One Note). Currently I'm working through worksheets for a novel, just on paper (I needed a break from my computer screen) but now know how I can organize them in One Note. I'll be book marking this. Thanks!

  7. I truly thought I was organized. I have a file and everything. But what you do is extensive. I'm glad you found the perfect tool to help you. I'm sure it will help others, too.

  8. I need to check this One Note out. I need a new tool. I'm all about Excel and a plot notebook, but I'm thinking this One Note sounds pretty cool.

  9. This is great advice! I'm going to check into One Note. I was just grumbling this morning that there's got to be a better way to do things. Thanks!

  10. WOW! This is a great overview of how One Note can help organize all the information we try to keep track of on a daily basis.
    Thanks for explaining this so clearly!


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