Okay! So I'm doing a ton of research for a story of mine. I'm planning to have most of it on my phone/paper at the moment because I'm having trouble with my laptop. How can I stay organized (I have a lot of trouble with this, I'm an extremely messy person)
This will likely take a lot of effort on your part because getting organized (even just for writing) isn’t an isolated moment. You use the word “stay” so you might recognize this, but part of it is learning discipline that tips can’t directly help with.
My first pre-actual-tips-tip is keep everything in the SAME spot. “Phone/paper” is not a good idea if you know you’re naturally disorganized. Choose one or the other, but paper is typically better for large pieces of information. Phones are great for reading things but lack ease of access for large databases.
It’s okay to take note of ideas using your phone, since it’s easy to access when out of the house, but you have to move those ideas to the place you keep everything else as soon as possible.
1. Get a binder. With dividers. And lots of paper.
Every writer has a different method of organizing that suits their own needs, but my binder tabs read “Storytelling”, “Writing”, “Characters”, and “Research”.
“Storytelling” has the kind of tips I typically post on Sundays, like “Three Signs That Mean You’re Telling, Not Showing” and other stuff that’s unique to stories as opposed to essays or other writings.
“Writing” has more technical things, like grammar rules that I occasionally mix up or lines from other books that stood out to me and why they stood out. I use this tab for some critiquing elements.
“Characters” has my character concepts and backgrounds, plus an area for unused characters and names that might come in handy later.
“Research” has the information I’ve collected about things that matter to my story, like medical definitions, scientific backgrounds, even simple things like different types of shirt collars.
It’s really up to you how you organize, and my method tends to be confusing for people since a lot of the tabs have overlap. It works for me, so I use it. You might need to go through some trial-and-error to find what works for you.
2. Organize within the tabs, too.
Some of my research extends beyond one page, and when that happens, I paperclip the related work together even if it’s all already connected to the binder rings. Don’t just write the ideas/research down, give them headers and page numbers so if the paperclip gets lost, you still know what belongs together.
Come up with a basic outline for all your research and stick to it. Use the same basic format for each bit of research you conduct.
Also, date your work! I typically write the time span it took me to complete (11/2-11/5) but some people prefer to just write the date it was completed. I’d be careful about just writing the date you start it, because you may think you’ve completed it when you really haven’t.
3. The front of your binder could have a list of things you need to add.
You don’t always have the time to start working on something immediately, but avoid forgetting about it by having a list of “future research ideas” as the very first page of the binder. Cross things off as you complete them. My list is short right now and is more related to the story than the research, currently saying “Point out role of media in life during ch1″, “Review inn scene for mood, pg 152″, and various other things I want to remind myself to address.
4. Colors can help, but don’t let them take precedence.
I typically write my research with 3 colored pens: black, blue, and purple. Black is for the information, blue for the headers, and purple for anything that’s extra relevant to why I’m doing the research in the first place.
Attach these pens to the binder!! (Or any other specific-color writing utensil you use.)
5. Never let yourself have a “junk drawer”.
Some people can manage this because they know they’ll fix it, but if you’re someone who naturally moves toward disorganization then you have to be vigilant. Never leave anything unlabled or not in a specific tab. Never leave anything outside of your binder. If you have to, set alarms to remind yourself to move whatever is on your phone to paper.
6. The binder is only for your writing!
Don’t put anything else in there. Not even for “temporary storage”. The only time it’s okay to do that is if you know you can deal with it without causing any issues. There’s an unrelated business card in mine, but I know it’s not a problem for me.
7. Keep the binder in the same spot and upkeep it.
You can’t lose it if it’s always in the same spot, though it can get buried from time-to-time. Still, easy fix compared to tearing your room apart.
When you do get your laptop fixed, I’ve heard pretty good thing about Scrivener and other writing software. But part of using those well requires consistent and easy access to electronics, so if you commonly have laptop problems then it’s not the best solution. (It does have an iOS app though!)
Good luck with your organization