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Good Ways to Keep Everything Organized?

PianoFire

Acolyte
I tend to be a pretty sporadic writer. I’ll start to write the backstory of a character, and it leads to me writing dialogue with a different character. I try to do world building, but I can never keep track of what everything is or where all the pieces go. I also like to draw out certain designs, but drawing can lead to me writing it out, and vice versa. Are there any good methods to keep myself on track, or even any websites to keep everything more organized so I don’t have lore, backstories, dialogue, etc. in the same spot?
 

Lynea

Sage
Well, I'm sure there are plenty of computer apps that are capable of organizing your categories, notes, etc. But the thing that tends to bug me is how writing tools are almost always a premium subscription service nowadays. I do know one software that's kind of bittersweet: Scrivener. It's not a subscription service, but it's also a few years behind the standard technology scope. If you don't use Apple ios exclusively you're gonna have problems syncing your stuff across devices. So, if you don't mind using an older software Scrivener is great. I got a personalized ad yesterday for something called Dabble- might be worth checking out. Also, if you do like to draw and write on paper then having a notebook folder might be a good system for you. The resources are endless if you know your preferred style. :)
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Well, the good method is the one that works for you, and all the others are bad methods. <g> But here's *a* method.

I keep my world reference in a separate (Scrivener) project. The WIP is over here, WorldReference is over there. That's one fundamental: separation of world building from story.

I follow the fundamental guideline of all organization, which is to keep everything in one place. I might jot down an idea in a physical notebook (I keep that with me always; old habit), but it gets typed into WorldRef within a week, so it's still fresh. I often will do minor changes or additions as I'm typing up something. So, second fundamental: everything in one place.

It's the organizing of that one place that's the real challenge. Here's how I do mine.

Peoples, creatures, places, objects, meta. Those are the top levels. By "peoples" I mean humans, dwarves, etc. Anyone with speech and some degree of social organization. Creatures, whether monsters or just invented animals, go here. Objects are any artifacts and such. Some thing with exceptional attributes. Meta is world information that isn't strictly tied to any of these.

For example, under Meta is names, general history, and random musings including stuff that just feels too complex to fit neatly into the more orderly categories. I call it meta so I don't have to call it Misc. <g> I also I never Meta notion I didn't like. <also g>

One last note. I try to remember to tie anything unique back over to a story, if it gets used in a story. Most notably, that's names. So, something like Tarvixio (whom I identify as human, illusionist; keep it brief) is followed by The Signet Ring, the story in which he appears. That way, I not only know that name is taken, I know where it was used. Same goes for magic swords or unique animals (like Tarrasco - A Child of Great Promise).

OK, that wasn't the last note, this one is. Peoples is a complicated category. For each one (human, elf, etc), I create sub-categories: Politics, Society, Culture, Economy, Religion, Magic. Each of those can contain anything from a lot to a little. But at least if I come up with, say, coinage peculiar to elves, I know where to put the idea. More importantly, I know how to retrieve all related information quickly.

So, this is the last note. Really. I date entries. This is because I've worked for years on Altearth, and sometimes it's relevant to know when I made a note. Some ideas need updating.
 
I’m on the iOS and Apple side of Scrivener and it would work great except it won’t organize my brain for me.So, I’m screwed no matter what.

There is also an app I reviewed called Campfire… If I didn’t have so much stuff all over the place, mostly in Scrvener already, I might attempt to use this for development and organization. I do plan on using Campfire’s language functions for storing my limited conlang info.

Aeon Timeline is my go to for timelines.
 

Chasejxyz

Inkling
Scrivener is awesome. You can have a "idk where this dialogue/scene will go" folder, a character profiles folder, a research images/info folder....you can do this with folders in Windows/Mac, too, of course, but in Scrivener you can see/work on everything in one program. The cool thing about Scrivener is that it's free to try for 30 days, so you can try it out and see if you like it. You can color-code and tag everything which makes it really easy to find stuff.

You can also use Microsoft OneNote to organize things. Honestly, there is no one right way to organize things, you have to do what works best for you and the problems you're running into. You can do things in seperate physical notebooks, in seperate documents, or in one giant document broken up into separate sections. Don't be afraid to try out things, don't make yourself use a system that doesn't work for you. I have ADHD so I need things to be as easy to put into the right place as possible and Scrivener and all of its folders/sections is great for that.
 

Eduardo Letavia

Troubadour
Given my background as a software engineer, I know of a number of free code/text editors that do the job and already come with folder management in a sidebar. In particular I'm currently using Visual Studio Code (by Microsoft), which works great for me. Not only it comes with folder management, minimap, or the possibility of organizing your projects on different workspaces, you can also reorganize the window so you can have two or more files opened at the same time on different columns, rows or in any other combination you like. Also, you can expand its capabilities with plugins although most of them are related to the arcane arts of computer science. Atom is another good option, similar to Visual Studio Code, although I don't remember what capabilities comes with in its default installation. But since you can also expand it with plenty of plugins, that wouldn't be an issue either. Ocassionally I also use Notepad++, which also has some workspace or project management capabilities, although not that well integrated as in Visual Studio Code for instance.

So, before you shell some bucks on some online tool, consider first these free options (and there are others). They may not be that easy to handle at first, but with a bit of practice one of them could be the tool you were looking for.
 

Chasejxyz

Inkling
Given my background as a software engineer, I know of a number of free code/text editors that do the job and already come with folder management in a sidebar. In particular I'm currently using Visual Studio Code (by Microsoft), which works great for me. Not only it comes with folder management, minimap, or the possibility of organizing your projects on different workspaces, you can also reorganize the window so you can have two or more files opened at the same time on different columns, rows or in any other combination you like. Also, you can expand its capabilities with plugins although most of them are related to the arcane arts of computer science.

Do you write in VSCode? The folder management/multi-window thing is very similar to how it works in Scrivener, which is cool, as is version control/GitHub integration....but it's not very good for writing in. My interactive story is written in Scrivener and I copy/paste the text into a website that escapes various characters before I put it into VSCode (since the project is HTML). I guess you could use it to write stories in Markdown...but there ARE programs designed just for Markdown...and I'm sure there's an extension to preview Markdown in VSCode...I guess it could work if you put all your notes in a coding project but the actual story is written in Word or something else.
 

Eduardo Letavia

Troubadour
Do you write in VSCode? The folder management/multi-window thing is very similar to how it works in Scrivener, which is cool, as is version control/GitHub integration....but it's not very good for writing in. My interactive story is written in Scrivener and I copy/paste the text into a website that escapes various characters before I put it into VSCode (since the project is HTML). I guess you could use it to write stories in Markdown...but there ARE programs designed just for Markdown...and I'm sure there's an extension to preview Markdown in VSCode...I guess it could work if you put all your notes in a coding project but the actual story is written in Word or something else.

I write my texts first with VS Code in Markdown style, is my raw format so to speak. This is very useful because I can adapt the text to any other format later, since (as of course you know Chasejxyz ) Markdown code itself is just plain text and doesn't really break anything when you paste it anywhere. On the other hand, VS Code already comes with preview for Markdown, you just right click on the tab of a markdown file you want to preview and you should see the option Open preview there. Click on it and it'll open a new tab with the Markdown preview. What I do then is put the preview in another column, so I can see the raw and the formatted text at the same time. This is necessary when you happen to have images embedded in your Markdown document and you want to see how they look in the document.

About what you mention about writting a story in Word (I use LibreOffice, by the way), I know that is rather common but I think one shouldn't make the mistake of trying to format a text that is not finished, mainly because it can be distracting. First make the unformatted raw, then copy it in the editor were you can concentrate in just formatting it properly. But if you need some format to help you visually organize any text, Markdown has proven to me being more than enough. Is really simple to learn, very portable, readable by any editor, and not propietary.
 

NRuhwald

Scribe
I use Evernote. There's a premium version, but the free one has what you'll probably need. You can sync it across your phone and computer, so you can write stuff down on the go and still have it in one place. It even has some handy character profile and plot outline templates. And if you're doing research, you can grab a snippet of an article you find on the web with the Evernote browser extension.

I also sometimes use OneNote, and sometimes a very disorganized collection of journals.
 

Slartibartfast

Minstrel
After assorted technical fails (and partly in a desperate attempt to stop me from spending all of my writing time trying out different bits of software to find the 'perfect' one) I have started using a filofax and a pinboard.
Before this I tried Manuskript, Bibisco, and yWriter as an all-in-one wordprocessor and (basic) organisational software. I also had a go at building a desktop wiki of notes and random things with Zim and fiddled around with OneNote. Before I got it into my head that there was 'special writers' software' I used to keep a moderately organised tree of folders full of text files with various notes and this actually worked ok.
Overall I had the best success with Manuskript, but it is pretty buggy and I don't entirely trust it. It is the only thing aside from LibreOffice that I've ever written a full book in from start to finish and I'm still using it as a wordprocessor for my current one so I guess my opinion of it can't be that low really. The ones I've mentioned are all free to use (except OneNote) so you can try them all out but beware of becoming like me and sacrificing your limited writing time to a pointless software quest.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
I can't speak to the actual tools, but the comments from the Code Crowd has caused me to point out something that might easily be missed.

World buidling is one thing, writing is another. So using separate tools is not entirely stupid. Your organizational tool, whether Visual Studio or Evernote or whatever, needs really only to be easily understood (by you), flexible enough to still be useful three novels later, and (probably most important) easy to find what you need. I have a rule of thumb on that last point. The tool has to be good enough that I can find an item while I'm in the middle of a writing session and not feel interrupted. That usually means finding the item--be it name or date or whatever--within a couple of minutes at most. If finding the item gets me derailed from the writing, then it's not up to snuff. Assuming snuff is a thing up to which one wishes to be.

There's nothing wrong with having the same software serve both functions (world building and writing), but there's also nothing wrong with have them be separate.

[Aside: it's striking how often folks ask us writers for solutions and all we give them is options. I get why, but it does cause a rueful grin sometimes. <rg>
 

Mad Swede

Maester
Being organised is about self-discipline. Without that self-discipline no software or system in the world is going to help you organise yourself. Even for someone as dyslexic as I am it's about self discipline. That means writing when you sit down to write, it means focussing on what you are writing. Yes, you can let your mind wander all over the place as you seem to do. But as you've found out it also means you don't always get anywhere.

So I'd suggest that you practice scheduling your time a bit, in terms of deciding what you are going to write or draw and then doing only that. If your mind wanders away, stop, take a quick break then get back to what you had decided to do. That in turn means you need to have thought things through a bit, in terms of what your story is about, your characters and what the setting is like - and you need to do that before you settle down to write. So set aside some time for that too.
 
As you can see from all the answers given here, the simple answer to the question asked "Are there any good methods to keep myself on track, or even any websites to keep everything more organized so I don’t have lore, backstories, dialogue, etc. in the same spot?" is yes, there are a lot of good methods for doing this.

The most important thing to do is to think about what method would work for you. What would your ideal organization look like? I think for pretty much anything you can come up with a tool or a collection of tools has been made. You will find anything from post-it notes stuck to a whiteboard to complete personal wiki's. So, think about what you would like. And remember that you can adapt as you learn more about your progress (and that there is a lot of free software out there and paid stuff often has trial periods).

Some questions which may help are
- do you want to keep everything in a single program or do you want separate tools for writing, worldbuilding and planning a story
- do you want flexibility or do you want a program which has a framwork set up already?
- how much are you willing to spend?
- do you have just one world / story (with multiple entries) or do you have multiple universes you want to write in?
 

Penpilot

Staff
Article Team
I used to think that finding the right piece of software would help me get all organized and write. I realized it's not the software that matters. It's the system you come up with your self that works for you. I've used tons of different pieces of software, but bare bones, all I need is a word processor. I have a file for each chapter of the story. I have a file for world building. I have a file for characters, and another for notes. I can have all those files open at the same time and scribble into or read from any of them by simply tabbing over.

OK, now with that said, here are some good programs that allow you to have all those things in one package. For me, I use Scrivener. It's available for apple and windows. It's also relatively inexpensive and has extensive export options. Next up is yWriter. It's free. Its similar to Scrivener. It's not pretty but it gets the job done.

Some other programs you might want to check out. Wikipad. It's free. It's a personal wiki program. Tree sheets, it's hard to describe, but lets you nest blocks of text. It's free, too.
 
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