draft after draft: novel in the closet

I was writing a novel. I’ve been writing the same novel for almost three years now.

After a ten month hiatus from the novel, I decided to take a look at it again, see if I could approach it. Of course, I found a dozen drafts, and various chapters, strewn through my hard drive–and a few drafts and chapters absolutely missing! They were found in my various yahoo and gmail accounts (thank goodness for my practice of emailing myself valuable story and novel drafts).

Ugh. What had I done? While I liked most of what I read, and found some clarity with the plot and potential in places I’d previously been stuck, I don’t quite “get” my old organization methodology. What made sense to me last year, makes very little sense to me now–where is THAT chapter, where is the other draft?  Is that draft missing a chapter?  Oh, here’s the chapter–bleah.  This indicates an interesting foray back to the novel.

What does everyone else do with organizing chapters and drafts for a novel in progress?

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10 Comments

Filed under The Novel, Writing

10 responses to “draft after draft: novel in the closet

  1. I’m not sure what I would do were I organizing a novel, but I do know that in my project management aspects of my work I tend to keep things organized by module and then within each module I keep a drafts folder that has archived materials and only one live top level “active” piece in progress. That way I can always organize my archives by date or whatever but can easily get to the pieces I need or want.
    It just occurred to me that using links/shortcuts at the top level of the project that direct to the actual file would also let me have access to the full “active” spectrum of work…
    Phew – that’s WAY too much PM talk at 7:30am on a Saturday… Back to watching Luke and Noah from ATWT on YouTube… 🙂

  2. I’ve also got a three-year-old novel-in-progress that I’ve returned to and have the same problem as you, with various versions. I haven’t yet found the best way to manage it either!

  3. I keep one big file with every piece of it together, called something like “Complete Recent Draft.” But I also keep individual chapters, numbered, which I work on individually. When I write or update a chapter, I think copy/paste it into the big file.

    Then (this I credit to a writing friend for teaching me)I also give each scene within a chapter a small heading, like, “X has a fight with Y” and in the Word document, call it a Subtitle or something like that. That way it makes an instant outline (this is an outline of what has been done, not an outline I’m working toward – hope that makes sense). So when I put it in “Outline” View, I can see the entire thing summarized. I can add Scenes I Still Need to Write, and highlight those in yellow.

    It’s made a huuuuge difference to be able to “see” my novel in this way. I’m excited you’re going back to yours.

  4. Eric: very helpful–! my unique problem (and I didn’t mention it in the post) is that I want to retrieve scenes that I dropped. Halfway through my novel, I decided to write it in 3rd person rather than 1st, so I started over. Which means there are whole chapters written in 1st that I dropped (but now that I’ve reread the thing, I find they have value). bleahhhh.

    Charlotte: yay, you are back to your novel. 🙂 I hope we find an answer here.

    Susan: Awesome–thank you SO much–I *should* save the novel in chapter installments. And I like the subtitle idea.

    New Question: Has anyone tried Scrivener? I wonder if it would be helpful? It’s a project management tool for writers.

  5. I have heard of a few writers using Scrivener… An author friend of mine typically uses it when she’s outlining a book but then writes the actual prose by hand…
    Funny girl she is…

  6. If it’s a single plotline, just a single file for the current draft of everything (forked with previous forks saved so I have all the stuff I later delete); if it has different characters and major plotlines, then a separate document for each major plotline.

    Plus text files with notes for everything from individual characters, to researched info, to plot ideas, quotes I may like to look at for a thematic refresher, and so on.

    Of course, for the notes and such, nothing gets deleted — I just use strikethroughs on stuff that’s used or no longer important.

    Finally, I keep all the previous forks of documents in a .zip archive, in the same folder as the current draft. It minimizes clutter, and reduces folder-depth for when I’m backing up the writing folder. (Since I keep a single big writing folder with subfolders for fiction, poetry, articles, essays, and all kinds of other stuff, and the subfolders under those headings organize things by the stage of draft, revision, rewriting, in crit, post-crit, ready to proofread, ready to print and send, pending, and so on — and each of these folders have subsubfolders with the titles of pieces, the path length can be an issue when copying files.)

    All of this I back up obsessively, forking whatever subfolders are necessary and backing up the most current stuff in at least one place twice weekly, and the most current draft of everything about once a month.

  7. Eve

    Jade, I find the organizational aspects of writing a book among the most difficult. As I’ve written before, I’m not a fiction writer so can’t comment on writing a novel. But I have written a few books and it seemed just difficult to keep it all going in the ‘right’ direction.

    I’m the type to do an outline and work off it, but that’s easier said than done. Making an outline or plan is simple enough, sometimes, but I find that books have lives of their own somehow, and can become like dogs straining at the leash. If you let go, WHOOOOSH! Off that little mutt runs! And so the book runs here and there at times.

    Once when I was finishing a MS, I became so overwhelmed by it that I actually had to corral some of my family members who are smart to sit down with me and pore over the plan, outline, and actual manuscript with me (strewn all over the floor) and help me be logical. It was awful. Without them, I probably would have crashed and burned.

    I’ve also had a couple of friends who froze up at the end of a MS and really believed they couldn’t finish. I had to hand-hold them by reading the book/thesis/dissertation and show them what they couldn’t see because they were too close to it.

    Hopefully this never happens with novels. (Ha!) But… just a little comfort. It happens to non-fiction people so, unless you have some magic fictional fairy dust that exempts you from this mayhem we call Writing A Book, at least you’re in good company.

  8. Eve

    P.S. I’m still so traumatized by the thesis I finished last year that I can’t manage to turn it into a book or even a good journal article.

    I blog instead. :oP

  9. I do something similar to Susan, although without the scene headings, which is a great idea. I have to admit, though, that my organizational process has undergone various permutations over the years. It’s much easier for me now that I have a complete draft and not just documents and documents of notes. I have one folder for my old book drafts, and then I have the current draft, which includes the latest revision of each chapter. Then I have a folder called Revisions, where I have the revisions of individual chapters labeled Chapter One R1, Chapter One R2, etc. (although the chapters have names).

    As for Scrivener, several people at the Grotto are using it, and I’ve heard good things about it, but I haven’t tried it yet. I’m afraid I’ll get too caught up in outlining and not get any writing done. I need to ask someone there to give me a demo before I decide whether to buy it. It may be a good time to give it a try, though, and it’s pretty cheap – around $35.

  10. I just downloaded Scrivener and am going to try the 30 day free trial.

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