This week’s Weekly Procrastination came via Twitter DM, so forgive the format.
When you wrote your novels, did you keep them as just one giant doc, or did you have separate docs for chapters, sections?
One doc, but another one for outline, another for clipped words/stuff to add later/research.
It’s a terrifyingly large doc. Don’t know why it makes me more nervous than a screenplay doc, but it does.
Make lots of backups to google docs. But also, break it up if it gives up anxiety. Don’t stress it.
Of course all of that makes perfect sense. Thanks for answering my dumb question.
Don’t be afraid to brag about your large doc to the ladies. I hear they eat that shit up.
Noted. I can’t wait to print out all the chapters, staple them, and throw them in the air to decide the order.
I suppose you could have one folder that has all your chapters in different files, but that hurts my brain. Unless you’re writing non-fiction. Then it makes sense to me, where you can stick your research for each chapter in each file inside a bigger folder inside a bigger folder. That made me excited in my nerdy parts.
If I do split my novel’s document into sections, it’s in order to keep myself from ever again touching the first thirty pages until I’ve gotten to the last thirty. I find a midway point or an act break and I start a new document. I’ve had to do that when I’m sending early pages to an editor or agent while I’m in the middle of writing the manuscript. Early pages are renamed (something like “pages sent to ###” so I don’t forget who has seen it and there’s a time stamp), and I can merge later, careful not to overwrite any newer versions with older ones.
I’d be nervous about that, about having too many documents and accidentally merging something on top of something newer/cleaner/etc.
I generally have three documents open on my desktop when I’m working on a manuscript. One is the document I’m writing, one contains my outline I’m working from and one is there for cutting and pasting, for sticking stuff I don’t know what to do with, lines of dialogue that are stuck in my head but have no place, notes to myself, things to look up online later so I don’t stop my flow. It’s like my little junk drawer for my book. I do this with scripts, too. It’s not novel-specific.
Sometimes I write in the outline. Well, a copy of the outline, anyway, not the original. I’ll have the paragraph that tells me the upcoming scene or chapter, and after I write it I go back to make sure I addressed everything and hit all of the emotional beats and plot points, and then I delete that outline paragraph and move on to the next one. (Yes, it feels very satisfying.) I don’t do this often, and I usually do it more when I’m either in very early or very late stages of a manuscript. I will write the notes to myself in all-caps so that I don’t accidentally leave any behind the scenes work in the final document.
And when I do send that large, final manuscript to editors and agents, it’s one big document. They’re used to it. They’re the ones who ask for it that way. When I’m asking friends to read it, I upload it somewhere and give them private access and a warning, so they don’t want to stab me in the eye when they accidentally download my manuscript to their iPhones.
Okay, I just went to see how many documents I had for my latest manuscript, and the real answer is much more complicated, because you’re dealing with the process. It usually takes me a couple of runs at the first hundred pages before I’ve truly got a grasp of my characters and how I want to get into the story. And sometimes those early pages need a second opinion of a friend or agent.
Here’s a screen shot of my folder for my new novel YOU TAKE IT FROM HERE. You can see how long I was working on it, how many times I started over, how long it took to get an outline finished, and then how long from outline to manuscript, how many drafts I’ve made and when I took breaks from it (which means somebody like an agent or editor had it on their desk for a few weeks).
I’m not sure if any of that helps, but I wanted to show you that it can be messy and that’s okay. Nobody’s seeing inside your drawer.
I use HateTheDrake’s question as this week’s writerly advice because I think it’s an amazing example of what we will do to stop ourselves from forward momentum. “What if I’m writing this novel the wrong way?” “What if everybody else is doing this better/cooler/faster/righter?”
You will develop your own process for keeping all the words in your head while you’re trying to get words out of your fingertips. And sometimes the documents will be large. But hopefully you live in a world where your machine can handle it, your internet connection can handle it, and the people who are going to handle your huge doc know what to do with it.
My father never finished a novel, though he was constantly working on one. (I wrote a little about this in my essay for Kevin Smokler’s BOOKMARK NOW, which I encourage you to pick up if you’re looking for additional procrastination.) Dad would write five pages, then spend months and months doing “research,” only to decide to tackle a different subject. He’d write a short story as a “starting point” and then spend months working on that short story, editing it and submitting it places until he decided nobody was interested in that and then he’d start thinking about something else. Then his computer was the wrong computer to write his novel because the newer computers were better able to handle the size of the document he was sure he was going to write, which meant getting all new software and floppy disks (ask your parents) and then formatting those disks and then labeling those disks so he was sure that he knew exactly where that novel was going to be someday.
Don’t spend more time making room for your novel than writing your novel. Don’t think about it; do it. Don’t worry about it or plan for it or fret about it; get to it. Soon this thing will consume you and it will take up all the space it wants and needs and when you’re really killing it, when you’re in that place where the words are coming, you will know exactly where you want your huge doc. You want that huge doc up in your face!
How do you handle your big projects? Do you like to break stuff down into small pieces and then tape them together, or do you like one big document so it’s all in one manageable, searchable place?