Hey hey, it’s MJ,
I have been writing long form fiction for about a decade now and that is crazy for me to think about. I have 13 almost 14 finished projects, (it hopefully will be 14 within the month) a few current projects, and like 15 future projects. My brain is full of ideas and it never stops. I cannot write fast enough to keep up with the ideas in my brain…ever and that’s hard.
This is going to be a long post so if you are planning on reading the whole thing go get a coffee or a tea and a snack. Buckle in.
I have used so many methods of actually keeping all of my stuff organized. I have tried notebooks, outlined on sticky notes, just hung current projects on a cork board, and finally binders came into my life because they keep everything organized.
Now I have two kinds of binders, specific story binders with the deep dive information that I think I might need, (I do a lot of research online so the binders are pretty empty) but having a binder keeps things as organized as I can while I am working on a project. My other kind of binder is my general projects binder that is a snapshot of everything I have finished, am currently working on, and have already figured out for the future.
I don’t share my writing because I fear people stealing my work, I know I need to share it to get feedback for publishing, but I am still scared to. I have sent things to people in the past and they have “skimmed” my work, I want you to read it to give me feedback, I don’t want you to skim it, skimming it doesn’t help me.
Let’s go over what a normal story based binder looks like. I will not be showing my outlines because these projects, until they are ready to hit a bookstore are still my babies, they all take pieces of me and I don’t want anything to happen to them.
Here’s the thing about the story binders, I have been using my general binders a lot more lately because I have been working on different projects that aren’t actually in the binders. The last book I wrote where the binder was super helpful was one I finished at the end of last year that I started writing in 2017. Inspiration struck last fall and wrote like a bunch in two months and finished it.
The binder I am using in this example is a series, there are going to be seven books in it that comprise four separate groups that overlap in each of their own books. Started out as one group with a planned three books, then I got an idea for something else which has two, and the other two groups only have one and all four stories culminate and end at the same event so that’s fun. It’s ambitious for me, this was my first “series”, I normally am a stand-alone person but roll with me.
Most of my binders are set up the same way. Five tab dividers are my best friends!
Characters: This is where I have a major characters sheet, sometimes I do a deep dive and have full character sheets that I constantly ignore throughout the process of writing the book. I know a lot about my characters, they all live in my brain, but I want them to form organically even for me.
Outlines: I have done outlines so different over the years, stick notes, notebook, and finally a types “idea sheet” I don’t really outline. My first book was outlined by chapter, now I don’t chapter until I am done writing it because I don’t want to put myself in a box. I call them “idea sheets” now because I don’t want to see the outline as set in stone. I have put things in outlines and then completely scrapped them over the years and that’s okay. Find something when you are writing that works for you. I type everything so I have a digital copy and a hard copy because that’s what works for my brain. (You don’t want to know how many folders I have to go into to find anything on my laptop, but everything is incredibly organized!)
World Info: This is more for anything that I am writing that isn’t realistic fiction, in the book I finished last winter this was where I had the town square, the items for sale in the shop that my main character’s family owned, and several other pieces of world info that I needed because I made up the town. I also have used world building sheets from E.A. Deverell to help me plan things out and have an idea or an expansion on my ideas.
Misc Research: It is exactly what it sounds like, any research that I do that I want to be able to reference as I am writing the book, things that I will need repetitively as I work. This section is underutilized in my work and I know that because I will Google something and then have to Google it again because I didn’t write it down. I also use the comments feature in Word because then I have a record of questions that I have for myself as I go and can reference later.
Visual Ideas: Character mood boards, character sketches, misc. world sketches, house layouts, anything that I will visually need to reference while I am working. For one of my series I have a map that is a 500 miles radius from Nashville, and that is a visual idea I need for that series.
Now we move on to the general binders. They are set up similarly to the story binders but the content is easier to carry around. I have three one inch binders that make up most of my canon of work in short form. I started out with one, my Current projects binder, I then created the future projects binder when my ideas started to grow and grow for future projects, and finally very recently I created the past projects binder for use when I am doing revisions. The tabs in all binders are different so we will go through each. I will start with the Past Projects binder.
Past Projects: All of the binders I have decorated like I am back in high school and I am still using one of those ugly day planners that the school gave us that I covered every year because I didn’t like them. At the front of each of these binders there is random information and stuff, in this one it’s my chapter break down for revisions and also my original word total and my current draft word total.
I did co-op these tabs from another story binder because I cannot find cute tabs anywhere right now, when I do the other binder will get it’s tabs back and I will have more appropriate tabs for past projects. So what’s in here at the moment?
Not much, this is still a work in progress binder, until a few days ago it only had the revision stuff in it and then I printed a bunch of character sheets and outlines. I know I want to have more stuff in here, I’m just not sure what because these are all finished projects. That probably should have been the title but I liked Past, Current, and Future Projects when referring to them. This binder is where I have come from with my writing and I think I’ve come pretty far since I started.
Current projects: This is everything that I am actively working on, I mean some of the things in my Future Binder I am currently toying with but these are projects that I am already in and have been writing for some time. This one is much more fleshed out than my Past Projects Binder, it’s decorated as well because I am one of those people. If I need to take a binder with me, it’s this one because it’s what I’m in the process of finishing.
Birthdays: Yes I have a calendar that is all of my characters birthday’s, are they super important for the story? Not really, but I still like to know them in case I have to go back and write something in something that I am revising.
Extra Layouts: I have moved this over to my Future Projects binder so I need to have something else to put here, it’ll probably just be layouts that are in current novels I am working on.
Outlines: Self-explanatory I think, it’s the outlines and idea sheets for everything I am currently working on. That’s one reason why this binder is important, it has all the information I need in a slim binder as I hop between projects, which I do a lot. I always have 4-6 works in progress at any time. At the moment I think I have six or seven, maybe more that I am kind of actively working on. I am trying to get one draft finished that I started in 2019 and just want to get it done because I have another draft that I started in like 2017 and I am still working on that one. I am excited for it and I know exactly where it’s going but I am in a slump on that one. Now that fall is upon us I am hoping to get back into it.
Characters: Also self-explanatory, it’s all the major characters for my current active projects. I have more in here than actual current projects because some stuff has been left in here for future projects that are in a series. Those are kind of in limbo projects, they don’t really have a good home so some are in the future projects some are in current projects.
There is no fifth tab in this one, it’s empty, I should probably have visuals here because I might move away from the “story binders” here eventually, but who knows.
Future Projects: Last binder I promise. This one I came up with when I had a bunch of projects in my Current Projects binder that didn’t need to be there. I am always coming up with new ideas for fictional works and it’s a little annoying. Early in my writing I feared running out of ideas and now I have 15 future projects some I haven’t even started yet and that’s insane to me. The dream is to write full time, but that’s just a dream at the moment. This is my most full binder of all three and that’s a good thing and a terrible thing at the same time.
Misc Info: This is where I keep a list of all my future projects, if I have even started them, if they are sequels or a series, if I have not started them at all, or if I am not sure if that project is viable at the moment. They may become viable in the future but they are up in the air for the moment.
Layouts: I moved my extra layouts here, I love house plans and I have so many saved on my computer from the internet because I use them as inspiration for characters apartments and homes. It gives me a visual so I don’t say that a house has two bedrooms on the first floor and then later in the book say it’s three.
Outlines: I have idea sheets for all of my future projects except for the one that I came up with this morning. Yes, that’s right I had a dream that built on an idea that I was already rolling around in my brain and now it’ll eventually be on the list. A writer really is just a bunch of worlds shoved into a person suit, my brain is a creative, but really loud place.
Characters: I love my character lists and we can leave it there, this is a common tab in all of my binders, I don’t need to explain it again.
Visuals: There isn’t anything in this one, I need to put things in it and eventually I will have to upgrade this binder to a larger one because there is almost too much paper in it now.
Anything I write with someone else is all stored in a Google doc because it’s collaborative, I have several of those, but those aren’t for sharing.
So there it is, this is a super long post so if you made it this far, kudos and thank you. I appreciate any views of this because writing is deeply personal for me. I know there are a lot of writers out there and I read so much that I know how amazing putting words to paper and having something come out of it is.
I have other projects that will never see the light of day, that I will never finish and I am okay with that. I hate unfinished things but some of them were written or starting to be written at different points of my life and I cannot finish those stories as the person that I am currently. Maybe down the road those works will open themselves back up to who I am then. I like being a storyteller, I have always liked telling stories and I hope that never changes.
I will be back later in the week with a new post, I actually don’t know when this post is going to come out it’s either the end of August or the beginning of September because I am waiting for my August Glam Bag so this was a late addition to my docket and I am glad that I wrote it.
So until I see everyone again I hope that every stays happy, healthy, and safe!
One thought on “Writing Binders”
That’s wonderful. I did this too. But not as deep. But I like what you do. I have a story bible for everything that contains the story I’m working on and usually a digital because i had notebooks like you have but they were all lost during moves or what not . And I write everything by hand in notebooks and then type the story up. So yeah everything is digital. But that is also a problem too cause I have lost digital copies too.