Monday, 21 March 2016

Guest Post: Liz Harris - Organisation



When Elaina kindly invited me to be her guest, I thought for a long time what to say. In the end I decide to focus on ORGANISATION. The thing an author most lacks is time.

Look at some of the things an author has to do:

1) Before starting the novel, there’ll almost certainly be the need for research, which may be ongoing. Even contemporary novels usually need some research, although less than for an historical novel.

2) Actually write the novel.

3) Ideally, the ‘finished’ novel should be edited by the author before being sent to a critiquer/agent/publisher.

4) Marketing. If the world doesn’t know your novel’s out there, how will they find it? It doesn’t matter how big the author is (talking in terms of being well-known, not size!), almost everyone has to help with publicising their novel. This is ongoing and time-consuming, and may have to be done when one’s trying to write the next novel.

5) Real life. Families and friends expect a look in, too.



With good organisation, you’ll make the best use of the time you have.

This is something I wish I’d known when I wrote my debut novel, The Road Back. A large part of The Road Back is set in Ladakh, north of the Himalayas. Before starting to write the novel, I researched the climate, the customs, the history, the clothes, the scenery, the houses, the food, etc. I kept everything in one very long word document. It didn’t even have sub-headings!

This meant that as I was writing the novel, and needed to write about the houses there, for example, I had to scroll down through the whole of the single voluminous document. And when I’d finished the novel and reached the editing stage, the scrolling down was even more nightmarish.

Never again, I thought when I started on the next book, and I asked myself what I could do better. Eight books later, I have the organisation of my material down to a fine art – done in a way that suits me. Finding out what’s best for you is the key.

I now organise my material in word files from the moment I start my research. I know you can buy programmes to do that for you, but I find it easy to do it myself and I keep everything in the way that’s most useful for me.

WHAT I DO
. I store everything in a single file. I give that file a suitable title - perhaps the title of the novel. Within that file, I keep separate word documents, each headed according to the content it contains. For example, I’ll have a word document headed HOUSES, and when I’m describing a house, I minimise that document, and everything I need is there in front of me as I write.

The other thing I started to do as I came to realise the importance of being able to find the place in the text I needed with ease, is fill in a CHAPTER PLAN. I fill this in as soon as I’ve completed the chapter. Later, if I need to insert an extra chapter earlier on, I can go back and insert a row. I keep my plan up to date at all times.

For my chapter plan, which is done on landscape, I have six columns of varying widths:

1. Chapter Number.

2. Page number.

3. Time & Place. (Where and when the chapter is set. I also put the character’s age, if there’ll have been a change.)

4. Content (A BRIEF description of what’s in that chapter).

5. Word count.

6. Notes. (In this, I record the character’s name and physical appearance the first time the character appears. I also write down any word that always causes me to hesitate over its spelling. Should it be ‘drily’ or ‘dryly’ for example? By writing the word down the first time I use it, and thereafter checking back every time I come to write it, at least if I’m wrong, I’m consistently wrong!)



Being an author is the most fabulous job of all – you live for several months in a world you’ve created, with characters to whom you’ve given birth. Bliss! But there are unavoidable aspects of being an author that can bring you stress. With careful organisation, you can take much of the stress out of the process, and just ENJOY!

BIOGRAPHY: Liz Harris


Liz Harris is the author of the historical novels THE ROAD BACK, (US Coffee Time & Romance Book of the Year 2012), A BARGAIN STRUCK (shortlisted for the RoNA Best Historical 2013), and the novella, A WESTERN HEART. In addition are her contemporary novels set in Umbria, EVIE UNDERCOVER and THE ART OF DECEPTION. Her latest historical novel, THE LOST GIRL, is set in SW Wyoming in the 1870s and 1880s. In addition, Liz has had several short stories published in anthologies and magazines. Her interests are theatre, travelling, reading, cryptic crosswords. Her website is: www.lizharrisauthor.com

17 comments:

  1. Many thanks for inviting me to be your guest, Elaina; I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to you. :-)

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    1. It was lovely to have you on the blog and hear your clever ideas for keeping those research notes organised. Thanks for taking part

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  2. Some great tips there thank you, Liz. I have a chapter plan too, but not as comprehensive as yours - it's more of a dump summary of what has gone on. I'm going to pinch your idea of columns to add the extra detail so it's easily viewable :-)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Kathryn. I'm glad you found Liz's tips useful too.

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  3. It's being able to see everything at a glance that's so helpful. If I had everything in separate documents, eg character plans for each character, I'd never look at them! You'll know from doing your edits how useful it is to be able to zero in to the exact chapter where something has to be amended in the light of the changes made by the editor's suggestions. Not being able to do this adds so much time to the editing process, whether you're editing yourself or doing as the publisher's editor has suggested.

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  4. I have a large book for each novel. I use it for everything except actually writing the novel. In it, I have character descriptions and setting seacriptions to refer back to (including photographs. I also have a chapter plan with a short paragraph of what each chapter is about. I keep tabs on dates with the timeline my husband made for me (which can be found on my blog).

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    1. Is this an online book, Wendy, or a physical book?

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    2. I use a similar method Wendy. I have a folder split into various sections for the different bits of research, with a chapter summary in pencil (with lots of rubbings out) at the front. Think I'll give Liz's method a try on the next one though

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  5. Great post - thanks for sharing, Liz! I always mean to write a summary of each chapter as I go along, and regret it when I don’t! I find it helpful to keep my plot ideas, images and research etc together in OneNote.

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    1. I've heard of OneNote, Clare, but never used it. By now, though,I've become so used to organising my material in the way I described that I'd never be able to work using a different method. Having a chart such as I do means that it takes only a minute or two to fill in salient points (such as character appearance) as I go along, and then the brief description of chapter content at the end of each chapter, and I can always find what I need without difficulty. :-)

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    2. Thanks for stopping by Clare. I'd never thought about using onenote, that's a good idea.

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  6. I love this idea. I have virtual post-its on my screen with stuff like character names and ages and other bits of info that might be useful. I like your word docs idea better, so I think I'll move over to that!

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    1. Hi Rhoda. I tried the virtual post it notes but had a bit of a disaster when I lost them all once. Eek!

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  7. Great tips, Liz! (keeping everything organised is so difficult) And I love your cover for The Lost Girl :-)

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    1. Glad you enjoyed Liz's post, thanks Anita

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  8. Good informative post, especially interested in Chapter Plans as this is something I've just done. Thank you for sharing.

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  9. Many thanks for the useful tips. I am going to try and follow your example with my third novel, which is a bit of a mess as yet. My second one is finished, but I am not getting rid of any of my notes or cuttings til it has emerged from the editing process.

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