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!
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