Friday, September 12, 2014

An Exercise in Visualization (Excel edition)

Since getting back from my Highlights retreat, I’ve been trying to keep the productivity ball rolling with my revisions. However, because the manuscript is so large and there are so many ideas in my head, it’s hard to keep everything straight.  For instance, I realized a while ago that there was some backstory that needed to be included earlier in the manuscript, but I needed to look at the manuscript as a whole before deciding where to place the additions. For my first draft, I’d created a handwritten outline of my entire manuscript using a roll of Ikea paper (a nice excuse to go to Ikea, if I do say so), but it was a tedious task to write this and it was challenging to add to unless I covered the whole thing with post-it notes (which I totally did). So, this time around I decided to do something a little more 21st century: an ongoing excel file.

I can say that I definitely like this system better then writing everything out on sheets of paper.  The logistics alone are much better because I never run out of space, the papers don’t clutter the walls or fall off (…ruining someone’s perfectly designed post-it collection), and I have it wherever I take my laptop/device. Probably my favorite aspect is that I can add columns of info as my draft grows.  I’m up to 13 columns now! If anyone’s interested, they are:
  • ·         chapter #
  • ·         POV
  • ·         scene # (for chapters with more than one scene)
  • ·         day/time (probably the most helpful of them all ironically)
  • ·         location of scene
  • ·         purpose/type of scene (action, narrative, etc)
  • ·         description of scene (I sometimes use this to write a brief outline if I haven’t finished the scene yet)
  • ·         list of potential problems/notes
  • ·         list of hallucinations in each scene (particular to this ms)
  • ·         placement of backstory
  • ·         starting page of chapter
  • ·         ending page of chapter
  • ·         total pages in chapter

Aka: a lot of info!!

Now, I love having all of this in one place, and I don’t regret trying this, but it still has some drawbacks. For one…I actually have to keep this updated. Honestly, that’s probably the hardest thing about this excel file. Sometimes I just want to write and it’s annoying to have to spend my precious writing time filling in all of this.  It’s also extremely annoying when I add a chapter earlier in the book because then I have to remember to change all the chapter numbers in the excel file and book file.  (Side note: Is that annoying or am I just lazy? I’m not sure about that one.) What I do know is that my chapter numbers are messed up most of the time.

I’m getting close to finishing this draft so my goal is to keep this excel file relatively updated for the short-term.  Then I think I’ll move onto my next project—moving and organizing all of these files in Scrivener! I figure I’ll keep trying new methods until something sticks (because my post-its aren’t anymore).


  1. Sounds like a good method. I did something similar from the workshop, but in a much more cramped-on-lined-paper way. Maybe I need an excuse to take a trip to Ikea....

  2. Ikea trips do sound like more fun. I'm excited about the idea of using Scrivener though where you can write little descriptions as you write each chapter. I'm hoping I'll keep this up more if its in the same program as the chapters.