My writing colleagues are an eclectic group. All of us are at some point of writing a book. Genres run the gamut of YA fantasy, memoir, novel, or blogs to how-to. We also run the gamut as far as first book or fifth; ages from forty-something to a couple of decades beyond; laptop writer, yellow legal pad user, or organic scribbler of notes; story engineer, planner, or “pantser.” Regardless of the variables, we count on each other for supportive feedback, an extra pair of eyes, and sensibility of content. But we each have to keep track of our own draft revisions, story arcs, and brainstorms.

I don’t know about you, but these days I have a considerable number of cerebral files open at once and if I don’t write things down or note them somewhere–they’re gone. And absolutely true with my writing life. Regardless of the writing topic or genre, or when or where you write, you still have to keep track of what’s going on.

As my own writing experiences widened and years have passed, I added digital tools to track my book or article progress. I’m still a pretty basic and organic tracker. I like to see the whole picture of what I’m doing. And as it gets to the final draft, I like to feel it too. Yes, I’m one of those readers who still chooses hard cover books over e readers.

I use a spreadsheet for chapter titles, word count, dates revised, date shared, and final draft. I have separate documents for each chapter, .docx lists for character traits. “Dump” documents are brainstormed lists where all possible ideas are dumped for future use for a particular book, or list of blog ideas, places to submit, or calendar for timely submissions. Basically I use Word and Excel. Spellcheck gives me grammar, punctuation, and copy edits. I use custom spreadsheets for facts, .docx for developments of ideas, and folders to keep the documents categorized. iPad notes are lifesavers when I’m on the go. I do use real people for beta readers and human feedback.

For longer length books or articles, I start with a draft doc for the concept–the “what if” of a theme. Then do a quick write summary and go back to crystallize the theme. This gives a snapshot of my story or essay. I use horizontal timelines for books with peaks and valleys for emotional content. Character arcs get a different color marker along the timeline of the book with years marking the milestones or plot point events. I name and date every doc. Yes, it says it in the menu, but I want to see it as soon as it opens too.

Some of my writing colleagues are digital mavens; they use Scrivener, Grammarly  Writertopia, and Word trackers, digital copy editors, tools that color code and track frequency of word usage, give word count, and suggest variations on sentence structure spew out from magical software that accompanies them on their writing path.

IMG_7124What intrigues me is the personal creativity that we each use in tracking the progress of our current work. My colleague, Bee Bloeser is writing a memoir of her life in Nigeria while her husband was working on the eradication program for smallpox. She is culling ideas from his journals, letters, and articles. But HER tracking rendition is a physical timeline with post-its extending the full length along the hallway wall of her apartment. Chapters get marked off with a rainbow of post-its. Her closet door is a storyboard for a larger than life visual of chapter titles for what will be a larger than life story.

Nat Track Tool full sizeNatalie Wright usually sits at our writing table with headphones on and hands above laptop. She is the digital queen of our group. Createspace is her playground; book design her forte. Audio books–no problem. So I was surprised when she came to the group one day with headphones and no laptop. She laid out a stack of index cards. Her hand held the writing implement known as a pen. She laid out her custom-designed templates for character development to spend more thoughtful time writing out detailed traits for her characters. She also confided that each character has different theme music.

When it comes to the final draft of the manuscript, I still print out the entire thing. Then head for the living room, which has the largest carpeted area or floor space. I lay out all the finished chapters in rows across the carpet. Each row is a section of the book. Then I stare and think. Is this the right order? Are there gaps? Is a chapter switch called for? In my memoir, Thinking of Miller Place, I ended up moving chapter piles around so many times, it could have qualified for a bend and stretch exercise session. I ended up changing the order of four chapters, after gazing at the titles layouts as they progressed across the floor. This then called for rereading to make sure information/characters/musing were introduced at just the right time and in the appropriate sequence.

My second book, Seedlings, Stories of Relationships, is a collection of short stories. The first working title was The 3 R’s: Relationships, Remarriage, & Retirement. As I laid out the stories into those three categories, they just didn’t fit. Too narrow a field for what I had. Not all the stories were mine. Some were permission-granted bits of stories. Some came from a glimmer of an idea. Some were fiction; some were memoiric. All were about relationships. Organizing by origin rather than the 3 Rs gave me Seedlings stories (the glimmer of an idea), Shoots (permission-granted and author-expanded), and Blossoms (all true). There was my book title, and three sections of the book. This made for a much more interesting table of contents and theme for the entire book.

Creative ideas for creative writing keeping the passion for our craft alive. How do you track your writing?