Tuesday, March 31, 2009


C.H.A.O.S. - Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.

Chaos is the word for our house, that is certain. I am about as disorganized a soul as you are ever apt to meet. I always mean to do better but I am too disorganized to find time to organize.

Worse, I have the memory of a goldfish, which has been scientifically established as being 30 seconds. Heaven knows why anyone would need to know that, however, there it is. I have a little piece of paper with my name on it pinned to my bra to keep track of my name. Well, maybe that is stretching it a bit.

Nevertheless, I am about to share my secrets on organization. As I remember, it actually works.
One of my problems with research is that I remember I read something somewhere but darned if I can remember where I read it. This has a truly disastrous effect on accuracy. Thus my solution of sorts.

I use a ring binder for each manuscript. At the top of each sheet of paper, I write a the question I need to research. I might have so many questions that I need to group the pages into sections such as: Scotland, heroine, hero, wars in 1430 etc.

I am writing a story about a Scottish heroine of the 15th century at the moment. She has inherited a horse farm and manor from her murdered father. The hero is the nephew of a laird named MacTavish and is his heir. At one point, the couple agree to hand fast while staying in a cave behind a waterfall.

I need to know if there were horse farms in the area. What kind of horses were raised in that time period. Could she in fact inherit from her father, or would it go to his nearest male relative? Was hand fasting done in that period? What are the exact words used to hand fast? Are there caves in that area? Each of these questions requires one sheet of paper.

Next, I start a bibliography and give each book a code name, e.g.
B1 is Strange Landscape
B2 is Medieval Women
B3 is A Short History of Scotland.

It is unlikely I would be using a newspaper or magazine, but if I did, each would also have a code name, such as:
NP1, The Star Phoenix, March 22, 2009.

Much of my research is done over the internet, so each web page I have read also needs a code:
IN 1, http://www.weapons.com./

As I go along, I expand the number of pages and the bibliography as needed.
As I research and come across a fact I need, I write it on the appropriate page and note that it came from B2 p. 204 para 5. And so a page in my binder might look like this:

Medieval woman’s right to hold land

1. The holding of land in a woman’s name solely, became more frequent during the Crusades, because many husbands did not return. B2 p98para 2 - 8.
2. If there were no sons in a family, a daughter could inherit in Scotland or England, but not in France. IN http://www.medievallaw.com,/ section 11para 7..

Another useful tool I have found is on the Linux operating system. I use the Umbutu version. In its directory under ‘Applications’ is a program called ‘Writers Café.’ It has a section entitled ‘StoryLines’ for plotting your novel. There is a line for each character e.g. Elinor, Duncan and Jock and there are ‘cards’ which each contain a few words about an action by one of the characters or a scene. The card can be pulled down to fit on a character’s line. Cards can be moved around. At the same time, this program draws up an outline for you, listing each card’s contents in order, e.g.
1. Elinor arrives at MacT’s and faces his anger
2. MacT has missed her point to her frustration.
3. Duncan tries to clear it up for him

Cards can be used for description, content, setting etc if you choose. You can also attach project notes.

Writers’ Café also offers: a notebook, a place to gain inspiration from other writers, a library, a word processor to use with Storylines, a journal, scrapbook where you can keep pictures, outlines of future plots etc. It even has a game for writers to play just before they start to tear out their hair by the handful. I’m still trying to master ‘Storylines’, but once I get better at it, it might even organize me.

Have a look.


Captain Hook said...


See, this is why I write about modern times in places I know. I am no where near that organized even when I try to be.

Karen said...

I have a binder, the tabs, the information to go into the binder and it's sitting in a messy heap on a table. My wip progress binder is somewhat more organized but still stuffed with bits of paper, newspaper articles, bios, you name it. So comparatively speaking, I'd say you are pretty darn organized.

Great post, Connie. It has inspired me to have that binder organized by the end of the day!

ban said...

oooo oooo, i have a binder too, can i join the club ?!? :D actually mine has pages full of scenes or clips of dialog that i can move around if needed and at the back is my 'research' chapter filled with all the info necessary for that wip. you lost me shortly after that as i don't have an index ! ps: like C.H.A.O.S.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Very impressive and thorough. I should really take some time to sit and delve into research as well. I actually enjoy it when it isn't an assignment.

I have a binder scattered with notes on scenes and ideas, a pile of papers I haven't sorted in there yet, and most recently I downloaded Character Keeper software (it's linked on my blog) to try and transfer some of the scattered notes into one location. It also encourages me to fill things in, which is handy.

Is your software a Linux-only program? It sounds handy, I'd be interested in trying out its structure.

Janet C. said...

I am so unorganized in comparison to you, Connie. All of my notes, re-writes, web addresses, timeline calendar pages, etc. are stuffed in a plastic storage container on a shelf in my corner of the basement (what some people would call an office).

I know Hayley posted a link (and she mentions it here again) on Character Keeper that I have yet to check out (but will). And I've come across some great sites for organizing/storing all the information and stuff that goes into writing a manuscript. Just to find the time to check them out and then employ them. Perhaps I should take a page from Karen's comments and just do it :) (How's that going, Karen?)

Great post, Connie. Thanks for sharing your strategy with us.

Molli said...

Thanks for sharing Connie. I`m impressed, not to mention a touch green. My bits and pieces for story ideas and research in general are overflowing a banker`s box in the den. My current story items are decorating said den on a `chaotic` basis, so, like Karen, I`ll use your post for inspiration this week and find a binder.

Helena said...

Wow! For a disorganized person (as if I believed it!) you have a super system going.

Me, I have a cloth shopping bag full of articles, pictures, maps, magazines, etc. that might be useful for my current wip. Also in my WP program I have a file for my novel in which I have created sub-files for the chronology of the plot, character info, and synopsis, pitches, etc., as well as every draft of each chapter. In another file, I have story ideas for other novels I may get to some day, which in turn will spawn more files that will relate to each new story. Somewhere in a filing cabinet I know I have a whole bunch of newspaper articles that relate to a story that I thought I would write before the one I'm doing.

Overall, my "system" seems so much more serendipitous than yours.

Thanks for the glimpse into the life of a real researcher.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Connie,
I'm very impressed. I think we'll have to kick you out of the Disorganized Writer's Club, of which I am a star member.

I have bits of paper with notes on them flying around my desk and at the moment that constitutes my organization system. Occasionally, when I can't stand all the paper and junk lying around I'll try to find a home for it. Sometimes I use a binder or an accordian file but I'm not consistent.

I'm not anywhere near your level, Connie. I bow to your superior organizing talents. Did you learn your research system in your years as a journalist?


Karen said...

How's it going you ask, Janet? Slower then anticpated.

Janet C. said...

Hey Karen - are you organizing or re-reading the stuff that's supposed to go into the binder :)

Or are you writing - cause I'm waiting to hear something about Lily and Chase.

connie said...

Oh You Guys!!
you make me feel so guilty! this system is how i organize RESEARCH! for the rest - fantastic ideas, incredible bits of dialogue, unsurpassed twists for plot changes, the name of the author of As You Like it and other stuff is on a blizzard of little pieces of paper all over the house. You guys with your boxes, bags, files etc are way the heck and gone more organized than I am. i use the notebook system for stuff i have to be accurate about - research and non-fiction. Other than that, i am as free and as messy as a pigeon. --connie--

connie said...

Captain Hook, thanks for commenting. you have a blended family too. i have one custom-made (adopted),one homemade and two second hand - all in their 30s. the moment we gave thought to the idea of blended family is when we gave up all rights to organization, reason, comprehension and time to do our toe ails. i sympathize!

connie said...

karen - thanks for the idea that i have inspired someone...but to do work? ummmm
i have just started research for this wip, so i will use a binder, but the rest??

connie said...

ban - come aboard! one bit of research i'd like to do in manhatten would be to find that park bench in Central Park that lynn kurland uses to end up in medieval Scotland. her heroines always marry incredible men and bring them back to current times. they are always fabulously rich because, i guess, they brought some really old pocket change
where in ny are you? i grew up in Niagara Fallls Ontario, within hailing distance of ny state

connie said...

Hi Hayley, thanks. i took a look at character keeper and started the download but chickened out when all the warnings of thoroughly nasty possibilities showed on the screen
search linux and pick the site with homepage and the one for umbutu. writers cafe is exclusive to linux as far as i know. linux is an operating system like windows except that all programs are free.

connie said...

hey Janet
thanks for the comments
what are some of the sites for organizing/storing you have found?
i'm scared to ask karen how it is going. it takes me weeks to put things where they belong except when i am researching with my handy dandy binder. and karen will do it in a day
actually, i am starting to think of blizzrds of paper as a unique decorating style - like putting a cloth over a stack of magazines and calling it a table. however, that is not nearly as interesting as writing so that's my entire stock of neat decorating ideas
p.s. thanks for getting me 'on the air'

connie said...

hi molli.
thanks for commenting. i am a serious pack rat, which is why we have never been able to find the three men on horse back said to be inhabiting the basement. i must have a dozen empty binders left over from the kids forays into the 'happiest years of your life' maybe we should all bring our excess writing stuff to a meeting and have an exchange. i have a bunch of books that would do well in the library.

connie said...

helena - your coments made me think maybe, having a computer to hand, that i should copy all my bits and pieces into a flurry of files. but that takes time and, as you said, spawns more files. looking for a one by three inch scrap of paper i remember as being yellow (turns out it is white) is more fun and gives me time to scratch the dog's ears. her name is Pen and i wanted a second dog named Pencil, but it wa not to be.
like hayley, i enjoy research when i don't have to do it and then my system works

connie said...

yes, the system came from working as a journalist in part, but more from writing my non-fiction book. then i really and truly had to have the stuff organized or die. there was so much material, including the complete transcripts from the inquiry - 12 bankers' boxes - loaned to me by a lawyer friend.
if we were all organized, what a boring lot we would be. maybe creativity requires many, many, many scraps of paper.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Connie, that's a great post!

I just use my laptop. To get to Charley's Saint for example, I click here:
- Anita's documents, then
- writing, then
- novels, then
- Prairie Junction, then
- Charley's Saint

then I decide what day or character or setting I want and open more iles.

However, I've just discovered Google Notebook! It has cards like you talk about and is much simpler than my files. Plus, I can access it on my iPod touch unlike my current ones.

But the big thing with Google Notebook is that like Google Docs, it's stored in cyberspace so if my laptop crashes, my files will be safe. I like that.

You know, I'm starting to hear a lot of good things about Linux. Hmm...