Organizing Documents as a Writer


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My wonderful partner got me a new computer as a birthday/Christmas present. With my old computer giving me spouts of paranoia that I’d lose all my work (never mind I have three backups for all my writing), alongside moments of freezing, and the ten minutes it takes to start up — it’s a relief to write on something that works as fast as my brain does in the heat of a writing moment.

Yet being the insane sentimental person that I am, it’s been sad to move from writing on my old computer to the new one. My older laptop has been with me since 2011; it’s been my steady companion through college, after-college job hunting and internships, and hundreds of hours of writing. I haven’t moved all of my writing yet (though most of my pictures and programs were moved over immediately to give my old computer a break!), instead easing into my fancy new one.

The writing I have moved are my current projects: my NaNoWriMo project from 2016 and my current WIP, the third in my INITIUM series. And as I moved them over, I grew kind of excited, because it became an opportunity to completely rework the way I organize my files.

My old computer was organized by type of writing (novel, short story, essay, etc), and then series or theme, and then individual documents. I’ve got the terrible habit of creating a new document for every scene, thought, or spark of inspiration that hits me — which means that one book is actually dozens of documents, one series working out to be a hundred files. Most everything I write down is digital, anything not attached to a working series thrown into random documents that are then thrown into the ever-growing ‘Writing Ideas’ folder, which I proceed to forget about for the next year.

All of this, of course, is buried in the recesses of the ‘My Writing’ folder, which houses everything in tarnation.

With my new computer providing a fresh start, I reworked all of this, for ease and clarity. My new organization style is by current or back-burner projects, and then type, and then individual series or documents. This is working a hell of a lot better for my brain — I’m not clicking through dozens (okay, hundreds) of folders and documents to get to the project I’m actually working on.

I’m sure it’ll get messy as I move the rest of my writing over — but right now I’m basking in how pretty and organized everything is right now.

But it made me curious about you, my fellow writing friends.

How do you organize your files? Are you a digital or paper writer? Is everything in one folder, or do you attempt to create some organization out of the mess?


And for all of you waiting for the Published: Behind the Scenes blog series to begin, never fear! I’m writing the first one even as you read, and it will be up in a week or two. 


About R. K. Brainerd

I've been writing since my pre-teens, mostly in the realm of fantasy and sci-fi. Taking interesting concepts and dropping complex characters into fantastical worlds is my jam. I also raise dairy goats and herd cats, the evidence of which can be found on my Instagram. Welcome to the adventure. View all posts by R. K. Brainerd

5 responses to “Organizing Documents as a Writer

  • lightafireinstead

    Personally, I find it easiest for early drafts of a single story (not a whole series) to be all in one document. I have other documents related to the story, as I write the first draft, but only one that is the actual in-progress work. The others are usually: the original brainstorming document (if there is one); the story outline (if there is one); a list of characters, organized by grouping (usually country, then organization [if applicable], then family) and including any physical, familial, etc. details that I might need to reference later to maintain consistency; a list of details about the places and organizations I’ve worldbuilt, including the names of inns in specific towns, the insignia of houses/families/armies/etc., the number of people in certain cities or groups, the epithets and religions of the world, and so on; a document of story ideas I had and discarded, of scenes and characters I had actually written and then cut out; and, where applicable, a glossary of world-/story-specific words and list of the ways I’ve modified specific spoken words for dialect.

    When I get to the point of serious editing/rewriting and am planning on having a few people beta read either specific chapters or the whole thing soon, I do go through chapter by chapter and create separate documents for them all, one at a time, as I edit/rewrite. The edited/rewritten chapter gets copied and pasted back into its “slot” in the full manuscript when it’s “done” (i.e., I’m ready to send it to a reader or two), but the separate chapter document is usually what I send, unless I’m looking for someone to do a whole read through.

    Liked by 1 person

    • R. K. Brainerd

      Holy cow you are so much more organized than me! I usually have a million documents because I get certain scenes blaring in my head and am not sure if they’re actually meant to be in the story, or they’re further down the linear timeline and I like the blank page in front of me for what happens next.

      I’ve never thought of making each chapter a separate document for editing, that actually sounds like a really good idea…


      • lightafireinstead

        Ha, it sounds more organized than it actually ends up… I don’t usually write in a linear fashion, so I jump ahead and write upcoming scenes if they’re bugging me, then go back to where I was. I always leave a mostly blank page with highlighted notes on if I’m connecting scenes there later, or if there’s a specific event that has to fit there. That way I have a rough idea of why the space is there, when I go back to fill in holes. Not the most logical progression, but it works for me. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • R. K. Brainerd

        That’s what I do too! … except separate docs. X-D Isn’t it so funny how we all write so differently.

        Liked by 1 person

      • lightafireinstead

        It is! 😀 I really enjoy learning about the writing styles and practices of others. Sometimes I hear about things I can adapt to work well for me, too! I know a lot of people put stuff like what I put in my supporting documents into something called a “story bible” or create a personal wiki with links and everything that they can page through and add to as they write. Different methods of achieving similar results!

        Liked by 2 people

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