Organization. That can prove a challenging task for the creative person whose desk can tend to be a jumble of papers, sticky notes and books and whose filing cabinets prove to contain more random acts of filing than anything else. (Their computer files are often just as disorganized.) I know I have this problem.
Nonfiction books can entail a fair amount of research and detail. Keeping all of this organized is important, especially if you don’t want to have to continuously stop to find what you need so you can write.
Luckily, there’s an organizational tool for just about every writer’s style. Here’s a list of five tools. One might fit yours.
- Piles. If you like to copy or print your research, or you find yourself tearing out articles from newspapers and magazines, you are a perfect candidate for the pile method. Simply start sorting through all your “research,” and placing it in piles that seem related by subject matter. (Hopefully, you can at least find all your research.) When you are done, you will have a variety of piles, each one likely related to a particular chapter in your book. If you like, you can leave your piles neatly sorted in a place where no one will bother them. Or you can put them in labeled folders.
- Folders. Online or off, folders represent the second easiest way to organize your work or research. You can place your research or printed draft chapters (or snippets of writing) in physical manila folders or even an accordion folder. You can also place it in a three-ring binder. Today, there are many types of nifty folders to purchase. Online, it’s easy to create folders on your computer for a specific project or to store them in the cloud using Dropbox or some other program, like Evernote (see below).
- Cards. If you are one of those people who like to write everything down by hand, you may like the 3” x 5” card method. Today, you can get these cards spiral bound or in perforated little tablets so you can carry them with you easily. This allows you to write down all your ideas and then file them later. You can place them in a special card box, which is a really nice way to organize a book project, especially if you get dividers to separate your chapters.
- Evernote. If you are more technology oriented, Evernote is a cool program that synchs your smartphone with your computer or tablet. You can easily add your own notes, clip web pages and articles, and place them all in a “Notebook” for your book project. Within that notebook you can create many different “notes.” All of it is saved in the “cloud.” As you write your manuscript, you can save this to Evernote as a backup as well.
- Scrivener. This computer program allows you to upload all sorts of research as well as to create your manuscript (or upload your existing manuscript), and to then organize it. If you like the card system, you’ll love this, because it has a bit of that as well—cards attached to cork boards allowing you to visually move your information around and to file things in folders. Many writers find this program revolutionizes their writing process.
Don’t let disorganization stop you from writing. It surely can. A disorganized project can lead to disorganized thoughts and disorganized writing…and a lot of time spent looking for what you need. Believe me…I know.
That’s why I recommend going through the process of creating a business plan for your book prior to writing as well. It hones your idea, helps you get clear on what goes in each chapter of your nonfiction book, and focuses your writing not only on the subject at hand but on what your reader needs and wants, which makes your book marketable. This, too, is an important organizational step. During the process, you’ll discover what additional research or material you might need for your book to make it unique and necessary in its category and market.
Take the time to get organized first, and then write your nonfiction book. You’ll find the process goes much more smoothly if you do.