Organizing Your Thoughts As a Writer

I had a great time presenting at the Outdoor Discovery Center at Crooked Creek in February. I spoke to an audience of both teens and parents, and I think it was a really interesting mix of perspectives. The teens had a lot of questions about writing and animals, and the adults even had some questions about writing! I was thrilled because many times, adults want to try writing but aren’t sure how to start.

One adult asked me a great question. She asked, “Do you have a specific way for organizing your thoughts?”

I loved this because I think writing can be overwhelming, and any kind of organization can make things easier. If I don’t use some kind of method, I would lose track of a lot of the things I’ve written.

Here’s what I suggested:

  1. Use headings. These headings are the category of the kind of writing you’re doing at that moment. Whether you use a notebook or type notes on your phone or computer, give each page or file a category, like “emotions and feelings” or “memories” or “dialogue.” Other headings can be “life event” or “questions to answer.”
  2. Create a table of contents for your notebooks. That means reserving the first few pages of every notebook to jot down page numbers and the headings (and longer description if desired) of the content of those pages.
  3. Date your entries. I always try to date my handwritten notes. Luckily my computer or smartphone automatically dates my entries. But be careful -when you edit a file, the dates will be updated! You can always check the dates of previous versions of a file by using the “revert” feature.

These are some of the ways I organize my thoughts before I start writing the actual book.

If I had more time to talk with this person, I’d go into discussions about outline and using Scrivener. I use this software for keeping track of characters, timelines, locations, outlines, and drafts.

But if she wanted to know more about how I organized my approach to interviewing scientists for Animal Allies, I’d talk to her about my prepared questions, recording our calls, and taking notes while talking.

So now I want to know how you organize your thoughts when you’re getting ready to write! What are your favorite methods – or are you more of a freeform writer? Do you use prompts? Color-coding? Binders???

ideas for stories, organizing ideas for writing

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