July 22, 2021

Organize Your Writing

Nancy Roe

I’ve been an organizer as long as I can remember. As a kid, I organized my candy into categories: chocolate, chewy, hard, and other (such as pixie sticks). In my teenage years I kept a detailed record of my babysitting jobs (date, who I cared for, how many hours, and how much I made.) When I had my first apartment, I kept a record of my income/expenses (in the days before personal computers), and I’m still recording, but now it’s an Excel spreadsheet.

While working on a book, I keep organized two ways. The first is by using a binder with various tabs that include list of characters and character sketches, maps (of a town or a house layout), outline (overall and by chapter), timeline, edit checklist, and notes. I’m a visual person and use paper. Many of you may use Scrivener or Fictionary or another software program. Use whatever works for you.

I use a single sheet to keep track of my characters. I list their names, ages, what they do for a living, and major traits. Since I write mysteries, I also note the characters who are the protagonist, antagonist, suspects, and relationships to other characters.

To track my chapters and scenes, I use the table function in Word. For each chapter I note:

1. The purpose of each scene.

2. Setting.

3. Weather.

4. Bullet points of what happens in the scene.

5. Characters in the scene.

6. Comments of what’s happened off screen, what’s happening with other characters, etc.

7. The five senses. Try to use two or three in each scene.

The second way I stay organized is by using clear heavy-duty plastic sleeves. I cannot live without these! These keep me organized in my day-to-day activities. Each webinar, article to write, blog post, etc. gets its own sleeve. Not only does this allow me to keep important papers separated in a controlled manner, but I can organize the sleeves according to due date. I use this technique to organize the rest of my life, such as doctor appointments, bills, and follow-up correspondence. Have you ever searched for a piece of paper only later to find out it got stuck to something else? And, if your significant other or kids decide to use your desk while you’re out, they won’t mess up your stack of papers.

I hope you’ll use these tips to keep your writing organized too. I’d love to hear what tips you use to stay organized.

Nancy has self-published seven books and is writing her next mystery due out this fall. Nancy served as a panelist at the Killer Nashville International Writer’s Conference, speaking on the subjects of self-publishing, minor characters, and dialogue. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Guppy Chapter, The League of Utah Writers, Just Write Chapter, and Writer’s Circle. Nancy is a Midwest farm girl at heart and lives in Utah with her husband and four-legged children, Max and Addison.






  1. Great tips, Nancy! You also organized the print copy of my second novel, and I think of you every time I open one of them.

    I've found organization saves a ton of time, although I could take a few lessons from you.


  2. Please come to my house and organize me!! Great tips, by the way.

  3. Nancy, this was wonderful. Thank you for sharing with us these great tips. I'm with Patricia, wish you could come to my house and organize me!!!

  4. Because of Nancy, my sometimes unorganized life is kept organized!

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