Friday, May 8, 2009

The Writer's Desk Book and How to Organize One



Recently I re-read the book The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells by Ben Bova. I liked this book when I bought it because I had actually heard of the author, Ben Bova, as a science fiction writer. If a book is going to tell me how to be a fiction writer, I like it when the author of that book is a fiction writer himself rather than a college English professor.

One of the more useful sections of the book is where he describes his desk book--- a three-ring binder in which he keeps stuff related to his novel. He suggests that the desk book have sections for characters, names, background information, lines and phrases, and a chart of character appearances.

He kind of ruins it all by mentioning that now his desk book consists of a batch of files on his computer. My own experience with computer files is that sooner or later you can no longer open them. I have had writing files on floppy disks which I carefully preserved in case I ever wanted to revive the writing project in question. Some of these floppy disks could no longer be opened in a new computer when I replaced the old one. Now, of course, my computer doesn't even have a floppy disk drive. Only those writing projects which have hard-copy versions are able to be recovered for any purpose.

I decided to organize my old and current writing projects into a desk book. Now, I don't have enough dividers to create all the sections--- characters, background and so on--- for each individual novel project. So I reserve the sections for the current project, whichever that is, and have other dividers for the project on the back burner. I also have a second notebook for older projects that won't fit in the first.

The picture above shows the two notebooks, the desk book and the overflow book. It also shows my two new kittens, Germanicus 2 and Claudius 2. They are named after my two favorite cats who died last December. Germanicus 2 is the black and white in the front, and Claudius 2 is the one with her back to the camera. (Yes, this Claudius is a girl and I didn't change her name to Claudia lest anyone think she was named in honor of Claudia on General Hospital.)

In the course of putting together the notebooks I've come across a lot of old writing projects I haven't looked at in years. I'm surprised to find that all of those I have recovered so far seem to be quality work which would be worth reviving. I guess my less worthwhile work is buried deeper in my junk pile or lost altogether. One in particular is one that I have been 'writing' in my fantasy life for years, seems to be one I need to write. First step is to write down the story as I know it from my mental work over the years.

My other most urgent project is a brand-new story based on the idea of cloning. You may be familiar with James BeauSeigneur's book In His Image (The Christ Clone Trilogy, Book 1) and its sequels.

My idea is a little less daunting than cloning Jesus. What if someone decided to clone a visionary such as Saint Bernadette or one of the Fatima children with the idea of discrediting the Catholic church, either because the clone-child will have a religious vision (proving her insane and her original likewise) or else she might be irreligious (showing what the Saint would have been if she'd had a proper, non-religious upbringing.) Of course to a Catholic this cloning effort would be simply sad, rather than something that could in any circumstances weaken one's faith, but the sort of person that would do the experiment wouldn't know that.

At any rate, I believe that organizing a writer's work may well be the difference between a writer that succeeds and one that fails. There are writing projects that take the author many years; they can't succeed if the writer loses the notes periodically!

Of course each writer has to organize the desk book in his own way. Do you use a desk book or the equivalent? How is yours organized? Let me know in a comment--- and good luck with your writing today!

Blog Post:
katarzynaradzka: Do You Keep a Writers Diary?

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1 comment:

PaperSmyth said...

This is a very good idea and I like the fact that you wanted a book written by a published author. I use a similar system for my artwork, with a file for each project (3-D or 2-D). If I go back to writing, I would use a folder or binder system, so that I do not loose ideas or possible content.

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