I want to take writing seriously, and I know I need to work on organization. What kind of organizing? Admittedly all of it. And this is one of those cases where knowing your need is only a half-step toward meeting that need. Sigh. So let’s brainstorm a little about tools we already have, but might overlook.
Table of Contents
Your table of contents sets the major flow of the piece: your beginning, middle, and end. Depending on your genre, it helps make sure you cover all your bases. Briefly.
A well-done table of content is a thing of beauty. It offers insight without giving anything away, wetting the reader’s appetite.
For the writer, it’s a skeleton free of flesh. It’s a bullet list of intentions and goals. In theory, it should help us spit out what we mean, when we might otherwise be tempted to forget.
A major complicating factor for organization is that drafts can take unexpected turns, even major shifts. Rearranging a table of content can help balance big picture considerations with little picture ones.
I give away my genres when I admit to admire and make indexes. Fine, so I’m mostly a non-fiction girl. But indexes of Scripture I quote help me know when I’m too heavy on a single book, a single passage, or a single theological concept.
Indexes of people or examples—not as an actual appendix to a book, but as a simple list for myself—helps me know whether I repeat stories or make allusions/flashbacks in their proper order. That’s the theory, right?
I think one could even make a list of main points or beloved sentences and then fit them in as you go. Not exactly as an index, but a list separate from an outline.
Here is where we really get to my problem area: text.
I’m thinking about turning hard-core to outlines. Outline goals for a chapter and then outline thought progression.
I’m pretty intimidated, truth be told. But, the thing is, I want to be a serious writer, and I should do whatever I can to help my readers. I should lay it all out there and not just dump it on out.
To keep what organization I can, I’ll keep one document for my Table of Content (typically followed by random notes or thoughts I might want to include) and then a single document for my draft. Organizing something with more documents than that may be asking for trouble, unless I have a draft per chapter or table, or something.
I’d like to turn to the professionals, but I’m not entirely sure where to turn. Find and hire a critic? But that’s not quite what I want. Maybe part of me is just searching to improve “my process.”
Right now I have notes roughly organized on . . .
- My to do list (to help with prioritizing projects and to prevent me forgetting about them)
- A pocket-sized notebook to type up later
- A container of loose-leaf papers hidden high away from my kiddos
I should add a note to my to do list to type up and consolidate my notes some time. You know, like every time I file: at least once a year with good intentions for better frequency.
I’d be hiding something if I didn’t admit to find several note cards of notes about hymn stanzas after I sent in my pieces for the hymn contest. Likewise, I found several after I sent in an essay for a festschrift. And, yep, after my last book, too. But that’s it. I’m putting my foot down. I don’t want to go into projects already scattered. The corner I need to turn is organizing!
I am going to aim high. I will pursue discipline. I will learn. And we can do it together!