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 . . .

  1. My to do list (to help with prioritizing projects and to prevent me forgetting about them)
  2. A pocket-sized notebook to type up later
  3. 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!


Filed under Writing Tips

2 Responses to Organizing

  1. Hildegard

    Hi Mary,
    First off, thanks for your encouraging blog!
    As for (dis)organization, I find it easy to get bogged down, which leads to convenient procrastination! 😉
    However, my projects are finally much better organized and easier to get to since I started using Scrivener, a writing software program from Literature and Latte.
    While there is a learning curve at the start that requires patience and attention to detail in the tutorials, I found it worthwhile for each of my projects, including blog.

    I was lucky to attend a free tutorial given by Joseph Michaels, which really helped me get started. His website is

    Maybe you’ll find this helpful too? Best wishes!

    • Mary J

      That looks very interesting. I’m not sure I can quite wrap my head around what the software does. I don’t suppose you’d be interested in writing a guest post about it? You know, so I can add it to my birthday wish list? 🙂

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