3 Important Things Authors Forget to Organize from the Start

January 10, 2018

“What would happen if you did get eight children all at once? Different ages? Oh, and maybe you’re young—like just out of college?”

My poor husband blinked a couple of times.  After all, that was before I’d made talking about imaginary friends a natural part of my life.  Up until that moment, it had all been internal—just silly ideas that rambled around my head from time to time.  But as I explain in more detail in THIS post on my website, people kept asking how I did it with eight kids every day, and well… those juices started flowing.

Look.  It should have been simple.  You think of the idea, write the story, publish the book.  All in a year or two’s work, right?  Yeah.  So naive of me.

That one book morphed into three… then I added another. You had cover images, fonts, title images, chapter break images.  Add to all that, first draft documents, subsequent documents, character worksheets, and a slew of other files, and fifteen years later, that series file is almost 2 gigabytes.

All by its little lonesome.

Oh, if I only knew then what I know now.  But you know what?  You can benefit from my mess… my horrible, horrible mess.  So here goes.

3 Important Things Authors Forget to Organize from the Start

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3 Important Things Authors Forget to Organize from the Start

Simple organizational techniques can save you a boatload of time in the long run.  Sure, they’re a pain to get started, but if you can only do a few, I’d start with these three.


My original system was a file on my desktop.  It was labeled “Books.”  I threw anything at all related to writing in there.  Templates, character sheets, ideas, pronunciation guides—the works.  Every single thing went in there with nothing to differentiate one document from the other—except the title.

After all, folders are searchable, right?  Just type in a keyword or two from the title of anything in it and boom, bam, baby! There it is!  Super-duper easy.

Except it’s not.  That one book became three.  I had name pronunciation guides, character lists, birthday lists.  I named them genius things like “Character information.”  So, when I needed to know something I’d decided on for the book, I’d go search, “church.”  But the name of the church didn’t appear.  Because it wasn’t in the title of the document.  I needed the cover photo.  342411924400_xl_greatphotographer.

Yeah.  That’s helpful.

I finally got smart and changed the title of that image to“Aggie1.”  Well, that’s great, except that the title of the book is Ready or Not. It’s a gamble which one I’ll search first.

Not to mention when your computer has to search all that in a folder that is full of fonts, photoshop actions, how to format your ebook guides, blogging templates, and all those chapter images… well, it gets confusing. And slow. Obscenely slow.

Yes, I broke that folder down into Books > Aggie Series and then into > Ready or Not and even > Images or >eBooks.  I created a hierarchy.  It “works.”  But I have no system for cleaning it out, either.  Just now, when I went to check it out… I found half a dozen things that easily could be deleted.  That was without looking.

Ready or Not- If I could convince newer authors to do one thing, it would be to create a logical system of e-filing.  And write it down. Seriously. Keep it consistent.  If you call one cover image: book_cover_lg.jpg.  Then do it for all.  If you prefer to run it all together like: bookcoverlg.jpg  Then do that.  But please, make it consistent.  Because then you’ll know what to search for—even on your website.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into my media files on my WordPress dashboard and typed in Ready for Ready or Not.  Guess what?  Nothing comes up.  That’s because when I uploaded it, I was in an initials phase.  It’s ron.jpg. The smaller version is ron-sm.jpg.  Ahem. *insert massive headbanging here*

Creative Writer Mug

Note: the actual mug has not been edited like this image. It contains an extremely colorful word that does not fit the PG rating of this site.

So, please, for your sanity and to make me green with envy, set up a straightforward system with an easy-to-follow flow, and stick to it.

Never get lazy.

And build cleanup/upkeep into your workflow so that you never, ever, ever, end up with 300GBs of files that you have to search through to find something.

Hey, if we’re not careful with how we label things, if we let the whim of a moment control us, the next thing we know, we’ll have draft files that look like this mug over here–>

Series and/or World Control

Remember, I was just going to write that one book—just the one.  I needed it for my own catharsis. But I didn’t plan to write more.  I had eight kids.  What mom has time for that? I could write when they were grown. Oh, the folly of youth.

That one book became three and then I added a fourth to the series.  Even if I’d never written about any of those places or characters again, I’d have needed a detailed record of everything to save my sanity.  Church names.  Minister’s name.  Names of businesses in the town. The kid who stole that cookie from the cookie jar. It made it into family lore but somehow, after not being able to forget about it for years, I suddenly can’t remember which kid it was.

And it turns out, I wrote other novels that take place in the area—brought in characters from each book into another.  I need an entire encyclopedia of my world.  And I’m slowly building one, but if I’d taken just the little bit of time necessary to do it back then… oy.  Just sayin’.


I’ve started it with my Meddlin’ Madeline series, and let me tell you how much easier it is to flip open the book and go… “Hmmm… where is the name of that bookstore…?”  Done.  Next!  Need a character to tick her off?  Well, this one has done it several times.  Keep that gal a villain or maybe I should make this guy do it—he’s been too nice!

The most minor character or inconsequential place could be someone important in another book.  It happened to me—unexpectedly.  I wrote Speak Now and they went to a cafe—The Fiddleleaf.  There was a couple dining in a corner booth.  That couple ended up with an entire story of their own.  And because I remembered mentioning them, I had to dig through the whole manuscript to find the name of that restaurant and make sure I didn’t give specifics about the couple.  Wouldn’t want to say he had dark hair and it turned out dishwater blond.

Seriously.  It sounds like busywork, writing down all those details like the craft books tell you.  It may seem like the authors want to waste your time.  Trust me, they’ll save you a bundle if you’ll just listen and heed.  Take notes.  Make a mini-encyclopedia for stand-alones.  If it ever becomes a series, you’ll thank yourself.

Tax Stuff

Look, it’s that time of the year.  I hate it.  Piles of receipts to record. A whole folder of emails. 425 to be exact. I need to record each one in the spreadsheet.  Now, if I’d just done that way back when, I wouldn’t spend weeks every year typing it in.  I wouldn’t be reduced to tears when some freak thing happens to shut down my computer and corrupt my excel file.

Not like that’s ever happened.  Ahem.  Yes, I cried.

This is the first year that I’m “on it” from day one. I’ve already recorded my first receipts.  I’m doing a few things to make this happen this year. What are they?

First, I’m using the Wave app (there are lots of apps that do the same basic thing) to record physical receipts. I don’t have a cellphone, but I do have a tablet.  It takes pictures.  And that’s all I need—wifi and pictures.

3 Important Things Authors Forget to Organize from the Start

So, here’s how it works. 

I go write for eight or so hours at Denny’s.  My astronomical bill arrives.  I pay it.  Take the receipt, snap a picture, and boom! It uploads to Wave.com. Now, my app doesn’t work really well in getting it all sorted right then.  But I’m okay with that.  I took the picture.

Just a hint: I like to take a pen and do a check mark at the top of the receipt so I know it made it into Wave.

Then later, when I’m home, I just click on that tab in my browser, choose the appropriate category, and done!  That’s recorded!  I’ll be able to download it as a spreadsheet by the end of the year.

And, every Sunday (just did my first one!), I’m forwarding all email receipts to Wave.  Supposedly that’s going to work.  They said so.  I just attempted it, and haven’t gone in to see if it did or not, but hey.  If it doesn’t, I’ll print the receipt and take a picture of it and upload that way.  It’s worth 213 pieces of paper (I’d use front and back!) to me not to have to type in every single thing ever again.

Because I’m doing this each week, by December 31, I should be able to download that thing, plug in the info into my TurboTax (or you could give it to your accountant if that’s how you roll… and it should be.  Just sayin’.  I just haven’t made it happen yet), and WOW.  I’m almost excited about taxes again.

Don’t worry. Sanity will return again after the novelty wears off.  But the stress and the time savings at the end of the year?  So worth it.


If you’re a new author, take it from someone who is wasting great, heaping gobs of time fixing bad habits and their effects on my life.  Please.  Learn from me and start organizing these things now. You won’t regret it. If you’re like me and haven’t been doing it all along… whatever you do, don’t do what I did for even longer.  You know the old, “I’ll do it when I have time.  After this book… this launch… the retreat… Christmas…Tax time!”  Just do it.  Little bits starting now.  At least you won’t be digging a deeper hole!

Meanwhile, for more organizing of your writing life, watch for Episode 5 coming on January 30, 2018!

Oh, and for the curious… my husband suggested that I not forget that people with that many kids probably have an evil mother-in-law, too.  I didn’t rat him out to his singularly lovely mother.  No one would call Mom Havig anything but sweet and adorable. I also didn’t rat him out to my mother (whom he loves—thinks is awesome!).

But I totally gave Aggie a horrible mother-in-law.  Because that’s just good story building.

This has been Alive & Blogging, because sometimes Clark and April aren’t around to give you what you really need.  Or something.

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