Let’s Write a Novel #5 — How I Organize My Novel Cheat Sheets

Image2I’m writing a new novel and blogging through the process so that you can learn along with me. This week I want to talk about organization and how I deal with changes and random ideas without derailing my progress.


If you’d rather jump right into my weekly update, you can check out the scenes that I’ve added to the Google folder here.

If you missed last week’s post about how to write your first draft without going insane, you can check it out here.

Earlier posts in the series are all gathered here.


When I first started trying to write novel length works, organization was my downfall.  I write speculative fiction, so I tend to have extensive notes, research, and worldbuilding documents.

I had everything in notebooks and three ring binders, and I tried several different organizational systems over the years it, but it never worked very well for me. I would lose pages or even whole notebooks, and I often found that my handwriting was not legible when I went back to read my drafts and notes.


I switched to using a computer, but I had no real organizational system except for a bunch of folders and subfolders. So, as the books went on, and I needed to check references or look back at something, I was always hunting around trying to remember where I had written such and such.

The search and find feature in Windows didn’t exist at the time, but even later when I started using Windows 7, I found that searches were often hit or miss because I couldn’t remember the exact wording that I had used.


Finally, when I started writing the Foxes of Synn, I came up with the idea of creating cheat sheets for myself.


So, while all of detailed notes, world building, etc. are kept in my story Bible, I have a set of simpler documents that I use to keep a running tab on the drafting process.  I’ve put copies of them up in the Google drive folder for you to take a look at. They’re all in a subfolder marked cheat sheets.


The titles of the documents are pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll go over them anyway in case you don’t feel like poking around in my files.


Every file is prefaced with the title of my book, and then a descriptive label so that I always know which story the documents go with.


  • The Character List is just what it sounds like. A list of the characters who appear in the novel, roughly in the order that they appear. I tried to update this after every writing session, but sometimes I can go a day or two in between updates if I get in the zone. This will be updated with character descriptions or important details that get mentioned in the book as I go on.


  • Terms and Special Grammar are for made up fantasy words as well as any idiosyncratic sayings or colloquialisms that my characters use. This is for my own reference as well as for any beta readers or editors that I have in the future, so that we all know how things are supposed to be spelled and whether or not certain things are intentional. It’s a lot easier to make this up as you go than it is if you’ve sent a story off to be read and you have to keep explaining how you want your special grammar to work or what the colloquialisms in your story are.


  • Worldbuilding Concepts is for me to keep track of which concepts have been touched upon in the story and also to note down any changes in the world building from what my initial notes dictate to what the story ends up needing later on. When you’re in the first draft stage, your world building can change a lot, but you want to be careful that you keep track of these changes so that things stay consistent throughout the series.)


  • Questions and Ideas again is just what it sounds like. Sometimes as I’m writing, a question will come up, or I’ll get an idea that seems better than what I was originally going to do. I make note of it in his files so that I can look at it later and make decisions. That way I don’t get derailed every time an idea comes along. It’s in the folder where to look at it when I have time, and in the meanwhile, I can keep writing.

Every project ends up with a slightly different set of cheat sheets, and if you use this idea you’ll want to keep an eye on which ones you’re using most or if you might need a different set-up.

You can follow along with Let’s Write A Novel by subscribing to the blog or joining the Facebook Group.

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3 thoughts on “Let’s Write a Novel #5 — How I Organize My Novel Cheat Sheets

  1. Pingback: Let’s Write A Novel #6: Dealing With Unsupportive Loved Ones | Rose B. Fischer

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