Amidst the Chaos
(Tips from Robin Lee Hatcher)
By Cheryl Bolen
Spending time to get organized can actually save time when writing a
book, said former RWA president Robin Lee Hatcher at the national RWA
convention in Dallas.
Robin's talk was not about organizing your life; it was about
organizing your book so that everything can be at your fingertips.
It helps that she's nutty over computer software.
Using her computer to get organized, Robin does the following:
A chart-style table of contents to the novel she is currently
working on features chapter, page number, length, main events,
dates. She said this is helpful when a writer has to go back and
change something in the plot, such as adding or deleting a
character. She keeps a printout of this on the paper holder that
hangs on her computer monitor.
All of her source books are inventoried on disk. These include
dictionaries, reference books, encyclopedias, research books, books
on writing and some fiction. She spends about $1,500 a year on
Robin uses computer-generated calendars for her book's timeline.
(These, she points out, can also go back and tell her what day of
the week Aug. 15 was in 1897, for example.)
She uses WordPerfect to list all the people in her fictional
towns. Not only are their names listed, but information is also
given about their families, ranches or titles (if they're British).
She also does a one-page breakdown for families in the town,
including some whose names never appear in the book. This is
especially helpful in sequels.
In case of computer failure, Robin believes in printing
everything immediately so she will always have a copy.
To send advance copies to reviewers, Robin prints her manuscript
single-spaced on both sides of the paper and puts it in binders.
She can get a 400-page book down to 80 pages.
This author of 23 books keeps her mailing lists on computer.
In addition to using the computer to organize her writing projects,
Robin also keeps 3 x 5 file cards or characters' descriptions, a day
planner where she records her daily writing time and a three-ring binder
On the file cards, Robin lists the exact description of her
characters as they appear in the book. That way she will avoid
For the day planner, Robin records the time she starts and stops
writing, what page numbers were written and how many pages she wrote.
(She usually writes 10 pages a day. And, yes, she believes in writing
seven days a week.)
The three-ring notebook for research on the current book is divided
by category, such as clothing, ships, etc.
It's no accident this mother of two grown daughters and
grandmother to three can still find a query letter sent out in 1982. Just don't
ask her where the salt or pepper shakers are, she said jokingly.
This article was first published in Happily Ever After in