Home Books eBooks Articles Blog Facebook Bio Email

Staying Organized 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 books.

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 for research.

On the file cards, Robin lists the exact description of her characters as they appear in the book. That way she will avoid repetitive descriptions.

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 April 1996.

Home Books eBooks Articles Blog Facebook Bio Email