How to Organize Your Novel in Word
Although there is plenty of great software out there to help you streamline the process of writing a novel, don’t overlook one piece of software you’ve probably been using for years: Word. Word remains an excellent tool, especially if you like to keep all of your writing in a single document and just pick up where you left off with your story each day. If you want to stick to the basics, here are some tips on how to organize your novel in Word.
The master folder for a novel
I keep this on my desktop. It is labeled with the novel’s title, and anything I write for the novel goes into this folder. Once I begin revising, I make a new document for each major revision, labeled by date.
The current draft document
This file is the current draft in Word, labeled with title and date.
The research file contains a document with web links to articles and other research I might want to reference later. If your novel is heavy on research, however, I highly recommend Scrivener. Here’s why I like Scrivener for research.
This is the folder where I type any notes to myself that I’m not putting on the physical manuscript (more about physical note-taking later). For me, this folder is fairly wide-ranging. I create a new notes document for each draft of the novel, labeled by title and date.
Within a notes document: Each time I type a note, I give it a heading in bold, such as “Idea for wedding scene” or “Add to the piece about time.” The idea is to be able to easily scan the file with my eyes and see what’s there. I also try to keep the headings specific enough that I can do a search and find what I’m looking for.
I have a Notes document for each draft. The file is named Notes along with a date. You could also call it Notes Draft 1, Notes Draft 2, etc. I just do it by date because I write so many drafts, having the date in the title makes it easy to see what is more recent, older, etc.
Think of the cuts folder as your insurance against bouts of wild and destructive self-doubt. If you are a writer, you are going to have such moments (trust me).
The cuts document contains scenes, paragraphs, and even sentences that I’ve cut during any stage of revision that I think I might want to add back in later. I don’t put everything I cut here! Some things are just deleted and gone. You should have the gumption to delete bad sentences or dull scenes without saving them.
The cuts folder is for passages that have value, things I don’t want to send into the ether quite yet. As with everything else on this list, I keep a master cuts folder, and within in I keep Cuts documents labeled by date or draft number.
By the time I finish a novel, I have more than a dozen Cuts files. Occasionally, I’ll go back to the file after a book launch and share an old ending or deleted scene with my readers through my author newsletter.
That’s all you need to know to organize your novel in Word. Word is so good for drafting, life without Word would be discombobulating. That said, Word is pretty bare bones when it comes to organizing, so it’s a good idea to supplement it with other software like Scrivener and Autocrit. See my post on the best novel-writing software.
Michelle Richmond is the New York Times bestselling author of five novels and two story collections. Her latest novel, The Marriage Pact, has been published in 30 languages. Her new Silicon Valley thriller is forthcoming from Grove Atlantic. She is the founder of the popular novel writing programs Novel in Five and Novel in Nine.