With manuscript mini-me in hand, the next step I take is to jump over to Excel and type into the spreadsheet all the information I’ve intended to keep track of all along, but sometimes forget to update.
Mike Mullins was the first one to introduce me to the idea of using a spreadsheet to keep track of what’s going on in my novel. He shared his basic spreadsheet with me, and I’ve made changes to meet my own needs and issues. Thanks, Mike.
The categories change with each novel I’m working on, but in general I keep track of the following things for each scene. Each of the following categories are posted at the top of the sheet and locked in place
Chapter and Scene
What do we learn about x (character, event, etc.)
What do we learn about y
What do we learn about z
I could include other categories, but for me, these categories all fit within a single screen on my spreadsheet. They make it easier to see the parts I find it so hard to see once I’ve finished the novel.
In my dream of myself as a very organized writer (a somewhat fictional creation borne out of my own longing), I will update this spreadsheet every day as I’m drafting my next novel. We’ll see how that works out.
For now, I’m creating the spreadsheet from my mini manuscript. I don’t need the manuscript in mini form for this, but it helps. I’m unlikely to edit words that are so small on the page, so it makes the mini manuscript helps me focus on creating a spreadsheet.
I’ll often take some time once I’ve finished the novel to note the word count for each scene. I don’t see any need to track the word count for the whole novel since that changes so much, the scene word count will change, too, but seeing the words as I’m first beginning to revise calls my attention to areas that may be bloated or too thin.
It’s a full day or two’s work to create this spreadsheet, and when I was young and had a more consistent memory for details, I wouldn’t have needed it, but the spreadsheet gives me distance from my work that’s essential for the next steps.
Since the next steps also happen within a spreadsheet, it helps me to start a novel worksheet that I to as needed. The novel I just finished revising has these sheets: overview (the spreadsheet discussed above), braids, character quick sheet, and revision plans. The next novel I’m revising, an historical mystery, will likely add two sheets: clues and history.
Once I’ve created the spreadsheet, it helps me stay focused on the world in my novel. It also makes it easy to find specific scenes, to look at pacing, and to track the growth of each character. Perhaps most importantly, it helps to see the novel again, both as whole and in its parts. And it helps me take the next step, braiding the stories.