I have never had the greatest memory. This becomes a problem when I’m writing two books at the same time and trying to keep each of the stories on track. In fact, no matter the genre you write in, keeping yourself organized can be difficult for a lot of people. It’s taken me a lot of time (and a lot of trial and error) to figure out what tools are best for the way my brain works, so today I’m going to share my four favorite programs (otherwise known as the four reasons I haven’t yet completely lost my mind).
Microsoft Excel: Although there are tons of potential uses for spreadsheets when working on a novel or a series, I tend to use Excel specifically for two things: character sheets and word count tracking. The formulas and automatic calculations of Excel make it a cinch to track your progress in a single book or across a calendar year, and it can also help you figure out your own peak productivity hours, days, or seasons depending on how intricately you want to track your habits. The character spreadsheet, though, is what I use most often. Each of my series has one, and every single named character, even if it’s a waitress the narrator only sees for the length of a single paragraph, goes into the sheet. Details like hair and eye color, height and weight, age and birthday can all be entered. It makes it easy to remember what relationships the more minor characters have to the main plot, helps track descriptions used in reference to characters who don’t get much page time, and can also help you notice that weird habit you have of naming everyone in a book something that starts with the same letter. Or maybe that last one is just me. This program should be included as part of the Microsoft Office Suite. For a completely free version, Google Spreadsheets will work just as well.
Microsoft OneNote: This incredibly useful program gets overlooked by a lot of people, and that’s so unfortunate! OneNote is a multipurpose organizational tool that is fantastic for organizing worldbuilding and research notes. It took me several years to discover OneNote, but now it’s usually where I start when gathering information and ideas for a new series. Page sizes and layouts are extremely flexible, it allows everything from screen captures to embedded and fully updatable Excel tables, and it’s organized kind of like a multi-subject binder with subject tabs along the top and individual pages down one side. When writing, I’ll dump pictures I want to reference in, copy entire articles I don’t want to lose, compile pages of links and reference notes, and generally track all the decisions I make about a universe in which I’m working. For most of my series, this collection of notes and references eventually becomes my official handbook. This program should be included as part of the Microsoft Office Suite.
Aeon Timeline: I was pretty ecstatic when I discovered this one. It’s a program literally designed for writers, and it gives us the opportunity to timeline an entire world if we wanted to. You can adjust the scale to look at time in millenia or minute by minute. You can create characters and, once you set their birthday, always know how old each person is when a particular event happens. You can change the number of minutes in an hour, hours in a day, days in a week, weeks in a month, and months in a year, and this is especially useful if you’re writing speculative fiction. The functionality of this program is impressive, and to be honest, having my books laid out in front of me has made my life so much easier on multiple occasions. It’s not free, but it’s highly worth the investment.
Airtable: Out of all the programs, Airtable is probably the one with the biggest learning curve, especially for people who don’t know much about databases. That being said, it’s learnable. I was able to teach myself most of what I needed to know just by playing with some of the free templates (they call them “bases”) that they have available on their site. This is something I’m only beginning to use this year, and I invested the time in learning it because of the complexity of The Pax Archives. What I find most incredible about databasing a series is the ability to link data. If you create a record for each character, one for each location, and one for each chapter, you can track the whos, whats, whens, wheres, and whys of an entire book with relative ease. Airtable also makes it easy to update information once instead of multiple times. It’s harder to explain this one without visuals, so I recommend taking some time to poke through the user created templates here and watching some of the Airtable tutorials here to get a better sense of the program’s depths. What’s great is that this is a free online program. There is a premium version, but very few people should need to make that investment at the beginning.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Cira Antares has disavowed all ties to any planet. Her loyalty is only to the Pax Novis—her mother’s ship that transports supplies across war-torn star systems—and her personal mission of saving war orphans.
Riston is one of those orphans. For three years, he’s lived hidden within the trade ship, and now he’s the oldest of the small group of teens who secretly call Pax Novis home.
Until supplies meant for war orphans start going missing. Food. Clothes. Tools. Cargo. Cira is ordered to lead a search of the ship, and all signs point to her stowaways. Now, Riston is torn between helping Cira and the kids who look to him to protect them. Determined to help both, he goes searching for the real culprit and discovers the thefts are only the beginning—other cargo ships are going missing.
Not caught in a firefight. Not destroyed by another planet. Vanishing. Without a trace.
And Pax Novis is next.