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How to Organize Writing Files

Seeing as I love spreadsheets, are you surprised that I keep my digital files relatively well-ordered? I just saw yet another post from someone lamenting that she’s working on Draft Number “FinalNoReallyThisTimeForSureIMeanItEtc” for the millionth time.

I don’t do that, because I have a filing system. I know how to organize writing files, and now I’m going to share that with you.

We’ll start with folders, then file names.

Storage Home

I use Dropbox, but there are umpteen other cloud services you can use as well. So long as they keep a local copy on your computer and one in the cloud, you’re good. It’s an automated back-up system and it can work beautifully. Some services (like Dropbox Premium) will keep a record of version changes so you can even roll back problems.

Anyway, you’re going to end up with a file path that looks something like this:

HARDDRIVE > CloudFolder

OR, in my case:


Within my cloud folder, I have folders for different areas of my life. The relevant one is called Writing.

HARDDRIVE > CloudFolder > Writing

Your Different types of Writing

So, what do you write? You may be tempted to toss every word document into the Writing folder and just name them appropriately, but I think we’ve all learned by now that this is a sub-optimal method. That’s why you’re reading this blog post.

My primary folders are (not in order):

  • Critiques — Where I save all the files I edit for other people.
  • Ideas — The catch-all bucket for random ideas I don’t yet have a plan to use.
  • Nonfiction — For essays, creative nonfiction, and similar adult-type stuff.
  • Novels — For all the big fiction projects.
  • [Penname] — For materials directly related to a given penname, like logos, website login details, and social media stuff.
  • Resources — Where I store things like downloaded ebooks, beat sheets, and other tools.
  • Shorts — For flash and short fiction.
  • Scripts — I have been known to write for stage. That goes here.
  • Scrivener Backups — You can customize where Scrivener saves back-up files and I choose to do so here.
  • [Writing Group I Organize] — So I can keep all that stuff together. Again, logos, surveys, social media, etc.

Already this is starting to shape up. At a glance I know what genre I’m dealing with. (Here, genre means ‘type of writing’ not ‘sort of story like sci fi, contemp, etc.’)

Critiques Folder

HARDDRIVE > CloudFolder > Writing > Critiques > NameOfWriter > FolderIfAppropriate

I read, and have read, for plenty of people. And when I read I want to keep each writer’s work together, so I start by giving each writer there own folder. Within a writer’s folder, I may have loose word docs, and I may also have folders. For instance, if the writer is working on a series of novels, I’ll make a folder for the series. This all helps me find these things later.

Ideas Folder

This is… it’s my junk drawer. And it’s OLD. I’ve got files dating back to 2004 in here. Move along, please.

Nonfiction Folder

I don’t write much nonfiction, so this folder is rather empty. You might want to populate it with subfolders like Narrative Essays and Blog Posts.

Novels Folder

The biggie, the one you’re really here for!

HARDDRIVE > CloudFolder > Writing > Novels > NameOfNovelOrSeries 

My Novels folder has a folder for every novel-length project I’ve ever started work on (26 and counting). I say project, because I don’t always have a title from the beginning. For instance, IN HER OWN SKIN is labeled as “Selkie” throughout my filing, because it took forever to find a title I liked and renaming halfway through would screw with my orderly file system. Basically, commit to a code name or title at the beginning and stick with it.

Inside Selkie, I have…

  • Selkie Cover — Because the NaNoWriMo site allows you to upload little thumbnail covers and how could I resist?
  • Selkie Drafts — For Word docs, as compiled by Scrivener initially.
  • Selkie Feedback — When I get feedback from other writers and readers, I save it here.
  • Selkie Outlines — Outlines may be in Word files, Excel spreadsheets, or scans of note cards, but they all go here.
  • Selkie Queries — For the one-page query letter drafts that one takes forever honing. Also a good place for pitches to be stored, since there’s a lot of crossover.
  • Selkie Scriv — For all my Scrivener files. True, a lot of things like outlines and queries can go INSIDE a Scrivener file, but what do you do when you compile, huh? You get a separate query, outline or draft in need of a home folder.
  • Selkie Submissions — For file versions ready to send to contests, agents, and similar.
  • Selkie Synopsis — Another vital file type.
  • Selkie Timeline — When I use AeonTimeline I store it in its own folder.

If it’s a Series…

Then we add another layer between Selkie and the rest. IF I were to write a sequel to IN HER OWN SKIN I would create a folder for each book and then put Cover/Drafts/Synopsis/etc inside them.

  • (Project) Selkie
    • (Book 1) IN HER OWN SKIN
      • Selkie 1 Cover
      • Selkie 1 Drafts
      • Selkie 1 Feedback
      • Selkie 1 Outlines
      • Selkie 1 Queries
      • Selkie 1 Scriv
      • Selkie 1 Submissions
      • Selkie 1 Synopsis
      • Selkie 1 Timeline
    • (Book 2) UNTITLED SELKIE
      • Selkie 2 Cover
      • Selkie 2 Drafts
      • Selkie 2 Feedback
      • Selkie 2 Outlines
      • Selkie 2 Queries
      • Selkie 2 Scriv
      • Selkie 2 Submissions
      • Selkie 2 Synopsis
      • Selkie 2 Timeline

[Penname Folder]

Bronwen Fleetwood is a penname. I have some others I’ve contemplated using, too. As you can see, Bronwen Fleetwood has some distinct branding going on, what with the red and black damask and all. I save all that stuff here.

  • BF Business Card
  • BF Logo
  • BF Site

And so on, as needed.

Resources Folder

I save things in here by source. That could be a website (diyMFA) or a person (Margie Lawson). Within those I structure folders as needed.

Shorts Folder

I don’t do much in the way of shorts, so I label them clearly.

  • Flash Fiction
    • “Flash — Title of FinishedFlash”
  • Partials (incomplete)
  • “Short — TitleOfFinishedShort”

Again, not many shorts. If I were seriously pursuing publishing them, I’d end up with something more like my Novels folder, with a subfolder for submission letters and such.

Scripts Folder

Because scripts can be for many forms–stage, television, film, graphic novel, etc., I preface my folder titles with the form. So, “Stage — NameofPlay”.

[Writing Group I Organize] Folder

I am an organizer, so I have more than one of these. Inside I again have branding elements, signs to reuse, tchochkes like stickers, and more.

File Names

A few years back I started including dates in the file names–Yes, I know the computer tracks the date for you but if you open or make a small change to something its date updates. So you can easily lose a draft from May because you updated it in August. Oops. So, I’m going to name the file “Selkie Draft 18 02 01” so I know it’s a draft of IN HER OWN SKIN from February of 2018. Even if I accidentally tweak it later, I know that’s where it originated.

Likewise, I always include the project name, and what it is (draft, outline, etc.). This helps immensely when you’re looking to open a recent file and you’re just see a bunch of “Selkie 01” “Selkie 24” or “Draft Final” and “Draft 309812”. Selkie what? Draft of what? No, Selkie Draft and date.

So that’s how I stay organized. A little neatness and thought when creating files means I can always lay my hands on what I want, when I want. Thanks to cloud services I’m able to quickly attach and send files on the go.

How do you organize your files? Any tricks I should try? 🙂

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