Nano Prep #7: Get Organized in Excel

Previous posts in this series: Nano Prep #1: The Idea, Nano Prep #2: Structure, Nano Prep #3: Character, POV, & Setting, Nano Prep 4: Beat Sheets, Nano Prep #5: Mindset Nano Prep #6: Begin with the End in Mind

Happy Tuesday!

How’s your month going fellow Nanowrimo preppers? I’m feeling perky today. I finished the first draft of The Case of the Lady in the Luggage over the weekend, and I’m armpits deep in my prep work for Kat Voyzey #4. Today, I’ll share something new I’m doing: Using an Excel workbook to organize my research.

Why Excel? It’s visual and fairly simple to use. I’m a visual thinker, and having things laid out with color and structure helps me stay mentally organized. Also, the tabs at the lower edge of the workbook make it easy to pull up exactly what I need when I’m writing. My new Excel workbook is meant to be a companion document as I do my writing in Scrivener. Below, I’ve included a sampling of pages from my workbook for Kat Voyzey 4, although I’ve blurred out content because… spoilers. 😉

Here’s my current layout:

Tabs at the lower edge of an excel workbook (described below)

Elements of My Book Planning Worksheet

Scratch Pad: A blank page for taking notes.

Story Structure: My beat sheet, with columns for what happens in each chapter, along with POV, location, estimated word count, and a notation for any questions that I either raise or answer for the reader. This is the most important sheet for me; it’s my outline.

Editorial Checklist – A list of “things to fix later” that I maintain as I work. This saves time during the first draft. If something needs to be changed, investigated, or enhanced, I note it down  and address it later. For example: Bob attended the party in chapter 3. Add him in.

Character Sheet – Key details (and sometimes, a reference photo) for main characters and supporting characters.

Locations – A simple page with boxes. I paste in location descriptions as I write them. That way I don’t need to hunt for those descriptions later when I’m trying to maintain continuity.

Truby Worksheets – I’m currently jamming on John Truby’s book The Anatomy of Story, and that sheet contains questions from his book, questions I want to keep in mind as I write.

Series Arc – A page to keep track of the overarching story from book to book.

Maps – I learned this technique from Elana Johnson. Using an Excel spreadsheet with squares, I can quickly create maps for key locations in my story. Not only are these good for reference, they’re fun for brainstorming. Here’s a map for where Kat will be working in book #4. The Map isn’t to scale, nor did I try to make it pretty. But it will be a great reference for me.

A block diagram with two desks seperated by a wall, and amusing details like

That’s all for today’s edition of Nano Prep. I know that not everyone likes Excel, and it’s also true that not everyone does so much planning for a book. But if you want to give this method a try I suggest you begin by putting in worksheets that fit with how you think. My sheets might not be your sheets! But I hope you found an idea or two worth borrowing.

Until next time, write on.