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#FirstDraft60 Day 2: Preparing Your Revisions Notebook, Style Sheet, and Research Repository

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

#FirstDraft60 | KayeDacus.comPart of doing a challenge like FirstDraft60 (for writing) or Whole30 (a food plan) is making sure that you’ve done as much preparation ahead of time as possible—so that during the actual challenge period (the 30 days of writing in October), you can focus on writing your story because you’re already organized and ready to go.

In Book in a Month, Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s first tip for finishing a draft in 30 days is to write “as if.” What that means is that as you make changes to your story or characters while writing, you don’t go back through what you’ve already completed and revise/rewrite. You make a note of the change and what parts of the story it will affect (and will thus need to be revised later) and then continue on writing as if you’ve already made the change.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but believe me, this approach does actually work in enabling us SOTP writers to be able to complete manuscripts. This happened to me when I was writing Stand-In Groom as my master’s thesis. After rewriting the first ten chapters three times, I finally had to suck it up and finish the manuscript for grad school. So I wrote down all of the changes I needed to make after the first draft was finished and then went right back to writing as if I’d already made those (massive) changes. And after two years of an endless loop of revisions, I completed the final 2/3 of the manuscript in less than four months.

What I didn’t have back in 2004–2005 when I was doing this was OneNote. Or some other way of organizing my notes and ideas for what needed to change. I had a lot of it just typed in as notes in the computer. Or when I’d make a change in between chapters, I’d make a note at the top of my new chapter to go back from that point and make the change I’d be incorporating from there on out. Something I discovered in writing stories with more characters, more research, and more intricate plotting—like the Ransome Trilogy—is that I have to have a better way of keeping track not just of my revision notes, but my style guide, and my research. So that’s what we’re setting up today.

Revisions Notebook
Ever since I bought my laptop in 2009 and saw it for the first time, Microsoft OneNote has been an integral part of my writing process. And now that it’s available online and on my phone, it’s become an important and portable tool for me as a place to collect my ideas, notes, research, etc.

According to Schmidt: “Working ‘as if’ means that you keep writing—that you keep moving forward with your story—without stopping to rewrite every time you change your mind about a character, plot, or setting detail. Instead, you take notes on your Story Tracker worksheet to stay on task while still remembering changes you’ll need to make later” (10).

She works with a three-act structure, and suggests making a chart/table with places to track changes for character, plot, subplot(s), setting, and “other” for each of those three acts (which you can see via the Writer’s Digest website). I’ve looked at those charts for a while now, and my brain just doesn’t work that way. Although I’m sure I may tweak (or completely) change these as I work, here’s what I’ve come up with for my Revisions pages in OneNote:

#FirstDraft 60 Revisions Notebook |

I’m sure that as I get further into this and run into the changes I’ll inevitably need to make, I’ll hone this tool and really customize it into an invaluable tool for my next manuscripts.

Style Sheet
Creating a Style Guide is something I’ve blogged about before. As a quick refresher:

Items to track in your style guide include the following, along with an explanation and a summary of how it should be “styled”:

  • Unusual, foreign, archaic, uniquely spelled, and made-up names.
    Examples: Zarah, nicknames for grandparents (such as Mamere, Kiki, Pops, etc.); the Admiralty is capitalized, but the port admiralty is not.
  • All place names.
    Examples: Woodbine, Woodmont, Green Hills, Forrest Hills (yes, it has two Rs), Belle Meade, Bellevue, Fair View, Fairview, etc. Bonneterre, Comeaux (how far is it from Bonneterre, again?), Beausoleil Parish, Moreaux Mills, Warehouse Row, Town Square (or was that Towne Square?).
  • Names of restaurants, stores, schools, and other establishments.
    Frothy Monkey, James Robertson University, University of Louisiana–Bonneterre (geaux Marauding Pirates!), Beignets S’il Vous Plait (see—I had to look that one up just to include it here!), Boudreaux-Guidry Enterprises/B-G.
  • Anything that gets a red squiggly line as you write it.
    Whether it’s a regional word, professional jargon, a rare piece of dialect, an abbreviation, pet name, or other shortened form of a word, or something foreign or made up, if Word doesn’t recognize it, add it to your style guide. (And then add it to Word’s dictionary so it doesn’t keep flagging it every time you run a spell-check.)
  • Foreign, archaic, regional, or made-up words and phrases.
    These words may be familiar to you, but not to an editor who’s going to waste his/her time trying to look them up or contacting you to find out more about them. You may forget how you spelled something, or which place name you used. Writing it down saves everyone time.
  • Anything you don’t want to fight with your editor about later.

Here’s a snapshot of my style sheet for the Bonneterre series:
#FirstDraft60 Creating a Style Sheet |

Research Repository
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a contemporary set in your own neighborhood or a sweeping historical epic spanning generations and continents. You’re going to have to do some research somewhere along the way. Our planning process will help you do some of this research. And something I’ve found helpful to keep as much of it close at hand as I can (especially since I’m not always writing in the location where my books are located, or websites get deleted/moved) is to either copy/paste the info from the website or type notes from books into OneNote for safekeeping.

#FirstDraft60 Creating a Research Repository |

You can read more about collecting and organizing your research here (because, of course, I’ve blogged about it before).

FirstDraft60 Day 2 Assignment:
Your project for today is to figure out how you’re going to keep track of your revisions, style info, and research—and to go ahead and set them up. Then come back and let us know how you are planning to do it and how you’ve set yours up. Links to images would be great (e.g., Instagram, your blog, photos on Facebook shared publicly so we can see them even if we aren’t connected, etc.).

Can’t wait to see/hear about yours. I’m off to work on the style sheet and research parts of my notebook!

Work Cited:

Schmidt, Victoria Lynn. Book in a Month: The Foolproof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2008. Print.

  1. Wednesday, September 2, 2015 3:10 pm

    I use Excel to track most of these. I use one book, with several sheets. My current WIP has the working title of TO PROTECT A CHILD (which both my agent and editor hate, but I’ll deal with that later). So the book is “To Protect a Child Sheets,” and the sheets are Timeline, Character, Notes/Research, WC Track (Word Count), Style Sheet, I record changes to be made in the Timeline sheet, which is a chapter by chapter layout. The book includes a lawyer/Guardian ad LItem, so I’ve done a lot of research on that system in Tennessee (although I need to find a lawyer to discuss some things with.)


    • Wednesday, September 2, 2015 3:14 pm

      I probably shouldn’t admit to this, but “To Protect a Child Sheets” made me giggle, thinking of someone standing in front of a whole bunch of superhero and Barbie/My Little Pony bed sheets, protecting them.

      I know LI/Harlequin requires a chapter-by-chapter outline. Do you usually complete your first draft before writing that, or do you write it before you do your draft and then just update it as you make changes?


      • Thursday, September 3, 2015 4:51 pm

        Oh, that’s a riot. I didn’t even think of it. I love the idea of someone protecting the kids’ sheets – I can even see the cape! I usually write the annotated chapter outline first, or something close to it. It goes in with the proposal.


  2. Wednesday, September 2, 2015 3:12 pm

    After working on this post last night during my writing time, I spent a couple of hours (because I lost track of time!) working on setting up my OneNote pages, adding characters and places already established (in the 9k words I’ve already written) into my style guide, which necessitated a few notes on my revisions page, and brainstorming some questions for possible avenues of research in my “repository” section.

    I also just had some fun doing some character casting and naming as I was working on the style sheet, too, even though that’s something we’ll get into in more depth next week.


  3. Daphne Woodall permalink
    Wednesday, September 2, 2015 9:36 pm

    Okay it got hilarious this morning. I was set to work as scheduled. Got called to go exercise at 8 a.m. with a friend (which I need), got back home about ready to start on time when I made the mistake of leaving my cell nearby. Got back to back calls, messages, things I had to handle etc. Off and on I started reading your days’ instructions and lack of focus kicked in. And the FB temptation has taught me I need to close my Wifi during my writing time.

    I still have logistics to work out. I have a trial version of Scrivener but I’ve not found time to figure it out. I’m interested in what others are using. I like Ramona’s Excel Idea and I probably will make color cards or sticky notes. I’ve never heard of a Style Sheet but I’ll figure that out and maybe use Excel.

    I do have a jump on research because I started doing research a year ago online as well as visiting a few places and taking photos etc. I have great resources and personal experience that will help but may not be necessary with the First Draft. All of these are in a notebook that I started back then. I also picked out my two main characters as I envisioned them and have pictures. I started a storyboard on a large foam board as inspiration and I have a tagline idea. I previously had written 5000 words. I have a working title that probably will change. I will do better tomorrow staying on task.

    To Dora (the lawyer) who joined the group, my friend, Don Brown (lawyer/published author) said he would be glad to speak with you from his experiences as a writer & practicing attorney. Let me know if you’d like his info.



  1. #FirstDraft60 Day 3 — Creating Your Story Bible |
  2. #FirstDraft60 Day 2: Setting Up a Revisions Notebook, Style Sheet, and Research Repository |

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