The Age-Old Problem of Organization

(I was about to yank a conversation in a different thread way off-topic, so I figured I’d do it here)

At present I’m back to my same-ole/age-ole problem of how to organize myself. I really do think that’s one of my biggest barriers to writing, apart from procrastination (which is more of a moral problem… :slight_smile: )

I’ve been having some success at using drawing programs like (now, visio, etc., and excel (on occasion), and google sheets, etc. – but I’ve never been able to find that perfect blend of “stuff” that really helps me get organized.

I find myself gravitating back to plain ole’ pencil and paper more times than not. And sometimes using post-it notes as a kind of corkboard substitute. I’ve written two or three times as many paper notes as I have words in my WIP at this point… if I could simply slap a cover on those, I’d be done :slight_smile:

I really really really really wish there was a way of “scanning” my paper notes into the computer somehow, such that the little “boxes” and arrows would magically turn into something manageable (and editable) by the computer, but between the current OCR state of the art and my handwriting, that’s never going to happen, I don’t think… (not holding my breath, anyway…)

An example (I have 150 pages or more of these types of notes):

And my pitiful little doodles to help me visualize scenes:

I have a huge-ass whiteboard that I use on occasion, and it’s nice for a change, but it has the same problem of doing it on paper. I can only take a picture of it and stick it in the album if I want it to be retained.

Lately I’ve taken to using drawing programs to help. I’ve found that once I’ve worked it out on paper, it’s a pain-in-the-ass but doable, to transcribe it into visio or something. I try to make the notes as short as possible and then I can just push them around to come up with a timeline / chapter-scene plan. And I’ve got a neat little trick I’ve discovered for getting it from visio into excel, and from there, into scrivener as text, sorted in the correct order and ready to use for milestones (as I’ve discussed before elsewhere)

This allows me to push around the blocks in visio until I get what I want more-or-less (usually more of less, and less of more…) and then do the hop through excel and into scrivener as a list. Which comes out something like this:

I’ve tried every “mind-map” program I can find and they all get in my way far more than they help, so I’ve given up on those. I like the idea of a corkboard, but I haven’t found any of those that I like (or want to afford) either. I have a VERY STRONG preference for keeping my WIP on my own systems (though backups to the cloud are okay)-- which keeps me away from using web-based services for that sort of thing.

I do sometimes use the drawing programs to create “inspirational” images, that I can use to get a quick picture of things that are happening. But I’d love to find something similar to PLOTAGON that I could (A) afford, and (B) wasn’t so dumbed-down and cheesy as to be ridiculous to use… Something that I could create some characters, draw some minimal 3d “sets”, and pose the characters within it to some elementary degree. Not wanting to make a movie, but more just “storyboard” frames for key scenes. Sometimes to help me get the action / movement / who-goes-where type stuff in my head.

Here’s an example of one of my ‘inspirational pictures’ (they tend to be less blurry on my screen for some reason… :thinking:)

All of this stuff is nice, but I wish there was a way to do it in a more “integrated” way.



Thanks JWhitten for sharing your thoughts and pains of the age-old problem of organizaton.

I couldn’t find yet an “easy” app to manage diagrams. “mind-map” programs seem cool at first, but they hit their limits fast.

For plotting, I use AeonTimeline. It’s amazing and it supports Scrivener. It allows you to visualize every piece of your novel, compute durations, link events to one another and so on.
I’m writing a scifi trilogy and carefully plotting everything is a must for me.

:point_up_2: Plotting with AeonTimeline.

Another tool I fell in love recently is Notion. This app is a database-driven notes app. Instead of a bunch of disconnected pages, you get highly structured notes, with the possibility to set pages relations, properties, tables with excel-like capabilities and more.

:point_up_2: My master table of every character. Each record is a page. Clicking on a character page shows me it’s data.

:point_up_2: Each page can have an arbitrary number of properties (useful for advanced queries)

:point_up_2: In addition to properties, a page can have rich text content, link media links, images and lots of stuff to format your content neatly.

In addition to all of this, you can build your calendars, set reminders, configure Kanban boards to manage your milestones and so on.

While I’m pretty happing now with plotting and notes management, I’m still looking for some app to build quick sketches of stuff, expecially for people like me who is incapable of drawing something decent. Didn’t know the app PLOTAGON, and yes, an app to “storyboard” some stuff would be amazing. Sometimes is really hard to visualize some scenes and for us who cannot draw, such tools would be of great help.

That’s not pitiful, that’s amazing. My “doodles” makes me cringe and my eyes bleed every time.


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I find that different software and strategy are helpful at different times. The problem for me is that I find it hard to know beforehand what will eventually be more helpful, so I try many things at once. I keep at them for a while until one proves more beneficial than the other. I get things done, but the process could be quicker.

Yeah, I’m kind of like that, except I hop from one to another, hoping each one will turn out to be the holy grail :slight_smile:


I’ve seen Aeon Timeline before. It looks pretty nice, and I like your background! For my current book it seems a bit overkill. What I need most is a super corkboard, and a storyboard tool-- one that lets me mock up a scene and push some characters and stuff around.

I’ve tried Blender for that, and while I have a decent background in CAD, I get caught up in “doing stuff in Blender” rather than moving my WIP forward. My kid is pretty good in Blender too, but I haven’t been able to talk him into (get him motivated) to do scenes for me… I keep asking though :slight_smile:
Plotagon is interesting, but is mostly just for infomercials and corporate explain-o-tools. There are some nicer ones such as Moviestorm (3d animation software | Learn how to make animations | Moviestorm for filmmakers) , but it’s kind of expensive ($225 for the base “Max” product), and then you have to download (read: buy) “product packs” all the time to do much of anything interesting.

“iClone” looks interesting too, but also pretty expensive. But it does have the ability to work with a lot of other tools like Blender, Unity, etc.,

One that keeps catching my attention is “Muvizu” (Muvizu | Gallery), which is kind of like a cross somewhere between Plotagon and iClone. Looks like you can do full movies and stuff with it, but the web site is so clunky, I keep giving up before I get very far. I even downloaded a copy of it at one point to give the demo a try. Looks like it’s doable, but I’m not sure if the time wouldn’t be better spent in Blender or Unity, IMO. Plus, it’s another one of those peck-you-to-death with ($$$) download packs.

Also, neither Plotagon nor Muvizu has been upgraded in a while… makes me think I’m not the only one put off by the nickel-n-dime mentality…

“NawmalMAKE” ( is very similar to Plotagon and again with the download packs… and I think the website may be more recent than the software, comparing it to their blog dates.

“FrameForge” ( seems like something close, but again very expensive, and nothing’s been updated there in quite some time by the looks of things.

(Sigh :slight_smile: )


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I have just been reading Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, a work admired, and minutely analysed, by Vladimir Nabokov (see and I find myself thinking of her sitting at a small table (as we know she did) with a few sheets of paper and nothing much more. And we are still reading the novel two hundred years later. I know – times have changed, and so forth – but I can’t help feeing there is something to be said for simplicity, especially when we hit some sort of block. There have been a few occasions when I have had to throw out all the paraphernalia and just write (non-fiction, but organisation is still very important).


As far as I can see this has not been mentioned yet in this thread, but I assume you’ve tried the Scapple? I use A3 sheets of paper; Scapple and Tinderbox for my organisation: works a treat.

Yes, I have it, but I’m not enamored of it any better. The one benefit it does have though is the native ability to bring things into scrivener.


Tinderbox looks interesting, but of course it’s a Mac-only program :slight_smile:

I developed and use an incredible app I call Wall for an overview of the six-volume series I’m working on. Wall is a solid, bug-free program consisting of a big bare wall, low-tac tape, and pieces of paper cut into about half-size index cards. I developed this app in the world-enveloping darkness of winter 2020-21 while waiting for Scriv 3 for Windows to come out.
I wrote each major scene name in big letters on a card (e.g. “Journo Spies” or “Enact Lore Statues”). I can glance at each book’s scenes by reading across in a row. Or I can look down a column to remind myself of what Plot Point One is in each book.
There are two books with intertwined timelines (properly one book that would fall midpoint in the series, but it would be a doorstopper, so it’s divided into two). I couldn’t find any conspiracy theorist’s red yarn, so had to make do with a couple of pieces of plain white string to link the plot points together. The whole thing looks like a big wall of crazy but works incredibly well, since I hate squinting at and scrolling around spreadsheet formats; I don’t have to switch what I’m doing on the computer to check my outline. All I have to do is turn my head and there is Wall!

The actual written scenes are going into Scrivener, of course.


LOL. I have a huge whiteboard in my project room that I sometimes use, and a huge 55 inch 4K monitor down there that comes in really handy too.

I had a medical problem last year and ended up losing part of my foot over it, so was “grounded” in my chair for most of the year as I recuperated. Luckily, I’ve just now received the go-ahead to start walking again so am able to get up and down the stairs a little better, but I’m still not as mobile as I used to be.

The techniques I “developed” were mainly done using methods I could “reach” from my chair. Though, I still like the workflow in general and will likely continue to use it. I would just like to figure out how to go from my “pencil & paper” to the computer-- but I doubt I’m going to find a solution for that one.

I did also find having one of those big metal “magnet boards” comes in handy. At about 15x24in it’s big enough to be useful while small enough to act as a “lapboard”. I use big sheets of butcher paper and various colored magnets to represent different elements in my story, and draw pictures and diagrams that help me see “flows” in a more visual manner. Between that and the other tools I mentioned previously, I’m slowly honing in on a set of methods that are helping me get organized.

I keep thinking about just getting a big corkboard like you have though. I do agree it sounds useful.


I’m not just an employee, I’m also a customer… :slight_smile:

I go back and forth between Tinderbox and Scapple. Scapple is (much!) easier to use, but Tinderbox’s ability to assign and manipulate metadata gives it some advantages for big projects.

For really big projects, nothing beats a wall or conference room/dining room table. Scapple’s infinite canvas comes close, though, so what I’ll sometimes do is use a big table to sort notes into “chapter” groups, then Scapple to organize within those.

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I really like the idea of this “Causality” software [Main :: Causality Story Sequencer :: Hollywood Camera Work], but it is so not ready for prime-time. There’s no way of knowing yet (IMO) whether it would turn out to be “better” or a boulder to drag around while you’re thinking… Either way though, I think the idea is cool.