★ Managing a novel

There is a sense in which a novel manages you, of course, and any notion of the reverse is a sign of deviant thinking.

I want to describe some of the tools I use to create books. There are word processorsPages and Scrivener.; information management systemsDevonThink Pro Office; special pens with little animals on the endI made that one up.. But I want to write today about an application (Mac-only) that helps me keep track of those tasks that accrue in the process of editing a novel.

Things is a task-management application from German company Cultured Code. It allows you create tasks, set reminders, contexts, and view upcoming tasks from time- or context-based perspectives. That’s a dry description, but check out this review by Shawn Blanc, of which this is an excerpt:

I don’t think the new spins on productivity software are because we have yet to witness the creation of the Ultimate App and Workflow. These unique and diverse apps are being written because people are unique and diverse.

Each of us has our own way of dealing with responsibility and our own expression of productivity. Tinkering and then switching is usually not the fault of the software. We’re not looking the best app, but rather the best app for us.


Yesterday, I took out the manuscript of my second Saskia Brandt novel, Flashback, and began reading. I have a physical copy that I printed via Lulu. As I read, I jotted down notes on a pad.

Dealing with a novel can be a nightmarish business. I find that the best strategy during the writing of a first draft is to make very few notes indeed. The ideas for improvement and development need to stir together somewhat before seeing the cold light of the office. But in revising a draft, rather more mechanical work needs to be done: there are leaks here and here; this nut isn’t tight enough; these pipes should be connected; these others disconnected.

When I start to edit a draft, I make sure that the draft has a unique version number. I use TextExpander to produce a code that I append to the filename. (At the moment, it’s 2009.02.05.09.) All of the notes and tasks I assign to a project are therefore linked to a particular version of the manuscript. I don’t want the annoyance of tasks half completed.

@re-insert I think the scene in the airport (where S loses track of J) needs to re-inserted as the first scene of the book.
It would be a good idea to start this scene with a phone conversation with D. It would set up their relationship, explain that J and S are going to Milan, explain why D would know about it, and provide background on why J won’t be boarding the plane after all. This scene, then might
work best from Jem’s viewpoint. J is calling D because she’s a bit worried about going to Milan with S. D’s reaction effectively talks her out of it.
@re-insert Insert the scene with T where he sees the aircraft crash. The best place for this, as of draft [2009.02.05.09], is at the beginning of the chapter where C is introduced. (Make T’s scene go at the beginning of this same chapter.) I think it does need to be brief, though.
@enrich When J wakes up in the strange hotel after leaving C in S’s apartment, describe it a little more. What was it like in that German guesthouse in Saarbrucken? A bar downstairs where the beer comes in half litres and they mark your beermat, etc.? The fabric strap that brings down the blinds?

As of today, I’ve got 21 tasks. Each of them is major. I’m about one fifth of my way through the book. This does seem like a lot to do. I wonder how much, if broken down like this, I had to do with my first novel?

The tasks above are classed as ‘changes to make’. I have another list that comprises tasks that I can’t yet resolve. I need one character to come to a sticky end, for instance, but how? I’d also like to deal with a structural issue about the interleaving of flashbacks. (Thanks to m’friend Neil for the heads up on that one.)

The story continues.

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

3 thoughts on “★ Managing a novel”

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