★ 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.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

3 thoughts on “★ Managing a novel”

  1. Terminology FRBR offers us a fresh per­spect­ive on the struc­ture and rela­tion­ships of bib­li­o­graph­ic and author­ity records, and also a more pre­cise vocab­u­lary to help future cata­loging rule makers and sys­tem design­ers in meet­ing user needs. ,

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