The Folder Method

Lately on WTW, I've shared some personal philosophies. How to cope when you feel like a hack, for example. But what about actual methodology? What is is like to write in practice? Today, we're getting down to brass tacks. I've done a similar post to this one before but the method I was using was cluttered and confusing. I've simplified since. 

As an author, what methods do I employ?

I'm so glad you asked. 😏

After The Plague hit me, I emerged from my stupor to find I had a lot of things to do! At the time my projects looked like this:

  • A synopsis due to my editor for my third Harlequin Desire

  • Copyedits due to my editor for Man Candy

  • A (not yet sold) standalone secret project to conceptualize, and write a synopsis and thirty pages for

  • A (not yet sold) series to polish to perfection before submitting to my agent

Which reminded me of a question I often get asked by friends. It usually accompanies wide eyes and boggled minds...

How do you keep them all straight?

Meaning: How can I have four very different projects with very different characters, yet keep them separate in my mind?

There is a method to the madness, and it very much helps me "keep them all straight." I call it:

The Folder Method


There is absolutely nothing fancy about it, which is exactly why it works. 


Before we begin, know that this is an actual paper method. If you are a paperless soul (like my husband) and prefer filing everything electronically in your devices, this tip may not be for you. But you may glean an idea or three anyway, so I suggest everyone read on.

The Folder Method starts with my favorite pastime: Shopping for office supplies! If those words excited you, welcome. YOU ARE MY PEOPLE.

Once you have your selected folders chosen and purchased (I like to mix it up, but if matchy-matchy is your style--go for it!), then it's onto notebooks. Yep. More shopping! I recently received this Kate Spade notebook as a gift from a friend (thanks, Andi!) who chose it for obvious reasons.

I love notebooks of all shapes and sizes, but this one in particular rang all my bells. The paper is exquisite--thick and lush, and smooth under my favorite pen.  


Notebook euphoria, people! Better yet? It's on Amazon Prime. Click to buy.

Upsides: as I said, the paper is perfection. It also boasts a folder for looseleaf notes and is my favorite thing ever: spiral bound. I also love that it's perforated--and the perforation gives way to a clean, smooth tear. Perfect for ripping it out and tucking it into a folder.

Downside: it's fairly heavy and therefore not very portable. This doesn't bother me because I have a smaller notebook for on-the-go notes.


Sidenote: if you prefer a smaller, more travel-friendly notebook, I can't recommend Erin Condren's notebooks enough. Thick paper, a ribbon bookmark, and a smooth cover. Can't beat 'em. Bonus, first time buyers can save $10 with my affiliate link. Click to buy.

Now that you're done shopping (assuming you also picked up a few pens and washi and stickers...), let's get down to those brass tacks I mentioned earlier. (Did anyone look that up yet?!)

Simply put, The Folder Method allows you to "jot it and forget it." If you're the type of writer who works on several projects at once, or needs to change gears mid-project, this might help you sort out the tangle in your head. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Write the working title of the book on your folder of choice

  2. If it has to do with this book (be it a sheet of paper or Post-it or paper napkin), put it in the folder.

That's it.

It's not complicated, which is why it WORKS. If I'm in the middle of project A and think of a sentence of dialog that would be perfect for project B, I jot it down and tuck it into the folder. Find an interesting article that sparks an idea? I print it and tuck it into the folder. Feel like brainstorming on paper? I sit with my pretty Kate Spade notebook and outline by hand, then tear it out and...

Put it in the folder.

This also works beautifully with the writing program I use (Ulysses), but I'll save those tips for another Write Tip Wednesday. (Stay tuned!)

A good friend of mine who I used to work with in an office is fond of the phrase: 

"I let paper remember so I can forget."

My friend, Tammy practiced what she preached, too. She made copies and wrote down everything. If I needed to find information, I knew where to look and knew how to follow the literal paper trail back to the source.

Now, don't worry, The Folder Method isn't going to require massive amounts of storage space. Mine is tucked into one drawer. My folders also don't include the exact same papers or forms for every book. Each book is different and takes on a life of its own. In the case of the Real Love series (i.e., the Candy books), I utilized the Quickie Sheet. That was the easiest, fastest way for me to start the ball rolling on my fun and feisty rom-coms. For The Billionaire Bachelor, I used an in-depth questionnaire I never used before or since. For my Dallas Billionaires Club (Harlequin) books, I started by printing off the Pinterest photos that most reminded me of the characters. 

It doesn't matter what you put in there. It only matters that you put it in there.


Upsides: jot it and forget it. You can work on project B knowing that the niggling thought you had about project A is now tucked securely into your file. You can also get started without much lag time. I flip through my printed synopsis and check off paragraphs as I go, jotting notes in the margins about what might change or come next.

Downsides: no backup. If you lose it, or the dog eats it, you're screwed. It's also not with you wherever you go. So if you work away from home or don't have the folder with you, you can't access your notes that might get the ball rolling on your writing.

Sidenote: I can suggest a fix the downsides. Evernote offers an electronic way to organize your notes. Snap a photo of your hand-scrawled genius and store it in the app for easy access. Or, download TinyScanner. I LOVE THIS APP. I use it for my galley edits (when a book is in print, there is a final, final edit that involves a printed manuscript). I have to physically write in the change and notate on the actual page, so when I'm done editing and flagging my changes, I simply snap photos of the pages into TinyScanner, save them as a .PDF, and shoot them off to my editor.

No matter what method you use, if it makes a book at the end, you have a method that works. This was one that has worked for me for over 21 drafts, and it's the only consistent method I use in my writing.

Happy writing!