Get It Together: Serena Bell

Get It Together Blog Hop BannerWelcome to my stop on the #GetItTogetherHop, where authors share how we keep our “writer stuff” organized.

I got so excited about this blog hop that the hardest part for me was not writing a multi-volume encyclopedia. I love organizing things! In fact, I love organizing things WAY more than I like doing anything useful with the things I’ve organized! But I’ve tried to pick a few highlights to share with you. And I’ve also attempted to give you peeks into my writerly secrets, such as they are.

This is me!

IMG_1450 And that pretty rainbow ring around me is made up of my notebooks. 4×6 side spiral Meads (or Mead wanna-bes). I started my first notebook—the green one in front of my right knee—in 2010 when I started writing my first-ever romance novel, the book that is now known as Yours to Keep. The first words in it are:

“Book starts w/her POV./She is on her way to a job/musing about how yanquis see her/caught between worlds”

And then the notebooks go all the way up to the present, with notebook #44, whose last page includes notes on what I want to include in this blog post.

They look like this inside:

FullSizeRender(1)The big crossouts? That doesn’t mean I didn’t use that material. It means I don’t ever need to go back and look at it again. Sometimes I’ve put it in a book, but more often I’ve moved it to Evernote, where I can organize it and search within it more easily.

I use four apps religiously. Evernote is an extension of my brain and my notebooks. Anything that starts in my brain and temporarily ends up in a notebook will probably end up in Evernote next. The list of things that I put in Screenshot 2015-08-24 15.56.57Evernote is as long as the list of well, all the things.

One thing I keep in Evernote is a running word-count journal. When I’m writing a book, I use a Mac app called TimeOut to remind me to take frequent breaks (30 seconds every ten minutes and ten minutes every fifty minutes). Every time I take a big break (which is every fifty minutes if I’m disciplined about not hitting the “Skip Break” button), I record my word count. That way when I get discouraged I can see an objective map of my progress.

Keeping a journal also helps me figure out patterns in my process. After a few novels, I could see that I always get bogged down for days or even weeks at the 25% mark, the 50% mark, and the 75% mark. Those are the “turning points” in a book (terms borrowed from Michael Hauge), the moments where a character has to experience something that changes his/her trajectory, so it makes sense that they’re the hardest parts to write and require a lot of rewriting. It was easier to accept the pattern once I could see it for myself.

Screenshot 2015-08-24 15.58.23I also use Wunderlist to keep all my to-do lists. I learned pretty much everything I know about personal organization from David Allen’s amazing book Getting Things Done, which I highly recommend! A few thing I learned from that book that permanently changed the way I think about organization:

    1. Any system of organization that works well and lowers your stress has to have (at least) these three characteristics: It has to a) somehow capture ABSOLUTELY everything that passes through your mind as a to-do item, and b) let you organize that big blog of everything so it makes sense and c) frequently revisit and re-evaluate what’s important in that (now super-organized) big blob of absolutely everything. (The notebooks and Evernote (and several other inputs, like an in-box and my voicemails, emails, etc) achieve a; Wunderlist helps me achieve b. C—well, c’s a work in progress, but I do try to do a “weekly review” every Friday to make sure I have an eye on the big picture and know what’s important for me to do next.)


    1. There are two kinds of things you have to do—projects and tasks. No one can sit down at a desk and “do a project.” You can only “do a task.” And any to-do list that contains both projects and tasks will very quickly turn into a pile of undone madness, because every time you glance at it, you’ll think, OMG I can’t do all that.


  1. You only accomplish things when you are in the proper “context” to do them. (These are all David Allen terms. I highly recommend reading him.) So if you want to get things done efficiently, you have to recognize the reality of your contexts. You aren’t going to make personal phone calls when you sit down to work at the computer, so keeping a list on your computer of all the people you need to chat with will only result in guilt and constantly revisiting how long it’s been since you called your friends.

The fourth app I can’t live without is Scrivener. A lot of writers feel that way. But I do know plenty of writers who are still wary of it, because they’ve heard it’s complicated or they’ve sat down with it and felt overwhelmed.

Screenshot 2015-08-24 16.00.04If you’re in that category, please don’t worry! The video tutorials are excellent, the user’s manual is incredibly helpful, and you only have to learn a little bit to get started. The rest will come. And I guarantee you, anything you do in Word you can do better in Scrivener.

When you open Scrivener, you can choose among project templates or make your own. I made my own. It contains a whole bunch of specialized smaller templates that help me get started with a new project. The one showing in the screenshot above is my How to Write a Novel checklist—which helps kick start me when I can’t remember what to do next (this happens more than I’d like you to think). I also have male & female character interviews, a template for figuring out internal and external goal, motivation, and conflict (GMC), and a bunch of other useful things.

I keep everything that has to do with my project together in one Scrivener file. From the moment I write the back-of-book-copy (my first act for every novel) until I start the copyedit process, Scrivener is my book’s home. I store all the blurbs, synopses, character interviews, scraps of thought I have about what I want to do next, and online research there—and Scrivener makes it very easy to do that. However, I don’t keep all my drafts in one file. Each draft is a separate Scrivener file.

I try to write at least five days a week. During the school year, I tend to write about four hours per day, five days per week. During the summer, when my kids are around and I want to enjoy them and the beautiful weather, I try to write one to two hours per day, seven days a week. Even though there’s a difference in total time allotted, I don’t find that the amount of productivity is that different! I think it’s because writing every day helps with continuity (much less startup lag time), and the truth is that a LOT of the work in writing gets done in the thinking hours, not the writing hours. I write between 700 and 1,800 words per hour, and I try to net at least 1,000 words/day and preferably closer to 3,000.

And here is where I do it: IMG_0059

This teeny garret office is in the back of the master closet in my bedroom, which is weirdly humongous for the size of my house. That’s mostly artwork by my kiddos on the ceiling, and the lists on the walls straight ahead are reminders of how to write a good scene (via Roxanne St. Claire) and which words I chronically overuse. All my equipment is ergnomically set up in the most kludged-together way—the monitor is sitting on two books and a stand I built myself out of wood and covered with fabric and, yes, fur. My desk chair is actually a drafting chair because the desk is counter height, and I’m sure working backlit is a recipe for disaster, but I LOVE my octagonal window.

Anyway, those are the highlights of how I stay, or often don’t stay, organized! Don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter below to win fabulous, sexy prizes, (potentially) including two signed copies of Hot & Bothered. Thank you so much for visiting, and please make sure to check out all the other stops on the #GetItTogetherHop, organized by the fabulous (and blessedly nosy) Alexandra Haughton and Lindsay Emory!

#GetItTogether on Lexi’s blog:

#GetItTogether on Lindsay’s blog:

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