The Importance of Keeping Detailed Notes
Writing both fiction and nonfiction has taught me how important it is to keep detailed notes while writing the book manuscripts. Now after having both genres published, I’m able to say, “I’m glad I did,” not “I wish I had.”
When I wrote my Bible study guide, DRAW ME CLOSER, LORD (2003, Regular Baptist Press), I had pages of notes for each of ten lessons, including websites for references, information about other authors’ names, addresses, and contact information whom I cited, Bible verses used, and so on. I listed in a separate file all the details I needed to go back and research or get additional information on any of the above entities of the written work.
Only after I submitted the manuscript to my publisher did I find out how valuable all that information was. The editor needed additional references for the bibliography at the end of the book AND she needed permission from all poets whose work I cited in the book. Now that was a task to complete! One poet had passed away, but I received a nicely written permission slip from the poet’s husband. Some poems had large publishing rights’ fees attached to them (such as poems written by Helen Steiner Rice), which forced me to delete those poems and insert others that had no fees. But with all this additional work, I can’t imagine how much harder it would have been had I not recorded where I found all the poems and quotes that I had used.
When writing my two fiction series, THE KEYSTONE STABLES and THE LOVES OF SNYDER COUNTY, I made detailed notes of all the characters, primary, secondary, and even the “insignificant” ones. I recorded lesser characters, whether they had a name or not, such as the man selling Scottie puppies at the farmers’ market who had his vending spot next to my main character’s table in Louellen Finds True Love. For the more important characters, I described their physical appearance and often their demeanor, personality, or likes and dislikes. I also listed the names or details of all places, including towns, counties, farms, homes of main characters, route numbers of roads, and descriptions of many of the places or scenes.
Why is this important?
If you’re writing a 150-to-400-page book, you need to know if you used the name “Joe” for any character, even if he’s just the guy fixing a flat tire at a garage. If you’re writing a series, which can take months or years, how are you going to remember whether Joe’s name was ever used for any character? Go back and read all your work? Uh huh.
In my LOVES OF SNYDER COUNTY SERIES, a three-volume set being re-released in a few weeks, I kept detailed notes, and I’m ever glad I did. After writing the three books, I also wrote an additional 24 short stories (5000-8000 words each) based on the characters in the three novels. [They’ll eventually be published as Plain and Proper in Snyder County Volume 1 (12 stories) and Plain and Proper in Snyder County Volume 2 (12 stories)]. I was able to go back to my pages of notes and see who’s related to whom, which farmers’ market is in Ohio, who the parents and siblings are of the main character in each story, which character in the book series likes sewing, which one loves horses, which one is a young widow, and so on. The initial work it took to open new files and start listing persons, places, and things has been well worth the effort. Believe me!
So, my advice to you is, if you’re writing a book or a series, keep detailed notes on everything you write. Yes, it’s extra work, but in the long run, you’ll be saying, “I’m glad I did,” not “I wish I had.”