Dear Sherry: Writer, Interrupted

Dear Sherry,

This is a practical question. So many of us are writing around a day job, stopping and starting our projects, and it’s maddening for me, at least. Every time I get back to a project, I’ve forgotten things that were important and either have to waste a day of could-be-writing trying to get the details back into my head, or accept that there’s going to be one ugly revision waiting for me when I finally get the draft done. Do you have any suggestions for keeping the story fresh in our brains, even if we’re not working on them every day? Or any organizational ideas on how to manage the endless details of a novel with constant interruptions?

–Writer, Interrupted

Photo Credit: Pexels


Dear Interrupted,

Even though writing daily — or at least thinking about your writing project — is the best way to keep it foremost in your mind, it isn’t foolproof. Either there will be days away from the work-in-progress, or days when just plain forgetfulness will strike. Writing around a day job does require greater organizational skills. Here are some tools and suggestions that might be of use to all writers, especially those with a day job.

  1. Become a detailed plotter. Whether you choose to work out all the details of plot, character, setting, and conflict prior to writing, or keeping track of it as you write is up to you. Some writers have their entire novels outlined, some outline the first half then write then outline the second half, some writers outline a few chapters or scenes at a time. While outlines often shift as you write, the more details you have worked out and within reach as a quick-reference makes it easier to get back into the flow.
  2. Make notes as you get to major plot turns, character developments, and shifts in motivations or conflicts. Keep a notebook beside you or a document open on your computer for those notes. Not only will it help you as you write from day to day and week to week, but you have the beginning of a series “Bible” should your project be heading in that direction.
  3. Post-it notes! Especially useful when it comes to visualizing multiple plot-lines and point-of-view threads, are color-coded post-it notes. If you have a blank wall in your office, note the main conflict points for each scene and each character on a post-it note and stick it up. You can color-code it by character or plot-line, or both. If you don’t have the wall-space, a white-board or a spreadsheet will work just as well. Just make it more organized and readable than the picture for this post!
  4. Make use of programs developed for writers. While I have been perfectly happy to write novels in WordPerfect or Microsoft Word without difficulty, keeping track of important events, characters, and plot-lines isn’t the most convenient with those programs. A lot of writing programs have all kinds of bells and whistles that may or may not be a complete distraction. I personally use Scrivener, though I have also used yWriter. What I like best about these programs is that I can break up my manuscript by scene. When I need to look up something, I have easy access to finding the specific scene without scrolling through an entire document, or leaving the document I am currently writing in. yWriter operates in much the same way. I know a number of other writers who have used Writer’s Cafe, and Liquid Storybinder. I have no working knowledge of them myself, but I understand they are also good for organizing scenes, chapters, and research. As I said, they all have other bells and whistles such as outlining tools and a way to store your research, so you have easy access to that as well. These programs are designed to help writers stay organized so they can focus on writing.

Interruptions and road-blocks are inevitable. They are much less bothersome if we are prepared for them in advance, and with these tools, we can be.

Creatively yours, Sherry

Sherry Peters“Dear Sherry” is an opportunity to ask for advice on writer’s/creativity block, time management, the process of writing, and more. Sherry Peters is a Certified Life Coach who works with writers at all stages of their writing career looking to increase their productivity through pushing past the self-doubt holding them back. Her fiction has won the Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-book award, and been nominated for the Aurora Award, Canada’s top prize for Speculative fiction.

If you could ask a writing coach anything, here is your chance! Send her an e-mail at


  • Shara White June 2, 2017 at 11:23 pm

    One of the things I did once upon a time ago, but know better now and would rather do this on my own personal phone or iPad: email notes back to myself while I was at work. That was incredibly useful when finishing a novel back in the day!

    • Sherry Peters June 5, 2017 at 10:16 am

      I used to call my answering machine and leave myself messages with notes. A friend of mine was driving home from the cabin and called her friend to dictate notes.


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