• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

How I Write – Part II – Logistics


Well, first, a brief digression in re logistics, to answer Midge’s question as to how I handle all the bits and pieces. It’s pretty simple, really, but it works.

Having started writing far back in the mists of time, when DOS-based programs only allowed one to have an eight-character filename (with a three-character extension), all my filenames are in this basic form: [bookname/number][year symbol].[date], wherein the date is the date upon which I began writing whatever file this is. E.g., were I to begin a new scene for AN ECHO IN THE BONE today, the file would be named JAMIE7&.39. (The abbreviation for each OUTLANDER novel is “JAMIE” [g], and ECHO is the 7th book in that series. “&” is the symbol I’ve chosen to represent 2008 (2007 was “@”), and today is March 9. Ergo—JAMIE7&.39.) (This, btw, is how I happen to know that I began to write OUTLANDER on March 6 of 1988; the oldest filename I’ve had is JAMIE!.36. And no, I don’t have this file available anymore; it’s undoubtedly backed up somewhere, but it’s on a 5.25″ floppy disk, which is for all intents and purposes unreadable. It wasn’t a scene that made it into the finished book; just a half-page or so of a young man arguing with his sister while she chopped vegetables—just a place to start, in other words. So I’ve been at this for twenty years—my, time flies when you’re having fun! [g])

OK, so we’ve got filenames. Now, I never leave the computer without backing up what I’m doing to an external medium—these days, that’s usually a USB jump-drive. NEVER. (And I keep whatever word processor I’m using set to do automatic backups every 90 seconds; I hate losing work). But once a week, I set aside an hour or so to do formal housekeeping. This involves:

1. Making a P-file. This is a “printfile”—just a dump of whatever new work I’ve done during the week. No formatting, no nothing—I just pull all new files (or old files that I’ve worked on during the week) into a single file and print it off (with the date at the top) and put this in my hard-copy dump. I’ve luckily needed a hardcopy backup only once or twice in the last twenty years—but nice to know it’s there. Any electronic medium can be corrupted in the blink of an eye and without warning.

2. Updating the MFILE. This is the Master File; I have one for each book (or novella) I’m working on. All this is, is a listing of filenames, with a few keywords following it, which will let me locate a specific file. Here’s a brief sample:

JAMIE#.42 – Death of Simon Fraser (Wheatfield)

JAMIE#A.42 – same as #.42 (compare)

JAMIE7#.413 – Clouds in the water – follows “Laoghaire”

JAMIE7#.414 – fragment at Saratoga – wolves devouring the dead

JAMIE#X.D8 – beer for breakfast

JAMIE7@.410 - Son of a Witch/Sanctuary

JAMIE7@.54 – Simon Fraser’s death – Claire/Dr. Rawlings – Willie’s hat

JAMIE7@.511 – fragment/image – rhythms of sex

JAMIE7A.511 – peelie-wallie, fragment – acupuncture

JAMIE7@.512 – fragment/image – Jem and gem, means of navigation

JAMIE7@.514 – Roger and the chapel (goes w/ @.410)

JAMIE7@.517 – Roger’s faith (goes w/ @.410/@.514)

JAMIE7@.519 – Claire and Dr. Rawlings, injury to hand (Saratoga)

JAMIE7@.524 – fragment – Roger’s faith/father decision (goes w/ @.410)

JAMIE7@.527 – “I’ll just mind it more” fragment

JAMIE7@.528 – numbness – “Bruise me”

JAMIE7@.64 – Lizzie’s Love-Knot (chapter title only)

[“fragment” means it’s not a whole scene, but is a partial scene, or perhaps just a kernel or an image that I wanted to catch, but either didn’t have time to develop, or it just didn’t expand at the time. Additonal letters like “A” or “B” mean it’s the second or third scene that I began on a given day (When I’m really rolling, I often have simultaneous things pop up), whereas an “X” means the scene exists under the original name, but something happened with the computer and it wouldn’t let me save a later version under the same name (Word occasionally corrupts its filenames, or takes exception to the original file having been written in Word Perfect, and won’t let me save unless I rename the file—so I use the original name with the addition of an “X”.).]

That’s about it. You notice that a couple of files in this listing note that they “go with” one or more other files. When stuff starts sticking together—or when I’m on a roll and writing sequentially—I get files that I know are part of the same bigger chunk. Eventually, all the smaller files get attached to one of the filenames, and that grows into a large piece of 10,000 words or more. At that point, it becomes a “chunk” [g], and I’ll likely save it as “CHUNK 2 (rev) – GREAT DISMAL” (for instance). When I have five or six chunks, I can usually arrange them in rough chronological order, and at that point, will probably have a decent idea of the timeline underlying the book. Often—though not always, I’ll also see the “shape” of the book at this point.

I have to go and buy bagels for lunch, so will post this for now. With luck, I’ll be back later tonight to resume—if not, see you tomorrow!

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46 Responses »

  1. Dear Charlotte–

    Thanks! Yes, I have some material written by (and about) 18th century gay men. There’s a brief bibliography in the Author’s Notes for BROTHERHOOD–and I think a couple of references cited in the Author’s Notes for PRIVATE MATTER, too.

    My thanks also to the several kind and helpful gay male friends, who are always ready to give me Very Uninhibited advice, as well as frank opinions regarding sex scenes. [cough]

  2. Really, how interesting! That must take a few bottles of wine to not blush while those particular pov are being shared! cough indeed.

    and what about Alex? or did you answer that question in the outlandish companion? If you did, I totally understand your not wanting to repeat yourself. -Charlotte

  3. Diana,

    Your blog is wonderful – going “behind the music” with you is great fun.

    I also wanted to comment on the Claire picture. I think she is perfect – thank you for providing this image. You do such a wonderful job of describing everything and “painting” a picture with your words that it seems to have created quite the conundrum for fans of the books.

    I think one thing that people have overlooked – and if they don’t have curly hair they wouldn’t understand – is that Claire is always BRUSHING her hair. Brushing curls out would make her hair look exactly like it does in the image that you provided. My hair is very much like this – and even without corkscrews when I pull on it, it is quite longer than when it is “puffed” out and it will “spring” back up.

    I do hope that these books are adapted for the screen, but really wish they would be turned into a long running series perhaps on HBO or Showtime. That way the stories could be fleshed out properly and justice given to the wonderful details and varied plots within.

    Also, I think Henry Cavill from “The Tudors” would make a great Jamie – he has blue eyes, is only 6’1, but seems like a big 6’1 and the build and facial bones look right to me. He quite often makes facial expressions that remind me of those described for Jamie. Dye the man’s hair red and I think he would do a fine job. (There was even a nice nude scene with him in the first episode that nicely shows his behind, which using your words I have to say was quite “sublime” – if your still looking for examples of Jamie’s buttocks, you should check out Mr. Cavill’s.)

    I hope the various opinions of your Claire will not prevent you from sharing other images of the characters as they are ready – I am anxiously awaiting to see them and graciously accept your renditions!

    Thank you for everything – you’re the greatest!!

  4. I mostly write in a linear fashion and I get the best ideas when I’m in the bathroom or shortly before I go to bed.

  5. Diana:

    This has nothing to do with anything, but I thought I’d let you know that it’s my turn to do Quote of the Day on the Books Board at Ladies of Lallybroch. I decided to illustrate the relationship between Jamie and Roger…. starting with Rog revealing to Claire Jamie’s survival of Culloden. This is such great fun! I am, however, having a little difficulty finding a perfect final Quote. I’ll come up with something — there’s plenty of wonderful material!


  6. Diana -

    I am just fascinated about learning how you organize and write. I’m not a writer by any means, but seeing your end product and going backwards into the works is incredible. Thank you so much for sharing.


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