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I’ll be the first to say that I am a Spreadsheet Queen. I can’t live without spreadsheets. Whether it is to keep track of finances, freelance work, or plans for the summer, spreadsheets is the way to go for me, and likely for many other people.

That probably also includes fellow authors outlining their next book. Some authors choose between outlining or flying by the seat of their pants when it comes to writing. I myself have debated this issue. But lately, due to my crazy schedule, I find it best to outline. And I’ve made that possible for myself through spreadsheets.

How do I outline using spreadsheets? Simple. I make each column represent each chapter. So when you see my sheet, you’ll see Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3… all lined up in columns. Next, I put the scenes of each chapter in the rows. This is a good way to figure out which scene should end or begin a chapter, or which scene belongs in which chapter.

Photo by Craig Chew-Moulding on Flickr via Creative Commons

Photo by Craig Chew-Moulding on Flickr via Creative Commons

Doing this has made the planning of my sequel very easy. Granted, I do not stick to it religiously; I have moved a few scenes around and added a few more without consulting my spreadsheet. But overall, spreadsheets has been helping me keep track of the scenes of my second book.

It is not unusual for authors to use this to help plot their books. JK Rowling plotted her Harry Potter books using spreadsheets, and I’ve seen a few other, less-known authors do the same thing.

Because life can be so busy sometimes, I recommend authors to outline their stories. It is too easy to come up with an idea, only to not be able to write it down because either you’re at work, going to or from work, or busy with home life. Also, writing is a discipline, and if you are working on a book, you need to be organized and professional about your craft and your story. I was not like this when I wrote my first book, but then again, I was unemployed at the time. That meant having plenty of time to write whenever I pleased, as much as I wanted.

Nowadays, I do not have that luxury and I have to rely on spreadsheets to make my next book possible. It is funny how being a professional these days has made me rely on a program intended for professionals, in order to be more professional with my story!

Raise your hand if you use spreadsheets to help organize your story!