The care and feeding of Living Documents

Craig here. For those of you who don't know me, I'm the one in the group wearing a beard. I want to talk about the value of living documents as a writer.

A living document is one that lives on the hard drive, and changes over time. This could be a list, or better yet, a collection of lessons. I feel better knowing I have a quick reference point when outlining and writing a story.

I've been working on short form tales lately, and I keep a simple list. When I write one of the stories, I delete it off the list. When the Muse visits, I add to the list. Pretty basic stuff.

The bigger list is called Writing Lessions. I may have gotten to the writing game late in life, but I'm studious, and I put in the hours. When something clicks with me, I write it on one of my lists. I also flesh it out and add examples that I'm likely to remember. Here are some (but not all) of the headings:

  • The Writing Monomyth
  • Characters
  • Russian Folktales
  • The Screenwriting Method
  • Plotting with the Theme Method
  • Fairytale Structure
  • The Pixar Method

I won't bore you with a list of everything, but you can see that I have options when I start outlining. What will work best for my story? As an example, I used fairytale structure when I wrote the fantasy, The Cock of the South.


I keep a roster of suspense techniques, and used them extensively while writing Will O' the Wisp.


Some of these headings have over a page of notes below them. There are twelve points in the Writing Monomyth, and I dedicated a paragraph or two to each of them.


Then I add notes during the lessons. I wrote, “The best stories are about death and rebirth, either literal or figurative.” While it was fresh in my mind I noted: Westly died, got miracled, and lived happily ever after with Princess Buttercup.


Corny? Probably, but they only have to make sense to me. They aren't for publication. If you decide to start some living documents, the notes only have to make sense to you.


I keep many of these living documents. Whenever someone posts something that clicks with me, I add notes, or start a new document. I have the villain's journey, what kinds of posts to write for a blog tour, an editing document, a list of cryptids, and many more.


Do any of you use living documents as writing tools? Do you think you might start a few after reading this?

44 thoughts on “The care and feeding of Living Documents

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  4. I’ve got so many notes and thoughts scattered in so many notebooks, I have a tough time trying to find them all. I finally dedicated a single notebook to hold thoughts and ideas, but I’ve started using it to jot down scenes, etc. So, I started using OneNote now, because I can access that across my computer, phone, and tablet. Now, if I can just remember to use it… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the idea of going electronic. The fact that it works across all devices is great. I’ve been know to pull over during my commute and jot a story idea into my phone. It’s on my iPad before I get home.


  5. Craig, I’ll be grabbing it, but just so you know, my TBR stack is even more frightening than my What-If Living Documents. 🙂 And, I already have your first book of short stories queued up. (Is that right? Here, we say “lined up,” but I LOVE being bilingual. Hahaha.) At any rate, I’ll get this one, too, and put them both in a Kindle Boyack folder.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I should be more organized with how I collect my story ideas and notes. Some of them are on my iPhone, some are in notebooks, and some are just random thoughts on sticky notes. Others make it into more lengthy ideas saved on my computer. I always liked the idea of your living documents. I just need to focus and commit to one source for all of my creativity. Your post is inspiring me to concentrate on doing that!

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  7. I love the idea of living documents. I don’t do well with outlines or anything too structured, but I do love my What-If notes. I have them for every book, and every idea. My first book started with a line that read, “What If: A woman buys a cabin in the mountains, sight unseen, where she can be alone to write. What if that cabin had been owned for more than 50 years by another woman? What if woman #2 starts to uncover some very interesting, and maybe scary, things about the first woman? And one What If at a time, I worked my way through that book.

    Now, My What If notes have become such living documents, they lead secret lives of their own, wandering the library during the night, helping themselves to glasses of wine, and leaving my favorite books scattered all over the furniture. I’ve often tried to catch them at their games, but never do. I think they definitely qualify as living documents, though, and I wouldn’t resent all their nocturnal activities if they would just wash the wineglasses afterward, and maybe wipe the crumbs off the coffee table.

    Love the post! And I’ve given myself an idea for a short story, though I have no clue how to write one. (It’s a whole ‘nuther skill set from writing a novel.)

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  8. Great post, Craig. I have tried to outline, but still ended up veering off course. I blame the characters, lols. So, I guess I have to confess to being a ‘pantser’, ha ha. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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  9. I use the “notes” app on my phone to keep track of all sorts of things: story ideas, character names, cool settings, etc. This works for me because I keep my phone on my nightstand at night and can quickly type in a dream-induced idea without turning on a light or trying to decipher tired chicken scratch in the morning. And “notes” syncs with my laptop, so those ideas are always handy. Great post, Craig.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Love this idea Craig. I have lots of notebooks that are effectively my living documents. Sometimes they are a bit too alive and take on a life of there own. It’s on my to do list to get more organised with these. I’m planning to take a bit of time out from publishing next year, (I’ll still be writing of course), to concentrate on organising the ideas I have.

    Liked by 4 people

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