When I give talks on writing historical fiction, I mention that 75% of the work is organization.  I don’t have an eidetic memory, so finding all those thousands of details is of no use if I can’t remember where they are when they’re needed. 
    Thirty-six years ago I started out writing the information on legal pads, but soon realized there would be way too many details for that to work.  Everyone has to decide what organizational system works for them, but here’s mine:
   Over the years I’ve scribbled information on thousands of 4×6 index cards.  I use a different color of card for each writing project and a letter.   Each source — book or article or print-out– is assigned that letter and a number, starting with 1.   For Tokaido Road , E is the letter and the bibiography cards are blue.  Where the book or article came from is also noted. 
Each white card with information has the bibliography code in the upper right hand corner: i.e. E-186.  That makes it easy to find the source.  It’s also a good idea to jot the page number the information is on before filing the cards by subject.   The tabbed subject dividers are filed alphabetically.
     A small metal recipe box was the first card container.  That soon filled up, so shoe boxes were the next solution.  From there I went to official red index card file boxes with lids.  (I wonder if they still sell those).  Then, at an antique sale many years ago, I found this oak card catalog.  It comes apart in five sections, and I managed to stuff it into the SUV along with the Art Deco blue-glass-topped coffee table my friend Karen Ann bought.   
    More than one person has argued that computerizing information is the way to go.  Maybe it is for some, but not for this former librarian.  I’ve lost count of how many computers have come and gone in the thirty years since I started using them to write my novels.  The first operating system was CPM… with files not salvageable when the technology advanced to DOS, then Windows.  With my system, very little of 36 years of research has been lost.  When someone calls or emails wanting to know where I found a certain bit of research from decades back (usually an ancestor’s name), I usually can find the source in under five minutes.
    Fifteen years after Tokaido Road came out I met Travis Jones who has a particular interest in that book.  When he visited he wanted to see the research cards.  These are the four drawers holding the TOKAIDO research.  In this photo he’s also holding up the timeline for it. 
    I make a timeline for each book and post it on the bulletin board, along with a map of the territory covered in the story.  As the work progresses different colored push-pins with labels mark the important places on the map.
    It sounds complicated, but it’s not.  And the system has proven invaluable over the years as readers find my older books and have questions about the material in them.

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