Over the 20 years of writing I've done, I've tried a lot of different methods for writing a book and trying to organize the brainwork it takes before I actually sit down to DRAFT from start to finish.
Chapter by Chapter Outlining.
Spiral notebooks. Computer Word Files. Pads of paper. Loose-leaf notebooks
Lengthy Character Sketches
First Draft in 30 Days Method by Karen Weisner
This last method, the "First Draft in 30 Days" was actually fun to do. The author includes all the charts and templates and specific instructions on how it works at the back of the book - and it *does* work. But, alas, I only used it once, on my ancient Egypt novel. The Egyptian thriller had so many plot points and characters and it was 100,000 words so it helped to organize the story for me. But I got bogged down at times in so much detail and so many templates to flip through. BUT for those of you who are first starting to write or need some fun structure, or you're getting bogged down trying to organize your thoughts and plan out a whole book for the first time this IS a really great method to try so check out the book!
I find the 3x5 card method easiest for me. And I do want to emphasize that it's NOT a detailed outline. The time I used to spend on detailed outlines was time, I realized, that I could have been actually drafting the real thing. Most of my 3x5 cards only have 1-2 sentences on them. Sometimes just phrases to remind me of my ideas. Or a short, brief list of ideas or character traits. It's really a brainstorming method. Ideas can come out of order and then be put in order in your stack after you've got 20-50 cards and lay them out to organize them.
It also makes the actual drafting from Page 1 - Page 200+ nowhere near as daunting because you're not having to thumb through pages and pages of notes in several locations, either hard copy or in Word documents and files and notebooks. The jumping around can become very confusing and jumbly in my mind.
And once you've finished your 3x5 card brainstorming, the whole book is sitting in only ONE small stack of cards. And you can always add more or take away. All you have to do is focus on the top card each day when you sit down to draft. Or more cards if the writing is going well and you want to write more. I find that this method takes away the fear of the first draft in spades.
A week ago I got an email from Joan Stradling that made my day. Here's what she said after trying the 3x5 card method for the first time:
"I got an idea for a new MG and have been using your 3x5 index card
plotting method. You've
explained it before, but when I watched your vlog at WriteOnCon, it finally clicked!
Sometimes I'm a slow learner, I guess.
"Anyway, I've been madly
writing on the 3x5 cards since yesterday (the ideas have just been
flowing as I write them out on the cards)! Usually I start by writing
ideas down in a notebook as they come to me, but this time I went
directly for the index cards. I have to tell you, I'm really loving it!!
I can already see how this will benefit me as I go to write the book.
In my notebook method, I get lost and have to flip through pages to find
what I'm looking for, and if an idea isn't something I want, I have to
scribble it out or rewrite the whole notebook page without it (cause I
hate seeing the scribble on the page).
"But with the index cards,
if I don't like an idea I've written down, I just take it out of the
pile! YAY!! And I can rearrange my index cards to the order I want them
so I don't have to flip through pages of a notebook. You're a genius!!!
"So, I just wanted to let you know that I'm a new 3x5 index card convert!"
Here's what I wrote back to Joan:
"I'm so excited that you're cookin' MAGIC with those 3x5 cards. There's something about the tangible cards and the chance to shuffle and
just write bunches of notes to yourself. It really IS a type of
personal brainstorming. I often brainstorm with my long-time crit
friend, Carolee Dean when I'm first thinking about a new book idea just to
make sure it doesn't stink or won't work, but when it comes down to
scene by scene planning and getting the arc of the plot in place the
brainstorming happens with my cards. Even more than when I write the
synopsis for my editor. The nuts and bolts are in the 2-3 page synopsis,
but the play-by-play action (even in just a sentence or two) happens
when I sit there and just start writing stuff down from my computer
file. It's amazing the new ideas or plot twists that will start racing
through my mind and sometimes I can't write fast enough."
"I can't believe how much easier it is to plot and plan with the
flexibility of the cards. I plotted the whole thing in the last few
days. I'm all ready to start writing now, and I can't believe it! I
haven't even touched the notebook. I guess I'll use that for the
synopsis and query planning when I'm ready for that step."
So, dear friends, I hope this post helps a bit more!
P.S. Questions? Please ask away! Maybe I'll even get brave and show you some of my actual, scribbled cards in a blog - let me know if you want to take a peek!
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