Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Writer's Notebook Trap

I love to peek at the creative process of other writers, and I've even incorporated some techniques this way. I thought I'd give you a glimpse into something that I rely on...my writing notebook.

I put one together with each project. It's old school, unlike Scrivener, but I prefer something I can hold on to. I buy a simple 1" three-ring binder, and dividers. I take notes on a spiral notebook, the kind with the tear out sheets, and then sort those notes within the three-ring binder. It keeps me organized, even when my thoughts are all over the place. No idea can escape the notebook trap.

Here are some samples of divider tabs:
  1. Characters--this is where character worksheets, character quirks, and character notes belong. If I forget what eye color my main character has, this is what I refer to. The name, age, and physical description of each character goes here, and keeps confusion to a minimum.
  2. Plot/Scene Ideas--when these ideas pop into my head, I jot them down. I may never use them, but at least I've recorded them for future use. As I'm plotting, I pluck my favorite ideas out and expand on them.
  3. Plotting Notes--each time I plot a new project, I refer to James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure. Inevitably I end up taking notes, and this is where I keep those scribbles. These are free-form notes, but I want to keep them in a safe place for future reference.
  4. Clues--ah, this is a biggie for me. With each story, as I plant clues, I keep a running list in this section. Same with story threads. As I near the end of the first draft, or as I work through the second draft, I make sure to refer to this list, so that clues and story threads don't get lost in the shuffle.
  5. Research--notes from books, or printouts from web sites, go here. Easy peasy.
  6. Sample Lines--if an opening line comes to me, I'll jot it down here. Same with my sample log lines. It's helpful to see the sample openings or log lines morph from one version to another, tightening up along the way.
  7. Agents--before I signed with my agent, I kept a section in my notebook for a list of agents. As I heard about agents that might be interested in my type of book, I jotted down their name, agency, and web site. When it was time to query my manuscript, this narrowed down my research phase.
So that's my notebook. What do you think? Not organized enough? Way too organized? Too low tech? Can you share a nugget or your process with us? It's fun to compare, or to borrow/steal ideas!

40 comments:

  1. Wow that's awesome! This was very helpful! I think I'll use some of your tips for my NaNo novel! Thanks!

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  2. I would love to be that organized, Julie. I do have a research folder, and a notebook where I jot things down, but the majority of info is in my head. Which is scary ;) Things tend to get lost in there...

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  3. More organized than mine, but I keep something similar with the outline, character traits, and research.

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  4. You are very methodical, Julie. I have lots to learn from you. I just jot down random plot points in a folder. I need to get more organized.

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  5. Very organized!

    I do most of my plotting in a notebook too. I also keep some info in a folder on my computer for quick reference while writing.

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  6. I keep a spreadsheet with all that stuff. I make a plot that constantly changes (I plot after I write, rather than before, so it is more of an outline), and have all these tabs with research, photos, and so forth.

    I never use any of it. I write whatever I feel like writing when I sit to write! I can't stay on-track anymore than when I speak a conversation, which is like watching a bat's flight path most of the time.

    Organization has very little place in my writing. It's bottle chaos mostly, which I edit and pare down during the revision phase to something readable and palatable by normal humans.

    - Eric

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  7. Honestly? I do most of that on Scrivener now. But, I also have a ton of notebooks filled with notes and plot maps. Somethings I need the pen and paper for.

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  8. Can't remember who the writer was who used to have a 'magpie' book - used to jot down phrases, words he came across that he admired.

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  9. Wow! Very organized! I am the panstiest pantser around. I have no notebook, and let's see...hmmm. Notes? Not s'much. Maybe a few. It's not for everyone, and I've TRIED to be more organized, but then I never write. Funny thing, I'm super organized about the rest of my life. Maybe this is my rebellious streak!

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  10. It's perfect! I keep an outline in a binder, character sketches, setting sketches, plot and subplots and then an outline for each chapter. Then I write in a composition book. Research and chapters. It's a system I feel comfortable with.

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  11. I'm a spiral notebook/multi-colored post-it girl. I have a "fluid note" section up front where I brain dump. Later I'll sort these notes into specific scenes. Then I have a few graphic organizers to flesh out the structure/plot/subplots. After that it is scene to scene with setting/character/conflict etc. within each scene. LOVE the idea of keeping the agent query list in the same place. One stop shopping.

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  12. SO reliant on my notebook for projects! I like the idea of your divider tabs, somehow I never get around to that.

    Thanks!

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  13. These days, I just dump into a word file and folder.


    But prior to dumping on my computer, I also write notes in many notebooks. Some are color coded note books with sections marked in felt color pens. All are dated.

    In the end, do what ever method suits you best!
    But I might take from here a few of your great tips. So- thanks!

    Really nice post- I enjoyed the visit!

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  14. I use OneNote for this kind of thing, too. :P

    I should really keep better track of the clues I leave. For one project, for a lot of clues I either forgot I had added them and mentioned them twice, or forgot about them altogether.

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  15. The closest I've ever come to a notebook was jotting down plot threads in a blank book. I love your idea, tho...wish I was as disciplined!

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  16. This is some great organizing :). I do a lot of the same things, although mine is usually a file on a computer. I think the clues section is really interesting. I never thought about something like that. I'm definitely going to try it out.

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  17. I have a notebook, too, a paper report folder with lined paper in it. I've used it for about 8 years now. I use it to write out entire plots from beginning to end, and there are notes here and there about character backgrounds, names, etc. The funny thing is I write in it only once a year when I go on my annual family vacation to the beach. That's when/where I do my brainstorming. The rest of the year I just write.

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  18. Julie, Thank you for a great post. Such fantastic idea. I have notes everywhere. I am going to create a notebook when I get home. And use it! This is fabulous. And... ordering my own copy of James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure.
    Thank you so much for the tools to help all of us succeed.

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  19. Thanks again Julie, for a great and helpful post. I have been using file folders for all kinds of pieces of information; they're easy to just throw things into quickly. However, it becomes quite a mess. I may just try your approach, or a hybrid of both. I have come to rely on your blog for all manner of great writer stuff; you're the best!

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  20. Thank you for this brilliance! I'm inspired to bring my notebooks to the next level.

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  21. Hehehe that's such a good idea, but sadly I don't have the required attention span. ;-)

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  22. I do this too, Julie, but mine is all digital with OneNote. I've found I'm much more organized when I keep everything together in a virtual notebook. And don't you love James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure? What a gem!

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  23. I also keep a notebook for each book project. It is really helpful and gets me away from the computer a little bit. I take it with me everywhere and jot down notes and thoughts anywhere and everywhere. Unfortunately, my notebook isn't as organized as your three ring binder, but you've inspired me. ; )

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  24. Very impressive! I'm an all-over-the place kind of person with scraps of papers and post its everywhere. I recently decided to try something like this and am going to incorporate your ides.

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  25. Each project has been organized a bit differently for me.
    Usually everything ends up in a file folder because I like to lay out several pages on my desk to use at the same time.

    One key ingredient for me, especially during revisions is a scene list w/a one sentence or phrase of the purpose and action of the scene. That helps me when I'm looking at story arc and whether to eliminate or rearrange scenes. Thanks!

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  26. Guys, thanks so much for sharing a bit about your process. I'm stealing Paul Greci's tip...I wrote "scene purpose, scene conflict" on a notecard and have it sitting before me now. I great reminder!

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  27. Very cool! I use a notebook as well, along with Scrivener. :) My notebook notes aren't organized by category, but I highlight each header so it's easy for me to find things. Since I carry it around with me everywhere, I like having one notebook/journal that can fit in my bag. The eco-system journals are great for this.

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  28. I too have a notebook on your advice, Julie. I tend to scribble though. Not easy to read, but when I think of something brilliant (?) I get so excited about it and the writing goes everywhere. The other morning I woke at three and something came into my mind, so I scribbled it in my notebook. Could I decipher or remember it the next day? Nope. I'm so upset. I'm sure it was the most brilliant thing I've ever come up with and now the world will never see it. Hey ho!

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  29. You are so nicely organized!! All my notes are on my computer, in separate folders. :) For websites and agents and blogs, I just bookmark them on my browser. But HEY, I like your idea of a Clues folder or file, to keep track of those!! Nice.

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  30. WHOA! And I thought I was OCD! Haha, just kidding. I, too, am organized, but nothing, NOTHING like you. I use my iPhone to jot down random thoughts on plot and character development, all through the day and most often in the middle of the night. I use notebooks to outline. But it's all a big hairy disorganized mess. Yet somehow, I keep it all straight in my canoodle, my melon, my big ole head. Then again, I'm obsessively thinking about my story nearly 24/7, even in my dreams. I think I need a life!

    And BTW, I LOVE JSB's Plot and Structure. It's awesome and I use it as a checklist while outlining.

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  31. I don't know whether to be filled with awe ... or fear! :) Other than my story itself, I have one file with some bullet notes of important stuff. Maybe 2 pages long. Maybe. That's it!

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  32. I love that idea, but I must admit I'm hooked on Scrivener now. I still have notebooks all over the place, but they're not organized in any way, alas.

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  33. Low tech is good. I use the same idea for my worldbuilding hobby. Maybe I should extend it to my other stuff :-)

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  34. Your story bible! I have one for each of my stories as well... but it's not as neat as yours. :) I rely on my story bibles religiously thruout the writing process. And I refer back to them again and again. I have to have them, and creating them is almost as fun as writing the first draft. ;)

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  35. You are very organized. I do sort of that type of thing, but I keep little notebook files on my computer in different folders in a bigger folder called "Books." Yep. That's me! :D Oh, and there was a folder in "Books" called "Agents." ;p

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  36. Wow, I am IMPRESSED with your organization. I have a notebook, but it's where I scribble things to myself. It's not organized at all and has information from about four different books, but it works for me. It's like my all-things-writing notebook. LOL! I love how different we all are in how our minds work. I think it shows how creative God is! :)

    Amy

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  37. Love this idea. Thank you for sharing it. It took three diff editors to clean up the messy bits of my novel for me...like the math teacher who started the novel with one name and then ended up with a diff one midway thru. Or a characters class timetable not making any sense because I hadnt actually written one down for them. Even a tattoo changing arms thru out novel...argh. If I'd had a notebook like yours with char traits and more, Im sure i could have cut down on the amount of angst for the editors...and for me! LOL

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  38. Love this concept Julie... I have a different spiral notebook for each project with divided sections, but sometimes the sections fill up and then what? Stuff gets scribbled everywhere - from both the front and back of each section; it's pure chaos. I am going to try this with my new WIP and I like the idea of decorating it with images that put me in the right frame of mind, too.

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