Index Cards for the (un)Organized Writer

Index Cards

Yes, that photo is from the floor of my very own bedroom, which is covered in a grid of 80 index cards. Each card represents a scene from my WIP novel. It’s actually quite satisfying to look at. I like to just stand back and stare at it with my arms crossed and my hip jutted. Of course I shouldn’t do that for too long… Now I need to make use of them!

I got the idea from a comment left by my fellow blogger, Dawn Montgomery on my post, Writers! Back Away from the Keyboard. She linked me to yet another blog post by Holly Lisle titled, Notecarding: Plotting Under Pressure. Holly has a pretty extensive list of published books, and her blog is full of awesome advice. This particular article proved very useful to me, as I’ve been looking for ways to write off-computer. Also, have I mentioned that I’m obsessed with organizing? Well, rest assured, this exercise is an organizer’s dream.

The original article is great if you’re just beginning a new novel. However, I had to make some adjustments since I’m in the re-writing stage. So here’s a step-by-step of how I adapted this technique to suit my own needs.

1. Write out simple note-cards for scenes that already exist in the novel. Maybe like a sentence or recognizable phrase for each.

2. Label by POV. My novel is from two different perspectives. I marked the scenes from the first character’s perspective with a green marker and the other character with pink. (just a dot in the corner)

3. Lay all the cards out on the floor. I put them in columns of 10 cards each.

4. Stare at them, (for probably longer than you should.)

5. Rearrange. I spent a lot of time on this. It was helpful to see visually what events logically come after each other, and what scenes are influenced by others. What chain of situations lead a character to make the choices that they do? During this process I also noticed that some scenes or choices didn’t make any logical sense. I took them out and put them to the side.

6. Make note of what events needed more support. I found places where things progressed far too quickly, and so I came up with new scenes that would lead up to the main events.

7. Add the new scenes and rearrange once more.

I found the whole process very therapeutic, and dare I say fun? Now all that’s left to do is collect up all the cards and return to my computer. Good thing Scrivener makes it so easy to execute my rearrangements! I know it’s not for everyone, but I love the comforting structure of it.

So have any of you tried indexing lately?


8 thoughts on “Index Cards for the (un)Organized Writer

  1. I’ve been meaning to do this for months for my NaNoWriMo book, but the process just seemed so foreign and intimidating when I read about it in No Plot? No Problem! that I’ve been procrastinating touching the book at all for fear of even starting that big mess. But I’m feeling encouraged that it worked so well for you! I think I’ll start tonight and see how it goes. I have some index cards somewhere in a drawer . . .

    • I definitely recommend it! Actually, the novel I’m using it on is my NaNoWriMo from 2010! Anyway, don’t be intimidated because you can always tear up a card and toss is aside if it doesn’t work. That’s what I like so much about this, actually. The index cards don’t have that “permanent” feeling. Know what I mean?

      Best of luck! Let me know how it goes!

    • Thank you! I’m glad that they were able to help! I’m actually glad that I didn’t use notecards for my first draft since it was fun for me to just kind of– throw up all over the page, if you will. But then of course it was all feeling like a big old mess! This notecard exercise has gotten me back on track. Best of luck! Let me know if it works out for you. 🙂

  2. Great post!

    I just blogged about this exact same topic. After going through the process of writing a first draft I’ve found that I needed to rework the note card method to work for my specific novel writing style. Check it out if you have a minute.

  3. I’ve tried indexing but I always return to my spreadsheet. I just can’t live without the spreadsheet. Too my sorting, colouring and visuals for me. Also, I live on a sailboat, and that tends to cramp my style (literally) as I have no where to spread out.
    One thing I like about the spreadsheet is that if I have empty cells, I know I need to re-look at a scene.

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