Planning (and writing) a novel is messy work for most of us. Ideas don’t come in a pretty, streamlined package. Outlines don’t create themselves. Keeping it all straight can be difficult. Every writer organizes their notes differently. What works for one may or may not work for another.
It’s taken me a long time to figure out what works for me, and even now, my organizational ‘style’ is constantly being updated. So how do I do it?
1) Paper (or a notebook) and pen.
I know, I know, this is neither exciting nor original. But in the early stages of planning, it helps me to write everything down. Sometimes repeatedly and in different orders and layouts. I make charts and graphs and lists. I use a lot of bullet points. I create partial outlines and take a lot of character notes. I draw maps.
One really important thing (for me) with this kind of planning is to make sure I’m writing down WHOLE thoughts. When you’re really in the groove, lots of ideas may come very quickly, so you may be tempted to jot down bare bones, but what good is ‘his cat is green’ going to be when you don’t know whose cat it is or why it’s important for him to be green?
2) Mind Mapping
Mind mapping can be really useful in the early (and possibly later) stages of planning. I use it to figure out how things are connected – and to make sure that they actually ARE, since I can sometimes get carried away with details that seem like a great idea initially, but later turn out to be irrelevant. Also great for keeping track of links between characters.
Up until very recently, I’ve just used pen and paper for this step also, but I’ve started exploring actual software. I’m currently using the trial of Scapple (and loving it), but I’ve also heard good things about Xmind and Freemind.
3) Sticky Notes
When I actually get to the outlining stage of planning, my first step is always to use sticky notes. I write down plot points on different color notes depending on thread and/or character, then I stick them to something (a wall, a piece of paper, my desk) and rearrange until the plot makes sense. Using different colors helps me to make sure the plot and subplots are balanced. It’s very visual and tactile, both of which help me a lot when I’m organizing; for whatever reason, copying/pasting and dragging/dropping just don’t cut it for me. I need to be able to touch my plot.
That doesn’t sound creepy at all.
I love Pinterest, and not just for inspiration. It’s a good (and visual) way for me to gather links to useful information like parts of a sword, tutorials for map creation, and lists of job suggestions for background characters.
By the time I’m done planning, I tend to have an enormous pile of loose paper. Binders are useful (in obvious ways) for dealing with that. I print everything I’ve done on the computer (because tactile. Yeah.), punch holes in that and everything else, and organize by plot, character, and topic.
Much of my organization tends to go to hell once I sit down and start writing, but having done it means that I have a platform from which to leap, and lots of background from which to draw.
How do you get yourself organized to start writing? Do you do/use any of the same things I do? Are there other tools or methods you like to use?