February 19, 2014

What Planning A Novel Looks Like

While I write exclusively on a computer and no longer have much desire to participate in workshop exercises where I'm expected to scribble down a scene on paper, I like to do my early planning in physical format. Putting my messy handwriting all over little pieces of paper that I can move around is useful and satisfying for me in a way that my computer screen can't duplicate, even though I've been very happy with the virtual index cards of SuperNotecard. I don't understand why real cards are more helpful during the early stages of a draft, but I'm sure there's some study out there that explains the phenomenon.

For the novel currently known as INCONCLUSIVE, I've been busily rearranging sticky notes in an attempt to discover how the plot might work. (I opted for Post-Its rather than index cards this time because I wanted to be able to keep them in place on some portable flat surfaces.) I'm now to the point where I feel reasonably confident that this is actually a viable story, but there are still enormous gaps in the idea department. I'm going to need to make a lot more decisions and do a lot of research before I can start writing, but I knew that already.

Here's a photo to give you an idea of the current state of the project:

sticky notes for my next novel

Before you get too impressed, I should mention that a large percentage of the stickies say things like "they should have a problem here that can intersect with the main conflict" and "maybe she has a mother who lives nearby and is somehow a factor?" I have the general shape of a story mapped out, but many major aspects remain unknown.

As great as it was to get everything down onto tiny yellow squares of paper, I feel like I've reached the limits of that medium for now. I'm finished with the initial burst of wild idea generation. Some of the notes keep falling off, and I keep rolling over the edge of the boards with my chair. Digital information storage has many advantages over the older forms, including portability and backupability, so I'm ready to gain those conveniences and transfer all my notes into SuperNotecard.

Typing in everything I previously wrote by hand may seem like a tedious exercise that I should have avoided, but I'm anticipating that during the process I'll come up with a whole new batch of good ideas, so I'm looking forward to it. This is how a novel gets planned.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Megan McArdle at The Atlantic investigates Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators: "If you've spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are. As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good." (Thanks, Louise!)


KT Sweet said...

Thanks, Lisa for the visual and the procrastination reminder! I want to give sticky notes a try. Two months ago, I purchased inexpensive tri-fold boards from a closing Office Depot. Go figure why they sat out on the back porch until yesterday. Alternatively, I could rent them to kids for their annual Science Fair project and make money. Maybe more money than my writing brings in, but I procrastinate! ;-) Fruitful writing to you!

Lisa Eckstein said...

The great thing about novel planning is that it's also a great procrastination tool in itself! I mean, you could spend months and months on planning, all the while telling yourself what an important step it is, and all the while also avoiding getting down to any actual writing. (Not that I have any experience with this.) So you should feel encouraged to go ahead and start playing with sticky notes, because it will give you another chance to procrastinate!

Seriously, though, planning is definitely worthwhile, but you do have to remember to bring it to an end and start writing eventually. Tri-fold boards sound like a great surface for stickies. I'll have to remember that for next time, instead of this motley assortment of any surface I could find.

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