I have been outlining my book for almost a year, and like the book I began writing prior to this one, I outlined through chapter three/four(ish), then hit a wall. For some reason, at this stage I find myself analyzing details, changing the ending of the novel every time I come back to the outline, and questioning every minute decision I make. Somehow, I’ve managed to make big progress with world building and character story lines. I’ve drafted a few versions of the first couple chapters and will likely still use a lot of those drafts. However, no matter how much progress I make outside my outline, I find myself staring at a wall I can’t climb over to see where my story is going.
Then early last week, I decided to try something new. I’m sure, like me, you’ve heard over and over again that if you keep trying the same methods, you’re going to get the same results. Given my background in education, I should have heeded this advice long ago. Better late than never I suppose.
Note cards. The funny thing is that many writers I follow on Twitter, and one I particularly love following on YouTube, have all used this method before and I just… never listened? Until now.
This was my plotting progress last Wednesday night.
My system works like the following (so far):
- Green cards – Main plot point
- Orange cards – Subplots
- Yellow card(s) – Explanations
- Pink stickies – Scene ideas
From a former teacher’s perspective, I believe there are a couple reasons why this method works for me:
- It’s active – I’m a hands-on learner. Getting to move around on the floor while filling out note cards and piecing together the puzzle that is my book, keeps me engaged. Sitting and staring at my computer screen, trying to connect plot points can put me to sleep, no matter how much I love my book.
- It seems more temporary – There’s something daunting about “finalizing” your thoughts in a word doc. Even though I know nothing is ever really finished, being able to pick up a note card and throw it down wherever I feel like is much easier than copying and pasting on a word doc to move ideas around. Something about this feels like there’s less commitment involved, and at this stage of the game, that’s incredibly helpful.
- It’s a great visual – Scrolling through a word doc can be hard on my eyes. Granted my note cards don’t start consuming my entire floor (which to be honest, they’re getting there), I can stand up and clearly see my entire book outline so far. Not only that, but everything is color coded. I can see where I have my subplots sprinkled in with my main plot and see if the story seems balanced. As I get further into this, I plan to buy more note cards and color code by individual character’s story lines.
- Side note- Always document your work with this method, i.e. taking pictures. Then make sure you can zoom in and read the note cards. I also put my cards in a pile by stacking them in order from beginning to end then clipping them together. (Plus, I look back at the picture and update my doc accordingly after every session.)
I now have chapters 1-22 outlined, however not all connected. This seems to be my newest hurdle as I tend to get really hung up on the details (as I mentioned above). But progress is progress and learning takes time and persistence.
Maybe you’ve tried this method and it doesn’t work for you. What does? After this experience, my advice if your outlining is crawling, is to think of how you learned best in school. Everyone learns differently, and you may be able to find a creative way to match your learning style that works best for outlining your novel. Good luck!