Friday, March 18, 2011

Notes? What notes?

This week, the Wicked Writers team was given the task of posting on how we go about keeping our novels, notes and ideas organized. Sadly, mine is not the greatest of examples. It is more of “do as I say and not as I do” kind of thing. I learned that from dear old dad, by the way. When he wanted me off of his grass, I was told that it was his grass. When he wanted me to mow the grass, I would hear, “You need to mow the yard, son. It’s your yard too, you know”. While he was teaching me how to drive, that thinking moved to the use of the radio. “Leave the radio alone,” he would say. “It’s distracting.” When he was driving, it suddenly became, “Leave the radio alone. The radio is for the driver.”

With that in mind, please continue reading this post, but treat what is written here as if it were one of those infamous “don’t let this happen to you” Army films.

As many of you may know, it took me twenty years to write the first novel. I went through all sorts of maturation, one aspect of which was learning as I went the importance of note-taking as well as the importance of the organization of said notes. Did I take any notes during this time? Absolutely. I just couldn’t begin to recap all of that after so many years and so many changes.

I wrote two drafts of the second novel in only eight months. I can explain the note taking on that one because it happened so quickly. There was a lot less time to get it wrong. On the other hand, the only type of things that I needed help keeping track of were character traits such as what color eyes someone had or their personality quirks. Since much of my writing is simply allowing the images to appear inside my head – with me only having to write them down -, I have simply had the blessing of not needing to jot down that many notes.

See, I told you. Not the best role model, am I?

I am still a work in progress, however. I suppose that this is true for all of us. Even the established greats would probably admit this. In my case, I have only written two large works. With each one I showed remarkable growth. I moved from not giving outlining too much thought to suddenly penciling down each chapter, blow by blow. Although I marvel at those who have binders and shelves full of notes, outlines and the like, perhaps I may one day find myself there as well. I just don’t know.

Sometime this year I will begin work on the third novel in my vampire series. It is currently little more than a typed three page outline at this point, with the rest of what I foresee simply gestating inside my mind. Perhaps sometime later this year or early next I can begin revealing how much further I have matured.

Since I am in such poor shape and in desperate need of counseling, please enlighten me: How do you folks manage your writing projects? What are the big mistakes that writers make that you might be able to shed some light on? What have you learned from personal experience? I’d love to hear. Perhaps the next pupil that you will correct is me. As you can see from the photos, my notes are piled up on a shelf in my library. Heck! I don't even have a desk.


  1. There's no write or wrong way to work - or keep notes. It's what ever works best for you. I don't keep notes, except for the usual character traits which I end up memorising as the novel progresses. Everything I need is strangely kept in my head. I know the beginning, middle and end, all stored in that big ol' brain (if blondes can have big ol' and I know practically every twist. Everything else I make up as I go. Not the best role model either, am I...

  2. See! I'm in writing mode. I was supposed to say there's no RIGHT way, not

  3. Hi. Thanks for the note. Maybe we'll start a club, those of us who don't take a lot of notes!! I don't know. Perhaps we're all still works in progress.
    Have a great weekend.

  4. I say whatever works for you - use it! I think writers who have been at it for years have a style of keeping track that develops over time... others who start this way may wind up wanting a whole new approach later to give themselves a "jolt" and change their habits.

    Like you, Jimmy, I have a hard time with the small physical details - I will often stop and try to remember "what was his eye color again?" (usually regarding a secondary character)... sometimes I highlight it and keep going so I know to check my facts later.

    I've heard some writers who are deep in a series have "continuity readers" who help them keep all small details straight and catch their slips.

    Personally, my notes all started as hand written scribbles on legal pads and small spiral notebooks. They evolved to a slim moleskin I carry around in my purse or pocket for when an idea hits me. But now, I've started to map out a short story collection using a bullet point outline in my computer.

    Ever changing to whatever works best at the time - that's me!

  5. Jimmy,
    Oh I wish I could give sage advice, but I'm a work in process too. I have some methods I love, and when they don't work, well, a bubble bath and candles work. And for the record, my candles DIDN'T burn my house down.

    But then, I'm strictly romance, and that probably wouldn't work in your genre. Unless you did some vampire thingie that came up through the drain....Oh dear. Think I better stick to romance.

  6. Hello, C.J., Sharon. I've been missing in action of late due to all of the drama over at my house. Hopefully things will calm down and allow me to get back in the game!
    When I saw the prompt for this week, it gave me pause. Most of the stuff I've been writing these days has been posts, blogs and articles; what do I know about taking notes? Lol! We'll see what kind of note-taking I do when I get started writing that third book. "Ever changing", right, C.J.?
    Have a great weekend, ladies.

  7. We all have our methods to madness, don't we? I tend to devote a spiral notebook to plot outlines and character sketches before I start writing. I refer to it many times thruout the first draft.

    I'm a total plotter. :)

  8. Hi, PK. In the back of mind I wonder whether I might end up with one of those spiral notebooks full of notes and character sketches one day. I need to start work this year on my third novel. I'll have to let everyone know whether I continue to transform into a plotter, myself.
    Take care,