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Thanks so much for visiting HipWriterMama, my blog about children's books, authors and readergirlz!

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Day 28: Mapping Out Writing Time: Brilliant Plots Require Easy Organization and Happiness Giveaway #2

If you wish to be a writer, write.
-Epictetus

And write, I will.

But first, I have to tell you about the portable plotting organizer I put together the other day for my new WIP. It's so simple, I can hardly stand it. It may very well keep me sane during my writing and revision process, and that, my friends, is HUGE in my book.

When I start a new project, I usually write a chapter or two, to see whether my muse is inspired to brainstorm. Next, I write the most basic of outlines and get to know my characters. Then, I plot away.

Plotting is hard work. It requires imagination, the ability to make the impossible believable, and incredible persistence, sometimes fortified with strong coffee or tea. I believe if a writer has a good system to organize plot, it makes writing so much easier. Or, at least it's a productive way to unleash writer's block angst, right? Can't figure out what to write next? Bam! Take it out on the system and hash over your plot. Over the past few years, I've tried post-it notes, wall charts, computerized spreadsheets, and journals. And while they all work, they don't quite click with me for one reason or another.

Then, I discovered the beauty of the index card. This may sound strange, but scenes became much easier for me to visualize and then capture the written word. Color coded 3" X 5" cards are cheap, easy to store and rearrange. I love how easy it is to throw away an index card or two if an idea is pure crap. No more scathing notes to myself (within reason) or huge X's crossing out text...simply toss it out. Need to change a few scenes around? Just move the index cards, no problem. I love how there's no organizational eyesores to clog up my brain with unnecessary noise. There's no need to obsess about how I'm going to clean up my plotting, because I can't read through all my scribbles. This clarity of focus helps me concentrate on writing, which is always a very good thing.

Two years ago, Spy Girl came home from school with math facts written on index cards, fastened by a loose leaf ring. I was smitten. If you love office supplies as much as I do, you'll understand why I had to go to the store.


See the pretty cards all fanned out? These loose leaf rings are a lifesaver. I don't have to worry about losing the sequence of events. Instant peace of mind.

I recently came up with a new idea for a manuscript. It freaked me out since I'm still putting the finishing touches on PB, plus I have a few other manuscripts in the works. But, who am I to say, "No," to my muse? So, I went to the store to pick up some index cards, and found this index card organizer.

It may not look very impressive, but I practically drooled over it. Colored index cards, holes already punched in, 2 loose leaf rings, and 2 tabs. All of a sudden, I had the urge to figure out the best way to use this, and soon discovered the D*I*Y Planner Hipster PDA Edition--free downloadable productivity forms that can be printed on index cards. This takes my plotting system to a whole new level of organization.

Inside the cover, I wrote a couple inspirational quotes by Epictetus:
"First say to yourself what you will be; and then do what you have to do."
"If you wish to be a writer, write."

Then I printed out a few forms to see if my printer would print on index cards. And it did! Check out the Story Idea form:

Are you drooling yet? Here's the Plot Point form:

What about now? And, the Character form:

Even though I've always written out characteristics and plot details on index cards, now my plotting system has the organizational function of a planner, but with the freedom I desperately need. 3"x5" cards are small so the forms keep me in check to keep important information to one card. Sure you can write more information on the 4"x 6" or 5" x 8" cards--but the smaller cards keep me focused to one idea per side.

This system isn't for everyone. If you like using index cards but prefer a different method of keeping them together, there are spiral bound index cards and binders for index cards. I just like loose leaf rings. Another thing, if you go into the store and can't find the same index card holder, have no fear. It's easy to make yourself. All you need are index cards, a hole punch, and 2 loose leaf rings. Easy.

Whew. My inner geek is finally revealed. It's quite liberating.

If you want to know more about how this all works, check out the D*I*Y Planner Hipster PDA Edition free downloadable forms. The folks who put these forms together totally rock. You can customize an organizational system perfect for your needs. They have forms to fit any size planner you have, and even adapt to well-known planning systems.

Now, all you need to do is create and write. Doesn't that sound perfect?
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Write-a-Scene Writing Prompt: Tighten up your plotting and write a scene after you spend a few minutes organizing your plot. It may seem like work but you will write closer to your story in a shorter period of time. Have fun!
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HWM Happiness Giveaway #2





You didn't think I'd wax poetic about my new plotting organizer all this time and not share my bounty, did you? Well, here's the deal. I'm giving away a little package of goodies (see the photo) to one lucky person. This is what's in the prize:

1 red cover index card organizer with:
  • Personalized cover in black ink (see photo on right for print sample)-- WIP title, name, Secret Project, etc. Or leave blank. You choose.
  • Inside cover with 2 Epictetus quotes (see above photo #3). Or leave blank. Your choice.
  • 2 loose leaf rings
  • 2 red tabs
  • 2 clear tabs (from clear organizer but you'll understand why once you see how the sections are divided)
  • white index cards with colored borders
  • D*I*Y Hipster reference cards so you know where to find forms to personalize for your own system
  • 1 Story Idea card
  • 4 Project cards
  • 5 Combined Action cards
  • 3 Book Note cards - remember books used for research
  • 3 Contact cards - people interviewed or agent info
  • 9 Plot Point cards (3 green, 3 yellow, 3 red)
  • 6 Character cards (2 green, 2 yellow, 2 red)
1 clear covered index card organizer with:
  • 2 loose leaf rings
  • white index cards
2 2" loose leaf rings:
  • in case you decide to combine these two organizers or add more index cards
If you'd like to enter for a chance to win this fantastic package, let's play a little Mad Libs in the Comments below: Plotting is like ___________. The only way to _______ is _______________. OR, tell me about your plotting routine. Deadline is Tuesday, January 19th, 11pm EST. Comment away!

20 comments:

Margay said...

When I plot, I like to sketch out each scene on an index card - the action, dialogue, whatever. I like to have a good idea of what is happening in each scene on each card.
Margay

PJ Hoover said...

OMG, would LOVE to win! Okay, here goes (in the words of Forrest Gump):

Plotting is like "a box of chocolates." The only way to "tell what's inside" is "take a bite and try something out."
And if you don't like it, you can always try something different. I find the nutty plots, like chocolates, are the best. These are the plots with the special surprises that make the reader (eater) want more. I worry that the chewy plots will pull my teeth out.
(OMG, what am I even talking about?)
The plots that are pink and sugary inside kind of make me sick. And though I love the intensity of the darker plots, I can't read (eat) as many at a time. They are meant to be savored not devoured. Pretty packaging does not make for a better plot. It all comes down to what's inside. That's what counts.

Okay, there's my fun for this Friday morning. Have a great weekend, and go buy yourself a box of chocolates :)

Jeannine said...

Vivian, your inner geek is charming! All these notebooks are very droolworthy! Good luck with them.

jen-lehmann said...

Oooo organizational office supplies! Drool.

Plotting is like looking at a map. The only way to figure out the next leg of your story journey is to aim for your final destination. Eventually. But include a few side trips; they're more fun.

Jacqui said...

Plotting is like looking for the perfect cupcake recipe. It feels good to find it, but the only way to see how it's going to taste is to bake the darn cake.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I'm such a geek too. I got totally excited when I saw this because it's how I organize my story notes!

I used to be an aide in 2nd grade and when the kids were writing term papers, this is exactly how we helped them organize their thoughts. Each card was a chapter (we used 4x6) and then the subheadings.

I realized it was the perfect way for me to outline my story without really "outlining" it. It's also flexible enough for me to move ideas around on the loose leaf rings.

All that to say I get the inner geek! But since I won the fabulous first giveaway (yay!), don't enter me this time. Thanks, Vivian!

Jennifer said...

Ooo this is a great system, Vivian! I like your inner geek. :-)

Susan T. said...

Vivian, this is great fun! I love index cards, too. So handy. And look what you did with them!

Calliope said...

This is fantastic! I WANT!!! BTW, I'd love to know what other forms you added to your organizer. And I think I read you put 1 idea per card. Do you do front and back?

Plotting is like being a parent. The only way to keep sane is to have plenty of patience and some earplugs.

Sarah Rettger said...

This is awesome. Now I just need to make my version on the waterproof notepad someone linked to in a recent #kidlitchat, so I can keep track of all the seem-just-right-when-I'm-in-the-shower ideas!

Saints and Spinners said...

I really rely on index cards. I find that they allow me to write things out of sequence and then place them as I need them. That said, I've not used index cards for fiction writing, and you've inspired me to take up my old fondness for a relatively simple and effective way of organizing my thoughts.

Plotting is like creating a dress from a pattern. The only way to make a dress that fits is to be willing to cut out pieces from muslin, stitch them together, try on the garment, take it apart, alter the pieces, and stitch them together again. You may find that the pattern doesn't work for you, and you alter it once again. Then, leave the dress alone for awhile. When you return to it, you'll bring with you the fabric you want to use. You'll use the muslin pieces as a pattern for the final dress. You may feel like tearing your hair out from all of the precision-work, but it sure beats cutting a hole in the fabric and bunching it around your waist with a bungy-cord.

I got a little carried away there. Stay tuned next week for the next installment, called "Character Development is Like Going on a Restaurant Crawl with a Food Critic."

Susan Taylor Brown said...

What a cool idea! I love papery things and organizing things - the best of both worlds!

Melodye said...

Plotting devices are like Lays Potato Chips--oh-so-tempting, and you can't use just one.

(I came here via Becky Levine's Facebook entry. I'm so glad I did, because I adore office supplies, colored index cards especially.)

Melodye (http://newport2newport.livejournal.com/)

Kelly said...

Wow! That is organization at its finest! Creative, functional, organized! Love it! My organizational skills are less than stellar....

Patty P said...

I think I could get into this. I like how compact it is.
Great idea!

Tara said...

My plot routine in eight and a half easy-to-follow steps:

1. Choose a favorite book and recall the story structure, character development, and all relevant elements, if you can.

2. Ask yourself why you didn't note these details previously when you first read the book, but remember how much you loved the book.

3. Close book. This is writing time, not reading time.

4. Open notebook and tap pen against desk.

5. Check the nearest clock. As time passes and pressure mounts, tell yourself that you work best under these conditions. No one procrastinates like you. No one.

6. Is it reading time yet? Consider rereading that favorite book. Repeat step 2.

7. Take a deep breath, set the book aside, and write whatever comes to mind. Write "I don't know what I'm writing" until you find something else to write if you must.

7.5 Trust the process. As you write, the plot will reveal itself through the characters. You do have characters, right?

8. Consider purchasing index cards and printing the D.I.Y hipster PDA templates, if you don't win the contest. It can't hurt.

sheila said...

I think you deserve a medal for that post. Amazing. You are a QUEEN of creative thinking!

Vivian said...

Thanks for all the great comments! The winner will be announced later today.

Q said...

(Not a contest entry, just a comment.)

If you're on a Mac and you ever want to switch to writing on a computer, look into getting Scrivener. It has a corkboard function so not only can you arrange index card characters as you please, you can move around index card scenes and even just jot down a note on what's supposed to happen in a scene you're not ready to write. It's deeply fabulous.

Vivian said...

You're right, Q! Scrivener is incredible and has a great corkboard feature. For some reason, my brain responds better to using index cards this way, rather than looking on a computer screen. I just hope it's not a reflection of my age...

Thanks so much for commenting!