OtisTheBulldog's picture
OtisTheBulldog from Somerville, MA is reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz January 17, 2013 - 10:40am

For those of you who still like a pen & paper - how do you go about organizing a notebook for a novel? I have one dedicated purely to that project. I numbered the pages and then roughly divided them up into sections for characters, plot points, research, miscellaneous, etc. The last couple pages has a time line drawn out. The first couple pages is listed as a Table of Contents for quick reference.

I type out the scenes and story in scrivener, but I do a fair amount of development away from the computer. Just curious how some of you set yours up, what you've had success with, all that good stuff. I don't have a ton of notes in my current one, so I'm thinking of buying a better quality notebook and transferring it over. I'm looking for any good notebook ideas from you more experienced folk.

Of course, feel free to join in the conversation with any general notebook love and advice.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like January 17, 2013 - 11:03am

I can only use paper for notes and short works. The idea of trying to structure a novel in a composition book gives me the willys. It would never work; I am too undisciplined.

OtisTheBulldog's picture
OtisTheBulldog from Somerville, MA is reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz January 17, 2013 - 11:14am

Well, I basically use it for the brainstorming part of it, but try to subdivide it into categories. Write out small scenes, etc. I use scrivener so I am sort of doubling my efforts at times, but I think that strengthens and self-edits some of the work.

I guess I'm the opposite of you, the idea of strictly working a novel from a computer gives me the willys.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts January 17, 2013 - 11:22am

Somehow since a kid it's been ingrained in me that yellow legal pads are the only true canvas for creative thought. The last year or so I've found these double-thick Ampads to be heavensent, twice as many pages and the cardboard backing is super sturdy. They come in a sort of sepia that's really calming and also the usual neon piss color.

I've got pretty much the same set up as you for my current thing. First page table of contents, following pages usually start off dated at the top, then a sort of character or plot sketch, then sort of devising game plans for structure and developing certain relationships and little note-essays on aspects of the story and genre I think might be interesting. The scope of the story has ballooned since I did a little test run draft, so the dedicated notebook sort of keeps me to the basics of what I know should be in there, keeps me from just building and building and building.

ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig January 17, 2013 - 11:27am

What I used to do before going totally digital, was make a three ring binder. I would still use a spiral notebook, but I could tear pages out, or insert pages in where they "belonged" in the binder. I actually have a project I intend to go back to that's held up in a binder. I also have binders for "digital" projects, too--so I have a quick reference for my notes/research without having to flip through books, go online to the bookmarks bar, etc. Then I have a nice place to put the hard copy of the first draft that I can mark up manually and play around with the order of things before doing a full rewrite.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like January 17, 2013 - 11:27am

Oh, brainstorming and small scenes/chapters I've done on paper. I thought you were talking about outlining the whole novel ahead of time in a notebook. Like "These notebook pages will be for chapter 3 wherein our hero finds an ancient coin stuck to his shoe on some Doublemint gum."

Are you talking about reorganizing the notes into usable condition? Once I've got a bunch of paper notes, I'll go through and assign blocks of text to a symbol or letter. Like all stuff relating to X part of the story gets an X on its notebook page or section. That way I don't have to tear out the pages and try and put them in some kind of order. But until all the stuff has been incorporated or nixed, I still need to have the notebook around if I'm working on that project.

OtisTheBulldog's picture
OtisTheBulldog from Somerville, MA is reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz January 17, 2013 - 12:10pm

I'm more or less just curious how others work the pen & paper while working on a novel. I think Renfield & I are pretty similar. 

I take a bound binder and just block of a random amt of pages I think I may need. Like I might keep 20 pages for character notes and then it's just kind of scattershot in that section, but I'll know pages 1-20 are on characters. Then I'll have a bunch set aside for plot. I'll have a section set aside for writing exercises. I'll have a section set aside for setting - all that kind of shit.

So it's somewhat organized, in a sort of lunatic kind of way. I'm not that organized a guy in the first place, but this at least puts things into some sort of semblance of an order. 

I'm about 25k into the novel, slowing things down quite a bit. Part of that, I'm thinking of getting a new notebook that's a little more durable and starting over, reorganizing. I'm thinking youse guys are all much better than me at this sort of thing and picking your brains that's all.

If anything, this thread accomplished this:

"These notebook pages will be for chapter 3 wherein our hero finds an ancient coin stuck to his shoe on some Doublemint gum."

Which I'm using in act 1 and bringing back in act 3 to resolve the whole thing. There are no new ideas, and you didn't bother protecting yourself. Thanks for the bestseller. 

JEFFREY GRANT BARR's picture
JEFFREY GRANT BARR from Central OR is reading Nothing but fucking Shakespeare, for the rest of my life January 17, 2013 - 12:16pm

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like January 17, 2013 - 12:33pm

Judd Hirsch has a notebook full of ideas.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like January 17, 2013 - 12:36pm

@Otis --- Doublemint is already protected. The ancient coin stuck to the shoe is a clear synthesis of the character of Huck Finn's father and the Da Vinci Code. So not original.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated January 18, 2013 - 2:32am

This is how my rough drafts look. 

GaryP's picture
GaryP from Denver is reading a bit of this and that January 18, 2013 - 6:52am

I start brainstorming with a new legal pad. Use as many of those as necessary. Once the idea becomes more tangible, I start a new pad to begin outlining, writing quick scenes, etc. I work through legal pads until the idea feels formed enough to begin the actual writing, which is done on computer.