Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Guest Blogger: Melissa Cutler- Color Coded Index Cards
Last week I mentioned a dear friend who uses color coded index cards for her writing- well today I have HER! And she's got some great ideas.
Please welcome Melissa Culter :)
Color Coded Index Cards?!? You Betcha!
My writing space matches my professional personality. Not the goofy, easy-to-laugh, cocktail-swilling person I am around family and friends, but the professional, no-nonsense me that kicks writing ass every single day and is unequivocally devoted to my career as an author. Borne from that professional personality, my writing desk is efficient and organization. Dictionary and thesaurus? In easy reach. Post-it notes, paper clips, file folders, blank note pads—it's all at my fingertips, exactly where I designated it to be. My personal preference for orderliness has also extended to the way I organize my thoughts about stories I'm writing.
Is the same true for you? Does your writing style match your writing space? Marie Andreas asked me to talk about my color coding system of thought organization, but I don’t want you to think I'm advocating my methods for you. You've got your own neurotic writer quirks to contend with, am I right? But maybe there's something in my system you can use. Or maybe it'll spark your own meditation on how you work.
When I start dreaming up a new book, I write every thought down. Sometimes I write big long thoughts on notepads, sometimes I scrawl in spiral journals, and I always fill out character charts. A vast majority of my ideas get jotted down on different colored index cards. It's so dang convenient when I get to the actual writing part to have everything laid out by color. And as I get into the heart of the book, and more ideas come to me, as long as I grab for the right color index card to write them on, I'm made-in-the-shade when it comes to adding those ideas into my book.
Here's the system:
Blue = the external conflicts
Pink = the romantic conflicts
Purple = character information and/or the characters' internal conflicts
Green = book research. This could be about place, laws, time of year, anything.
Yellow = revision notes.
Blue and pink are fun. If I'm not sure what order to write external plot details, I lay the blue cards out in the order I think they should go. Then I put them in different order. I play around with the sequence, let my cat roll on them, shuffled the deck and deal them out. Anything to spark my creativity. Then sometimes I take the stack of romantic conflict cards and see where they'd fall in the plot compared to the external conflict points. I can clearly see if I have a section that's too external plot heavy or vice versa using this method.
Of all the cards, yellow is the most practical. Obviously, because it's for revision notes, these cards don't come into play until I'm already hot and heavy into writing the book. If, on page 100, I think to myself, "For the last three chapters, I forgot to mention his limp!" Instead of pulling out of the scene I'm writing to fix it, I write it on a yellow card ("work in the limp to chapters three through six") and stick it in the yellow card pile. When I finish the rough draft, I pick up the pile and go through the manuscript making corrections. Easy Peasy!
Purple is a great one. I make notes on all the characters on purple cards. Then, if I forget what a secondary character looks like or how their name is spelled, I flip through the stack of purple cards. It's way faster than scrolling through the manuscript or sifting through scraps of paper on which random notes are scribbled.
I do a lot of book research, from how to shoe a horse to varieties of artisan salts or the weather in Panama in May. When I read something online or in a book that I need to know for my story, I reach for a green card. This makes the rainfall total for New Mexico in December an easy fact to find later on.
The major benefit to this color coding method is that it sets me up to NOT STOP WRITING when my muse is flowing. Writing fast and meeting deadlines is all about efficiency. Do it fast, and do it right. I don't waste precious time scrolling back through a manuscript to find out if a character is thirty-two or thirty-three. I don't spend an hour changing the guy's walk to a limp throughout chapters three through five when I could be adding to my word count.
One more thing I do: when I'm absolutely finished with a card—say, I don't need to know the rainfall totals in Mexico anymore—I toss it in the "Used Notes Box." That's right, folks. I keep a used notes box within arm's reach. I fill it with all the notes I'm don't need anymore so that I don't waste time later flipping through them to get to the notes I still need. By the end of writing the book, its file folder is nearly empty. I don't organize these boxes by book, but by date, because I'm often dealing with more than one book at a time, especially now that I'm published. When I start a new box, I write the start date. When it's full, I write the end date, put the lid on, and stick it in my attic.
Remember at the beginning of this post, when I told you that all this organizing was part of the personality I was born with? If this plan isn't for you, don't sweat it. I customized it based on my personality, as you should with yours. My only hope is that if you plan on establishing a career as a writer, you give great consideration to how to organize your thoughts and your work space. If you want to be a professional, think like a professional—with your time, with your environment, and with the writing process you develop.
So, does your workspace match your personality? How about your writing style? What do you love about your current methods? What do you wish you could change about your process or your workspace?
Melissa Cutler writes sexy Contemporary Romances and edge-of-your-seat Romantic Suspense. THE TROUBLE WITH COWBOYS is coming in October 2012 from Kensington Zebra, and SEDUCTION UNDER FIRE is a November 2012 Harlequin release. Find out more about Melissa and her books at www.melissacutler.net.