Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Every Wednesday from now until November 1st I'll be posting some ideas, resources and other info that may be of help to those of you planning to join in NaNoWriMo 2010.
For me, one of the personal pleasures of writing novels is putting together my novel notebook. No one sees this writing tool but me, so I can do exactly what I want with it (and I do.) It also allows me to stay organized when I'm working on a book, which is an important part of my process. I don't want to have to rustle around looking for notes when I can't remember the protagonist's middle name, or in which chapter the antagonist unleashes what chaos, or when I promised my agent I'd send her the proposal. I don't have a secretary, and I have story to write.
For me a novel notebook is basically the depository of all the notes, outlines, character bios, setting info, research, plotting and other ideas that I use for writing a book. Here's the one I've started putting together for my NaNo novel. It's not mandatory that you put one together in advance, or even make one at all, but I think having a place for all your story-related ephemera keeps you organized and saves time (especially when while writing you go fuzzy on some detail and need to refer back to your original outline, character notes, research, scribbles, etc.)
I've always made notebooks for my novels, but I started out just keeping a neatly-typed synopsis, chapter summaries and character worksheets together in a binder. Over time I gradually began adding other things, like sketches, photos, cover art mockups, journal entries relating to the book, music CDs and other inspirational bits. Now my notebooks are as much creative diaries and story archives as they are work schematics and fiction blue prints.
The spiral notebook I use (which fits in the binder, btw) is where I jot down all my notes related to the story. I also have a pocket-size blank book that I carry in my purse most of the time. In the binder I also insert tabbed pocket dividers (the pockets are handy for smaller items like Post-It notes, CDs and pocket journals.)
No matter what I'm writing, I always tab a section for characters, plot, setting, notes, research materials and submission info. Another strategy that helps me is to create a small theme icon for every novel (this can be anything from a word to a symbol) which I use to mark all the related paperwork in the upper right hand corner -- also very helpful later when I'm sorting out things I need to put in the office file.
Other sections I use are more business-related (pitching, promotion, styling, lists of editors to pitch for my agent and so on) but one I find very useful while writing is a section on visuals (photographed or sketched depictions of characters, objects, settings; floorplans, topographical maps, etc.) I also keep backups of my daily work on CD in my notebook because I'm just paranoid that way.
The last section in my notebook is always reserved for my synopsis. I do this because A) I always write the synopsis before I write the novel, B) it's the one document I refer to most frequently when writing, and C) I like to make any necessary corrections to it as I write the book versus rewriting it after the story is finished. Having it in the back of my notebook makes it easy to flip to immediately.
As I mentioned, it's not necessary to create a novel notebook in order to write your NaNoWriMo story, and you certainly don't need to organize everything the way I do for a book. If it's simple to use, you'll be more likely to use it. Also, don't feel forced to put your story stuff in a binder; you can use file folders, a blank book, a legal pad, a bigger spiral notebook (I like the ones that are divided into five or six sections for students), a software program or even an electronic gadget of some sort. Remember, this writing tool is for you, not anyone else, so make it what you want it to be, and have some fun with it.
Related links (Freeware caution: always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs into your hard drive):
PBW's Novel Notebook: This is a free .pdf e-book with templates and examples of some of the things I do with my novel notebooks (and feel free to change it around to suit your process and/or discard what you don't need.)
The free version of AM-Notebook is "a multi-featured personal information manager that provides an easy and reliable way to save notes, formula supported spreadsheets, diagrams/flowcharts, to do lists, tasks and contacts within a light weight tray icon tool" (OS: Windows 7 (32/64 bit), Vista, XP, 2000)
The Printable Notebook allows you to "organize and print your personal data in the same manner a paper notebook does. You can print (and cut) selected pages so that they fit into your paper notebook. The program allows you to create multiple notebooks with custom fields for each. It includes several sample print templates, that will fit a standard notebook size. The templates are XML based and can be edited by experienced users to accommodate other formats. Printable Notebook supports website links and email fields, different tab layouts, search across notebooks and more" (OS: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP)
Scribe is "a free cross-platform note-taking program designed especially with historians in mind. Think of it as the next step in the evolution of traditional 3x5 note cards. Scribe allows you to manage your research notes, quotes, thoughts, contacts, published and archival sources, digital images, outlines, timelines, and glossary entries. You can create, organize, index, search, link, and cross-reference your note and source cards. You can assemble, print, and export bibliographies, copy formatted references to clipboard, and import sources from online catalogs. You can store entire articles, add extended comments on each card in a separate field, and find and highlight a particular word within a note or article. Scribe's uses range from an undergraduate history research seminar to a major archival research project" (OS: Windows, Mac OS X)
Pindersoft offers a thirty day free trial of their Writers Project Organizer, which is "manuscript orientated software for writers and not a magic magic program to get you published. What Writers Project Organizer will do is organize your ideas, thoughts, submissions, plots, storylines and contacts within the publishing industry" (OS: Windows + Microsoft's .Net Framework 3.5, looks like it's good to run on Vista)