C17: Day 121 – How disc-binding made me want to write again

by Suw on May 1, 2017

April was a quiet month on the blog, because my creative task for the month was to work on my novel and thus was not for daily blogging. And what a productive month it was: I reorganised my notes completely, using a disc binder system which allows me to remove and add pages, and my ideas just blossomed.

It might sound ridiculous, but this system has really gotten me excited about writing again. Disorganised notes make me profoundly uncomfortable, to the point of causing creative paralysis, but there’s no functional way I can experience ideas in an organised manner. This means that traditional bound notebooks will always suffer not just from a lack of organisation but also negative emotional weight that’s hard to ignore. It’s just not possible to know how many pages to leave for a particular section: leave too many and it will feel like wasted space; leave too few and thematically related passages become separated and one has to search for and flip between pages when reading back over notes.

Ridiculous though it seems, such disorganised notebooks give me a crippling feeling that my ideas and my mind are a mess because my notes are a mess. And if my mind is a mess, my work must be shite.

I’m not the kind of person who can just start writing a story at the beginning and then ‘see where it goes’. I always end up painting myself into a corner, getting confused, and then giving up. I have to know where a story ends before I can work out where it begins, and only then can I figure out how I get from A to B. I’m slightly jealous of writers who say things like “Oh, I just work it out as I go along. I have no idea what’s going to happen until I’ve written it!”. Bastards. I’ve tried that, and I end up with an incoherent disaster.

Instead, I need a way to collect ideas as they come to me, organise research into themes, and capture issues that need further research. Ring-binders might work, I suppose, but they’re just a little bit too much like school for me. And digital methods, whilst convenient, lack the tactility of paper. So when I discovered disc-bound systems earlier this year (thank you, Steph!) I got very, very excited. I’ve now spent a small fortune on the disks, covers, refills and a special hole punch so I can add my own paper. And it’s bloody marvellous. It’s even revolutionised my To Do list (which I’ll write about in another blog post).

So my system now is:

Ideas for dialogue, scenes, questions, and plot points get jotted down on index cards, as and when I think of them. The index cards are disc-bound to keep them together, but when I’ve got to a point where I think I’ve got enough, I’ll sort through them and organise them into chapters, adding any extras where I need to fill in gaps.

Research is done on lined or blank paper and goes in to a letter-sized (how I miss A4) binder, split into 5 sections: People, Places, Science, Tech, Plot. The first few pages are an ‘inbox’ where I jot down things I need to look into later. I can print stuff out and disc-bind that, too, and I can re-organise pages or add more if I need to expand on a section. So everything is kept together, pages aren’t wasted, and I can reorder anything at any time. It’s so neat.

The big letter-sized binder isn’t very portable, so during May when I’m travelling, I’ll just take loose-leaf paper, a mix of lined and plain, and will then be able to add those sheets in when I get home. All terribly convenient.

I cannot begin to explain how amazingly liberating and exciting this is, or how much I’m just enjoying the process of researching my book. It feels like someone’s taken all the pressure off the process of writing, because by the time I’m done, I’ll have everything planned, I’ll know what I’m doing, why, and how, and then I’ll be able to really enjoy actually writing the book instead of fretting that I’m going to waste a metric fuckton writing something that turns out to have a plot hole large enough to drive a tank through.

It’s also liberated me to think in much more detail about character relationships and the question structure of the book… but I’ll write more about that separately in another post, because this month, May, is going to be Blogging Month! I’m travelling most of this month and needed something creative that I could do on the go, so blogging it is! I’ve got a backlog of ideas for blog posts, so my aim is to get one published every day, even if some days they might be short or, when I’m travelling, pre-scheduled!

So, welcome back to my daily Creative 2017!

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