Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Hidden Value of the Sticky Note

Plot threads, character quirks, correct spelling of names…writing a novel is wrought with details that can sometimes get overlooked. The average fiction manuscript in my genre has between 80,000 – 100,000 words. That’s a lot of opportunity to either make a mistake, or make it great.


When I’m in the midst of a story, I try to keep notes around my computer or on my binder to remind me of the important things I need to keep in mind. Sticky notes are great for this, but a writer friend of mine prefers index cards. It’s your call.

You know you’re weaknesses. When you revise, what are the issues you generally have to work on to make the next draft better?

For example: I tend to get a little too technical when describing what the situation is, or what the danger may be. I want to keep the reader engaged and invested in my main character’s experience. That takes emotion. So I have a bright pink sticky note with “Emotion!” surrounded by hearts on the wall just over my computer.

If you tend to need more dialogue…then remind yourself to write as much as you want, you can always edit later, and to really let your conversations flow. Remember that the first draft gets the story out of your head, it doesn’t have to be perfect. You go back over it multiple times afterwards, so let the story pour out of you. Don’t get in the way.

Remind yourself to second-guess your first idea. I have a blue sticky note that has “2nd Place” because I usually hit upon a better twist, a better plot point if I dig beyond what first pops to mind.

Description, of characters and places, may be your weak point. Make yourself a note to constantly check for that as you write. Whenever you look up, you’ll be prompted to take a second look at what you just wrote.

By doing this as you write, it makes the editing process less overwhelming. You can concentrate on the larger issues like pace and tension. It also adds a bit of layering where you might not have otherwise known you needed it.

What are some tips or tricks that YOU use to make your writing/revisions easier? Until next time...Go Write.

Photograph by lalawren.

12 comments:

Ann Best said...

The sticky idea sounds excellent. Hadn't thought of that. Index cards, too I like. I'll write out scenes on lined paper if something pops into my mind. That IS a lot of words to deal with, and I like your sticky idea the best!

Have a great weekend.
Ann

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Never used sticky notes. I usually make changes the moment I notice it's needed, although not as I am writing the first draft.

Hart Johnson said...

I'm a huge fan of the post-its, but more in the rewrite, not in the write. If I think the first draft through too much, I get blocked and can't write.

Though at the moment, I am story-boarding via post-it for the first draft, but that is more like my time-line thing, but movable...

Eric W. Trant said...

I keep notes at the end and beginning of my drafts.

I've tried spreadsheets, hand-written notes, note cards, and Word's tracking/commenting features, as you would with a critique.

Of all those things, I keep going back to my simple method of having a few page breaks at the end of my doc, in red words to easily separate from my main text, with character names, relations, eye/hair colors, race, and a snippet of who/what they are.

I'll also make notes inside the draft with "QQQ" markers to make it easy to find. If something is rough or unknown, I'll "QQQ" it to come back later.

I'll also write chapter headings ahead of time, like playing chess, staying one or three moves ahead of the pantser-worms.

As for story twists, well, that's part of being a pantser! I was midway through my first novel when I realized the MC had a son, and it was her SON we were interested in. Cue the QQQs all over the damned place...

At the top of the text I have my by-lines and some inspirations, like you mention, some key points to NOT FORGET, such as tone, voice, and theme/intent of the story.

- Eric

Catherine A. Winn said...

I keep a steno book and pencil right next to me. I stop and write the novel's page number and jot down a reminder as I write. Sometimes the plot is moving so quickly I don't have time for nuances and the steno book helps to get me back on track during the next day "go over" before continuing.

Julie Musil said...

Love the photo! I've written tons of notes and I highlight each item once I've included it. Plus I've written on index cards. I'm still trying to figure out what works!

Raquel Byrnes said...

You all had such great ideas...I'll have to try that QQQ thing!

Mary Anne Gruen said...

Great photo! Perfect for this posting!

I use a long document full of notes and I refer to it often. But sometimes things creep past me. I just realized with my current WIP that I need to go back and do more development of some of the secondary characters. They were too lightly drawn.

I gave you an award over at my blog. You've already got this one, so don't worry about passing it on. I just wanted to give your blog a shout-out.

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