A.B. England recently concluded a three-part series on writing methods called, “Searching for a Method to Madness.” The essays were thought provoking and inspiring. Here are links to all three parts: 1, 2,3.
Image credit: Matthieu (flickr)
Reading her series, I found myself examining my own technique and I realized I’d actually fallen into something of a method that involves the use of index cards. At the moment, I am using virtual index cards in the writing program Scrivener but I also use the old fashioned 3×5 paper sort too. I also use other little scraps of paper where I can.
While may sound like a novel-by-gerbil method of writing I’m certainly not the first. For example, the novelist in Kurt Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus claimed to have written an entire book on bits of found paper. Vladimir Nabokov also used index cards to write his novels. I remember reading someplace that he would scribble cards while his wife drove on long automobile trips. I’m not sure if I could do that. I suppose not having two screaming kids in the back seat would be help.
In any case, here are a few lessons I’ve learned about index cards:
1. Be Clear – Nothing is worse than finding a card in your stack that says “remember that thing” or “add dialogue from today’s conversation”. Even though you were in a hurry and swore you’d remember the details, I guarantee that you will not and you will bang your head on the table when you find cards like this in the stack.
2. Be Concise – Putting complete sentences on an index card may feel like a path to clarity, but in the confined space of the card you end up taking card after card and invariably one will get lost and become “remember this thing.”
3. Think Non-Linear – The benefit of using index cards is that you can shuffle and reorder them with ease. However, if you have constructed your thoughts in such a way that one MUST lead to the next, you’re missing out on the interesting possibilities that occur when you suddenly shake up the stream of your narrative.
I have a few more thoughts about index cards that I’ll share in future posts, but I’d love to hear about your experience.