Friday, May 20, 2011

There is Plenty of Time But Not Enough Will

There really isn't enough time in the day, though it occurs to me that there might be if I didn't have to work an actual job. Makes you think. Mostly what I wish is that I'd force myself to sit down and organize my copious notes for the novel I'm writing. It's not really that there isn't time to do it, it's that I don't make the time to do it because it sounds like unpleasant work.

I have notes on index cards. I have notes in the form of emails that I've sent to myself. I have post-it notes taped into my main notebook (wherein I actually write the manuscript longhand), and others taped into my notes notebooks (wherein I keep my outlines and developing ideas). I have JSTOR articles printed out and sitting on my desk. I have a spreadsheet printed out and folded into my notes notebook. I have notes written into the margins of my notes. I have a three-page typewritten skeletal outline of the mystery part of the story, with handwritten notes all over it. None of this material is in any sort of order. What I really wish I'd do is sit me down and get round to work, making a new sort of master outline document that incorporates all my notes and ideas into something handy that I can reference easily. Some of you might suggest I type them all up into a Word document or whatever, but that's useless to me, for I write in longhand, usually in restaurants at lunch or on the bus during my long commute home, and I'm not going to drag my laptop all over the landscape just to look at my notes. It's actually more convenient to keep them on bits of paper in my briefcase. But it's messy and I tend to have to reinvent the wheel often when I can't find my ideas for a particular scene or passage.

Anyway, one of my goals for this weekend (assuming we aren't all raptured up to Heaven or cast wailing into the fiery pits of Hell tomorrow) is to go through my notes for this new book and put them into some sort of order in some format that will be useful. I am leaning toward putting the entire outline onto index cards at this point, though I may change my mind. We'll see. I've taken lately to scribbling ideas down on cards and so I have a growing stack of them on my desk (in addition to the stack of them I've got clipped to the front cover of my main notebook; you see how this constantly gets out of hand?).

Also, I can't believe I used that title for a post but failed to make a Shakespeare joke.


  1. Just a thought... a hole punch, a binder ring, and color coded flaps. That way you can have everything in one place, (scribbles notes, notebooks and what not) on a binder ring so you don't lose it in your briefcase. The color coded flaps can be your dividers -- chapters, research, etc.

  2. Anne, what I want to do is condense all my notes into a small amount of space, not find a way to organize and drag them all around with me wherever I go. I know a few people who use systems like the one you describe, and I just know that in my case it would become rapidly as messy as what I'm doing now. The problem, I think, is that I'm working away at the story in a variety of ways and I use a different method of notating each of those ways of looking at the story. Really, I think I'm just fucked and I'll labor onward with the fucked up systems I have now. With every novel, I struggle to find the Ultimate Way to Organize My Thoughts, and fail every time.

  3. Really, I think I'm just fucked --

    Yeah, that pretty much sums up my research notes too. I have so much paper and scraps I gave up. Yeah, I have folders, but they don't work. Stuff I think I have in one, is actually in another and stuff I really need I can't find until after I'm done writing the whole book.

    I have mad organizational skills in theory but in practice, they don't work.

  4. Scott, did you get raptured? If so, you can ignore this comment.

    But I hope you got some condensing done over the weekend. I spent my weekend proofreading and formatting an ebook. And I also went to do a reading that ended up being very lame. Remind me not to do readings between rock bands anymore, please.

    I've been admiring and paying more attention to your details lately, so your process is educational for me. I'm glad you're writing this out. I don't take any notes anymore. I absorb information and trust that the important things will stick. I'm sure they don't always.

  5. I did not get raptured. But I did listen to "House of Jealous Lovers" by the Rapture, and "Rapture" by Blondie.

    Anne, I may just pile all my notes on my desk and ignore them until I've finished the first draft. The more books I write, the lower my expectations are for first drafts.

    Domey's comment about how he no longer takes notes is interesting. I don't know how many of my notes I actually ever look at for any of my books, but I do a lot of scribbling and underlining anyway. Possibly it's just like studying for an exam, and writing it out helps me remember it. But also, I look over my notes when revising in case there was something cool I wanted to include but forgot.

    I'm sorry, Domey, that the reading was lame. I don't think that "crossover" art events work out most of the time. Were the bands any good?

  6. I didn't stick around much to listen to the bands, but I liked what little I heard, yes. One band was playing very happy music and the two singers were both good. A man was watching while drinking a beer and that seemed like a good time to me.