Plotting Tip: Pen and Paper

I took an unintentionally long hiatus from my blog posts during October. A combination of being sick all month, not sleeping because my son’s also been sick, and a hard deadline of getting The Island Experiment (Kepos Chronicles, Book 3) to my wonderful editor, I’ve been at capacity. Now that the book is off my shoulders and we’re all recovering, I’ll being doing a post today and another mid-week.


Today, I’ve got a tip for parents or the easily-distracted. It’s simple and nothing new, but it’s not something I’ve been doing much of until recently. What is this amazing hack? Using pen and paper. I’ve discovered that I can get the thinking part of writing done more easily when I am not in front of a computer. When my mind wanders with a screen in front of me, I somehow end up on Facebook or Reddit. If I’ve got a notebook in front of me, I’m much more likely to find my way back to my story problem. If you have this problem, too, pen and paper might be the change you need.


Aside from getting distracted, when I’m watching my son and he’s playing by himself, I can’t use that time to write. If he sees me on my computer, he makes a beeline straight for it, and nothing looks more tempting to him than the power button. Using a notebook is much more manageable. Sure, he comes over and wants to put my pen in his mouth and bend every page in the notebook, but I can easily set it aside, play with him for a while, then come back to it when he’s content again playing by himself. A pen and notebook are much less enticing to him than a computer.


So, what exactly do I use these notebooks for? Not for writing my novel, that’s for sure. Any serious words I’m trying to get down will happen on my computer, probably while my son is asleep. I use these notebooks for the mental work. The character write-ups, the outlines, the plotting, the scene descriptions. Anything that focuses more on the quality of idea rather than quantity of words.


For example, when I sit down to do a writing sprint, I already know what I’m going to write (most of the time). I have a scene description, and my objective is to bring that scene to life. At some point prior to writing, I’ve sat down and done the mental work of planning that scene so that I can make the most of that uninterrupted writing time. This is a pretty common technique recommended by authors who can hit high word counts, like Rachel Aron (2K to 10K) and Chris Fox (5,000 Words Per Hour). No, I’m not on this level, but I’m aiming to improve my own daily word counts since I plan to attempt Nanowrimo again this year.


One other recommendation is to use a Cornell notes style notebook or create your own. The idea behind this set up is that you leave a large margin on the left of the page (for key words and questions) and the bottom of the page (for summary).  I bought a couple off Amazon that came already laid out with these margins, and I really like them. I don’t use it the same way I would if I were taking notes for a class, but having the extra space and place to put questions and ideas has been useful for me personally. When I go back and reread my outline, I often get specific ideas for a scene, or an important question I need to address, and this allows me to write it in without cramming the words into a tiny margin. The extra space on the sides for commentary when I go back and read what I’ve plotted has made my notes and ideas much more readable.


The other way I plan to utilize pen and paper is through a bullet journal for my next novel (Kepos Chronicles, Book 4) to help me during nanowrimo and the editing process. I’ll write a separate post detailing my spreads and what I hope to achieve with this journal since I’ve got it set up and ready to go.

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