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How to Write a Novel in Six Months, Week 3, Index Cards Are My Friends

Updated on May 4, 2009
Photo: nuanc,Flickr
Photo: nuanc,Flickr

I have read in a lot of different places how great writers always have a post-it note or index card somewhere on them so that when brilliance strikes they are ready to record it. I have also read about and talked to a number of authors who use index cards in some way to plan out the scenes of their novels. I studied for the CPA exam using a thick stack of multi-colored cards and passed it all the first time out. I took all that as sign enough that I ought to give this index card thing a try.

Here are the reasons index cards rock for plotting a novel.

Index Cards Are Portable

Wherever you find yourself with time to write, you can whip out your index cards and jot down a great idea for a scene, character trait, or even a really great line of dialogue you overhead at lunch. I took mine out to the lake and they didn't suffer much from getting splashed!

Index Cards Are Easy to Manipulate

I'm a spreadsheet lover so anything I can fit into little boxes, rows, and columns I do. Eventually I will get all my scenes onto a spreadsheet, but while the story is young and fragile I like the index card method. It's easy to move things around to see what works and what's just off. A lot of people paste them all on a large corkboard on the wall while they're writing to reference everything easily. I may go this route too, but there will be a spreadsheet in there somewhere I guarantee!

Index Cards Are Visual

There's nothing quite so satisfying as making progress. On a project as large as writing a novel, it's nice to have little interim milestones you can point to and say ah... check that off the list! Watching my stack of index cards grow was one of the happiest times of my writing life. As if by magic one idea builds on another and another until you have enough of them to fill a book. It's a great confidence booster that yes you CAN write a novel - one little idea at a time.

What about you? What's your favorite way to capture ideas?

How to Write a Novel in Six Months, One Writer’s Journey

Week 1, Mapping Out the Six Month Plan


Week 2, Resources on Structure


Week 3, Index Cards Are My Friends


Week 4, Sketching Characters


Week 5, Researching Agents


Week 6, Outlining


Week 7, Detail Scene Beats


Week 8, Writing the Synopsis


Week 9, Drafting Update


Week 10 Drafting Update


Week 11 Drafting Update


Week 12 Drafting Update


Week 13 Drafting Update: Writer’s Block Week 14 Drafting Update: Appreciating Plot and an Awful First Draft

Week 15 Drafting Update: Formulas and White Space


Week 16 Drafting Update: Looking for an Agent


Week 17 Drafting Update: Confessing I Didn’t Write This Week


Week 18 Drafting Update: Plugging Along


Week 19 Drafting Update: Surviving Interruption


Week 20 Drafting Update: Racing Toward the Finish Line


Submit a Comment

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    I am not in love with index cards because I lose them and then get annoyed at myself. I have learned to use a 6x9 Stenopad instead and it is working for me.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    i love this idea! i have already started doing this journey!!

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    I started using index cards for note-taking and ideas in the early 80s. My bank would give me those plastic sleeves used for the savings account bank books, which was the same size as an index card. Later on, Husband gave me the Levenger's leather index card holder. I use index cards for everthing, and love the ones that are colored or have the colored line across the top. The beauty of an index card is that it is sturdy enough to write on by itself, and is not easily thrown away or taken for something else.

  • ajcor profile image


    10 years ago from NSW. Australia

    I have enough stuff for a poetry book, a book of short stories and a fair percentage of at least 3 novels, not sure what this says about me except that maybe I let life get in the way fo writing - so thanks for the six month plan.

  • profile image

    Serenity Live 

    10 years ago

    I have to start doing this. I've used regular notebooks for now, and the ideas are just haphazardly spread throughout it in between chapter beginnings and character descriptions. I don't know why I haven't done note cards instead. I'm also trying the Stephen King approach though, "Just write." I've thought about this novel and planned to write it for so long that it wasn't ever going to get written. Now I'm just plunging through, determined to get a rough draft finally done.


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