Posted by Lynne Griffin
I have a thing for journals. I love quality stationery, mechanical pencils and pens that glide across the page. Right now if you were to go into my office closet or peek in a desk drawer, you'd find more cloth bound books and brightly colored pads of paper than I'll need for some time. These are my tools, and I can't write without them.
The stationery is for charming notes, the pens and pencils to enhance the writing experience. The journals are my most versatile tool used to capture the journey toward completing a novel. I don't use my journal in the traditional sense, a daily entry highlighting the day's activities and feelings associated with my life. I keep one for each book I write and in each I keep tidbits of ideas for my work-in-progress. In it I have vital information that will never find its way directly into the novel, but details that are essential to a tight, well-crafted work.
Here are a few of things I write down.
- Each character's age and the month of their birthday, along with their relationships with other characters. (For example, I don't want a character to be an older sister at the beginning of the novel, and later claim she's the younger of the two.)
- The names of all my minor characters and where they fit into the story (Boy can these people get lost in the shuffle.)
- The book's timeline (If it's Tuesday in Chapter one, what day is it in Chapter twenty? I fear I'll write a story where it's always Friday. Keep in mind, readers love to find these glitches in a novel, but they remove the reader from the story and thus interrupt flow.)
- Page counts of chapters (While it's fine to have chapters of varying length, I like to know how my story's structure is falling into place. Later I can decide to combine or expand certain chapters to fit the overall structure.)
- Lists of resources--print, web, and people-- that I can go to for story details (Authenticity of details is a post in and of itself)
- Interviews completed (For my work-in-progress, I've completed several interviews that have added incredible information I'm using to inform plot, character and setting. I don't know when I need this info until I'm writing and suddenly I need it, and I want to have it handy.)
- Notes related to revisions that will need to be layered into a subsequent draft (While I revise the writing from the day before each morning before I write again, I don't go back to the beginning, even if something is revealed to me in say the middle of the novel. I capture the notes in my journal and then in revision I'll know to add details or make changes. For example, a minor character in my work-in-progress had children in chapter three, but by chapter twenty-eight it was clear it was better if he didn't. Note to self--remove his children from chapter three)
The process of capturing feedback is in itself a means of making positive change. Remember I'm a teacher, and teachers know that the act of writing down what you need to change is the first step toward embracing the change. The process of writing it down raises awareness and centers new thinking in a place of conscious thought. And it doesn't hurt to have the details that made your writers' group gasp, cry, or smile written down either. The positive feedback is a source of comfort on days when the writing is hard.
So how do you capture the nuances and tidbits for pulling together a strong work? We've written a number of entries about the art of writing, but I strongly believe in the science of it too. Work habits can either enhance or interfere with the process of writing a novel. Care to share some of the habits that work for you?