Yesterday, I began mentoring a new writer. Like all of us, he has a novel rattling around in his head. He’s got a pretty good handle on what his project IS, but was at a loss as to how to begin. He asked:
When you start a new writing project, how do you go about separating ideas before you put them on paper? I’ve got all of these ideas and thoughts and I’m having trouble figuring out where to begin. I’m just stuck with a jumbled up mess in my head. Any suggestions?
After thanking him for my next blog post topic (thanks again, Jer!), I offered this low-tech technique for conquering Chaos Brain — the wild mind that spouts writing ideas with no rhyme or reason.
Step 1: Start with a pack of index cards. Yes. Index cards. They are to Chaos Brain what Kryptonite is to Superman.
Step 2: Each time you think of a scene or significant event for your book, write one sentence about it on a card. Just enough information to jog your memory is all you need. One idea per card. No more.
Step 3: Lather, rinse, repeat until you’ve captured them all.
Yes, it is low tech. It does have benefits, though. The cards? You can rearrange the scenes, and see how the ideas work together in different combinations before you start to write. Think of them as a pre-outline. Oh, and did I mention the portability factor? Completely portable, no power source needed. Stick a few in a pocket, carry a pen, and you can add ideas instantly as they occur.
With novels and other large writing projects, the most important part of getting started is, well, getting started. Writing a book can seem a daunting task. Writing a sentence on an index card? Piece of cake.
Now, don’t you have some writing to do?