Back to paper and pen

A week after the writer getaway, I’m still in the pre-planning stages for the novel. I’m feeling increasingly confident that I’m on the right track.

Nudged by the confluence of a post on a writer friend’s blog  and a seriously cute 3-ring binder I found at Target this week, I’ve gone back to a planning technique that worked well for me several years ago. It’s something I came across in an old book on writing by Phyllis A. Whitney, who wrote mystery novels for adults and teens right around the time the fiction category of Young Adult was establishedPhyllisWhitney09102014 (on Page 19, she writes, “There is also the new category of books and stories for ‘young adults’…”).

So yes, some of the text is dated–carbon paper! typewriters!–but most of it stands the test of time, in particular her use of a loose-leaf notebook to organize each novel, using tabbed sections for plot ideas, characters, things to check, things to fix later, etc.

I followed her notebook process while writing the other book and found that the writing went surprisingly smoothly (and successfully in that the book found an agent, although it didn’t sell). Then along came Scrivener,  a word processing program especially suited for long projects, and I fell headlong into the digital-is-everything trap.

Well, three years and another novel in, I’m here to say that digital isn’t everything. Take ebooks, for example. In my experience, they’re great for light reading, not so good if I’m reading for discussion or research, or a book where an off-hand remark in Chapter 4 is the clue that solves the case. For a book I want to flip back and forth in, I want something I can mark with sticky notes and flags as I go along so I don’t have to deal with virtual bookmarks and highlighting and swiping and typing.

Turns out it’s the same for me with planning a novel. I love Scrivener to death for the writing and the moving around of scenes, but for planning, I’m returning to pen and paper.

DSC01143Here’s a picture of the cheerful little binder I’m using. I also learned this week that page divider technology has come a long way since the last time I bought a package. They now come with erasable tabs.

The package says they work for pencil and ballpoint and yes, they do, but lettering with a Sharpie looks nicer and–ta da!–can be erased! Using a pencil eraser on marker worked but was tedious and ugly. However, I found a workaround: whiteboard cleaner. Spray the tab with whiteboard cleaner, wait a couple of seconds for the ink to dissolve, wipe off the tab, hard, with a facial tissue. Cleans it right up. For some arcane, probably chemical, reason, if you miss something the first time around, or don’t press hard enough when you wipe it off, a second spray with the cleaner won’t do a thing about the shadow that remains. However, if you use a pencil eraser the second time around, the shadow will disappear as if by magic. Go figure.

© 2014 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

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10 Responses to Back to paper and pen

  1. judybridges says:

    Pretty binder. Think I’ll go to Target.


  2. Anne Bingham says:

    In the newish store on Bluemound, they were one aisle over from the spiral-bound notebooks and planners. YMMV.


  3. mirkabreen says:

    Cheering you on, Anne, as I am a confirmed Luddite and not ashamed of it. But what really surprised me was DD, of the easy-peasy -all-things digital, who told me she writes better prose in long hand.


    • Anne Bingham says:

      I think it takes a few years to learn to compose on the keyboard, Mirka. I remember very clearly exactly where I was and in what direction I was facing when I did it for the first time. Then I went through a long period where I could no longer compose by hand. Now, thank heavens, I can switch as needed.


  4. Marcia says:

    Oh, that is cute! I’ve been making do with kids’ cast-off notebooks and dividers made out of old manila folders. I posted about the retreat today, too.


  5. Anne Bingham says:

    There was a time I used the boys’ half-filled spiral notebooks (the big ones, not college-ruled) because we had so many half-filled ones; every year, every teacher required different colors for different subjects, and invariably one color would have been discontinued…*shudders*. I’ve FINALLY used up all of them but one: the sole survivor is one I’ve been using for 3+ years to log calls to insurance companies and various customer service centers.


  6. Anne, I just caught up on your blog and read about your 3 day writer retreat, which sounded wonderful. Congrats on discovering some important changes in your WIP, and finally having a clear path to go down. That is such a freeing feeling! Also, I love your new binder. I, too, use a binder to organize my information. And I use my plot planner on the wall as a visual reference along with my bulletin board as another character board. It sure helps me when it comes time to write!


  7. Anne Bingham says:

    Your novel must be everywhere you look in your writing room/corner/alcove, whatever. I think the ideal room for a writer would be lined with cork, easily repurposed as a padded cell…


  8. Vijaya says:

    Hooray for a wonderful writing retreat! I will echo your sentiments about the e-readers being great for straight-through reading, but not research-reading. And notebooks and binders and pens allow the whole body, all your molecules, to get involved in the writing. I splurge on a new notebook once in a while, the rest of the time, it’s the kids’ cast-off stuff. Heaven forbid they use them for a second class. Grrrr.


  9. Anne Bingham says:

    The old notebooks are fun in that I find random drawings. The one that’s been my phone log since July 2010 has a couple of space shuttles in it, and either an astronaut or a Ninja Turtle parachuting from somewhere (the drawings do not seem to be related).


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