Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Editing with index cards and post-it notes

I've started editing novel 2.

Actually that's not strictly true. I've been editing it since I finished the first draft two weeks ago but in a tricking-my-brain into thinking 'no I'm not' kind of way.

What do I mean?

Basically I gave myself permission to do NOTHING to novel 2 for two weeks. "Two weeks off," I told myself, "you don't have to write, you don't have to edit, you don't have to read a 'how to' book. You can just watch episode after episode of Prison Break if you like. Or read someone else's book. Or sleep for hours. Or do some exercise to try and work off your writer's arse."

Actually I did all of those things but somehow, by giving my brain permission not to do any work on novel 2, my brain rebelled (those who know me well know that the best way to get me to do something is to tell me not to!). Anyway, so my brain rebelled and started interrupting my TV watching/reading/sleeping/exercising and began whispering (sometimes shouting) little ideas for how novel 2 could be improved.

I wrote the ideas down, in a notebook specially designated as the Rewrite Notebook, and over the last fifteen days I've accrued 31 pages of rewrite notes, each one numbered and labelled with the name of the character the rewrite involves. Seeing them all written down like that, in a higgle-de-piggle-de fashion was a bit daunting. How the hell was I going to work them all into the novel in a way that made sense?

Today I got out my index cards. I'd bought them to help me plan novel 2 but I'm not much of a plotter, more of a 'I know the beginning, I know the end and I've got no idea what happens in the middle' type of writer. But my index card purchase wasn't a waste. What I did was select 3 different colours. Pink for Character A (written in the first person), blue for Character B (written in the first person) and yellow for Characters C and D (written in the third person). I then went through all the chapters in novel 2 (currently 55!), selected the appropriate colour for the character(s) narrating that chapter and wrote down a summary of the scenes and the setting within that chapter.

I ended up with this (arranged in rows of ten, from left to right, on my floor):










I then got out my Rewrite Notebook and wrote each rewrite note onto a coloured post-it note (again, colour-coded to the character it involved) and tried to work out which chapter would
need to be rewritten to incorporate that edit.

And ended up with this:










It's messy, it's not fixed in stone (some of the rewrite notes may have to be moved to a different chapter) but suddenly my 31 pages of notes don't look quite so daunting. They look manageable, like I can pick up, for example, chapter 2 (2nd from left, top row), work through the post-its attached to until they're incorporated into the rewrite, and then move onto the note attached to chapter 3.

I'm sure it's not going to be as simple as that (editing never is!) and although I've already been through the editing process once with novel 1 this is a completely different book with a very different structure so it's not as though I can just apply what I learnt from editing Heaven to this novel and be done with it (which is just as well because I've completely forgotten how I went about editing that book!).

I'm not sure if this technique will help anyone else trying to pull a shitty first draft into shape but I thought I'd throw it out there, just in case...

21 comments:

GeorgyGirl said...

This looks like a really good plan and I'm wondering if I could adapt it for article writing. I am currently *so* disorganised, it's unbelievable.

I could seriously procrastinate for England... LOL

Hack for hire said...

Very organised! Might pinch this idea when it come time to edit my novel - if the time ever comes...

Queenie said...

I used a very similar process for my last edit, but I'm so keyboard/screen dependent that I used a table in Word as well as a spreadsheet with different colours... well, it worked for me! I know exactly what you mean about the moment when order begins to emerge from chaos, and the task suddenly feels as if it might be manageable after all.

HelenMHunt said...

That's brilliant. I know I need to do something similar - but I had to start with the butchering of the first three chapters because it was totally blocking me. Once I get to this stage, I know this will be really helpful. Still with you on the 'completing the rewrite by the beginning of December' thing.

HelenMHunt said...

Of course, the good thing about this is that I get to go out and buy some very pretty stationery!

Lizzie Nichols said...

I like how you can see the whole novel at a glance – makes it seem very manageable. Two chapters away from the end of my novel I discovered I had written 153,000 words! I'm now ruthlessly slashing away. I'm thinking of pinching your method for the next round of edits. Good luck!

Lost Wanderer said...

This seems like a very good plan. I have been a pretty unorganised writer myself (working on improving) and editing has always been a nightmare, so I now also use similar methods.

AliB said...

I'm so impressed. My first attmept with index cards (when plotting novel 1) was a complete failure. (But the plotting wasn't too good either!)
Post-it notes didn't fare much better - but at least the cards make nice shopping lists. AliB
http://debutnovelist.wordpress.com

Liane Spicer said...

I like this, Cally. I've never tried anything like it, which might be one of the reasons I hate editing so much. Is this what's called storyboarding?

Thank you so much for stopping by the Miami Herald blog today and lending your support. Much appreciated! :)

Amanda said...

Thanks for sharing this! Off to purchase some index cards and post-its of my own. :-)) Ooh, and good luck with your redraft!

Karen said...

Sounds like a brilliant plan and definitely something I could use - good luck :o))

Captain Black said...

I do something similar but electronically rather than with physical notes. A bit like Queenie but probably making more use of storyboards to both generate and summarise the plot, scenes and chapters. Plus character sheets and, yes, colour-coding. I also find time lines to be very useful.

Fia said...

I am sort of trying to do something similar, but as I go along. Last time I ended up with 140k of words which totally overwhelmed me.

Add the post it notes is a stroke of genius Cally.

Jumbly Girl said...

Wow that's brilliant. Like you I ended up with a 'rewrite notebook' and felt daunted at how I was supposed to merge its contents into my novel. Will poss give it a go when I next overhaul Novel 1 but it has also given me some ideas for plotting for novel 2 (which has been giving me a bit of a headache at the mo) - Thank you!

Lucy Diamond said...

Great idea, must be very satisfying seeing all your cards and post-it notes laid out like that! Good luck with the edit. x

Revisionista said...

thanks for sharing your editing strategy & including pictures.

i'm bookmarking this for later!

hope this next phase goes well :)

Debs said...

That looks very clever to me. I have flashcards but all in the colour and only for chapters. Not quite as helpful though.

Tam said...

And all written in your lovely hadwriting, too. Well done, you :-)

DOT said...

If all else fails, you could take up designing rugs.

my name in print said...

wow that looks like some serious work organising! I really like your system!!

The break is a really good idea - come back to it fresh!

womagwriter said...

Sounds like a wonderful intellectual exercise, and very organised. Best of luck with the rewrite!