Organizing Your Notes: How I Do It

Wow!  The first post of March.  Would it be really typical and old-person-ish of me to mention how fast time goes by?  Yes?  Whoops!

I’ve been putting off this post for a bit waiting to get some pictures from a friend back home, and now that I have them I can go ahead and introduce you to some more wacky insights of how I work.  In this case, we’re talking about


Which I do, sort of.  I always HAVE notes.  However, depending on the project, my methods of keeping them together and arranging them might be a little bit different.  Tailored, shall we say.  Today I’ll just share a couple of the go-to ways I like to plan, and one interesting way that I do it.  🙂

Way #1 – An unattractive jumble of notes jotted down on loose paper.

Note that this is a terrible way to do anything, let alone try to keep track of details and complicated plots for a story, but there you go.  Sometimes I will have brainstorms, nothing on me to really properly organize them, and the result is a bunch of half-ideas scribbled on old Walmart receipts and odd bits of mail that are shoved in my purse.  The result is that I find a few of them, despair because I’ve lost the really important one that I can’t remember, and…  Wait, I think this is supposed to be a list of GOOD ways to plan.  So don’t do this.

Way #2 – A more practical notebook and/or folder.  Preferably a pretty one.

All the folders

These are some of the real-life notebooks and folders that hold a project I’ve been working on with a friend (or cajoling her to finish) for SEVEN YEARS.  Okay, it’s slow-going, but hey, the notes are all there.  Even color-coded, even if I’m not sure what the colors stand for.  And yes, that’s the Mad Hatter on that notebook cover.  Anyway, the point is that if you do find yourself making random notes or coming up with ideas in the middle of the night, at the very least a cohesive notebook or two are good.  This particular story, as it is 7 years old, obviously occupies a lot of space with side-stories, character descriptions, notes, and ever-expanding plans for future installments.  (We’re not terribly practical.)

On the go folder with most pertinent part of timeline included, as well as any almost complete scenes that need to be incorporated

Way #3 –!

I might have mentioned this program before, but hey, you get to hear about it again.  It’s something that was created in conjunction with/to help with/by the people from/something or other having to do with Nanowrimo.  It is FREE, although I think you can donate and maybe get some additional stuff.  Either way, the free version works just fine for me.  It’s all stored in the cloud, and I’ve never had any trouble losing anything I’ve written.  Actually, with the amount of times my computer has crashed or needed re-imaged, my books are probably safest on Yarny.

The Life of Gaia is currently being written on this site, and all of my notes for it are also saved there as little tabs.  I want to know something about what Tyr was wearing?  I check my ‘Characters’ section.  Notes on the castle?  ‘Places’.  And if I need to see what I’m supposed to be hinting at books down the line?  ‘Events’.  Quick, easy, and available where internet is!

Way #4 – Ridiculously time-consuming and intricate storyboards involving sticky notes and sometimes huge calendars.

Sometimes with a story you just need to see what it is you’re doing.  I had this problem working on a vampire story project of mine, which I still intend to write someday when the vampire thing has died down a little.  This was back in sophomore year of High School.  I had planned everything about the story down to the tiniest most insignificant detail, even going so far as to come up with the names of EVERY STUDENT attending my MC’s small private school and who they were dating.  (Talk about the lengths someone will go to to avoid actually writing!)

ANYWAY, so there I was, looking at my umpty-billion notes, realizing quite quickly that a lot of my story depended on the schedule in which the events happen during the month or so in which it takes place.  Mostly a lot of people dying and clues popping up in the background.  I had no idea how to arrange it so that I could actually see what I was doing.  But then my friend Amanda, the same one from earlier, came up with a BRILLIANT idea.  So she built me a huge double-sided calendar out of poster board, labeled the days, and voila–I had the perfect way to pace out my story.

The idea involves using zillion sticky notes of various colors, writing notes on them (anything from basic to complex,) and then sticking them on the board.  If I decided that I didn’t want Devon to die on Monday but Jennifer, I could simply pull off the sticky notes and switch them around.  It looked something like this:

'Current Events' Timeline

Except not exactly, because obviously this is not a calendar.  The idea was the same though, and you can see it illustrated above.  The pictures are of the story we’re working on, which involves a much lengthier timeline spanning a potential three novels.  Hence the line going through.  Different colors represent different things–the yellow ones are basic events, the blue character/detail notes, etc.  Big purple ones are plot ideas for further down the line.

Future Stuff 2

Notes notes notes. (Let me just say that it is a RAD story that Amanda and my other friend Annika came up with, and I hope that it really gets written out/finished some day.  I mean,I just enjoy the characters so much–but I guess living 7 years with someone in your head, you’re bound to get attached to them!)

Well I guess that’s it.

Those are all of the ways I can think of that I organize and arrange my notes for stories.  Life of Gaia lives solely on, but since it does have a plot stretching for 8 books, I think that the chances of it becoming a sticky-note story-board are probably pretty high.  It’s not practical for me right now, being in college and all, but when I get home and have a permanent space again it would make some things much easier.  Maybe I’m more of a visual person than I thought.

But the important thing is to just do whatever makes it easiest for YOU to get your notes together and write, write write!

So, what about you?  How do you like to organize?  Do you always do it the same way?  Do you write notes on napkins and lose them, like I sometimes do?  Do you think the idea of a story story-board is brilliant?  Let me know!



6 thoughts on “Organizing Your Notes: How I Do It

    • I’ve heard Scrivener is really good! I might have to try it some time–or at least the free version, when I have a computer that can download something. That’s one of the reasons I like Yarny–cause it is hosted online, and I don’t have to worry about crashing my computer. xD But I like programs that are geared towards writers–so useful! Getting to have your writing space and notes all together.

  1. I tend to grab whichever of my notebooks is closest and scribble down my note. The problem is that I have notebooks scattered everywhere, and I have no system for what goes in what. So I’ll have a notebook that I use for recording my hours for work, and when I flip back to see how I’ve done that month, my timesheet will be broken up halfway through by a haiku or a really terrible sketch or something. I’ve tentatively begun the project of getting all the writing in my notebooks onto my computer for safekeeping, neatly labelled in folders and such, but it’s an extensive and time consuming process. Le sigh. I’ve thought of trying out Yarny, but … I don’t know, I guess I don’t want to rely on needing an internet connection to write. I have a little alligator USB flash drive I keep my latest writings on, and I bring it with me wherever I go. It’s actually really adorable. The jaws of the alligator close over the usb metal thingy, so when you stick it in a laptop USB port, the jaws stretch up and around the sides of the laptop like it’s trying to eat the laptop. Awwwwwww 😀

    • Okay, that sounds SUPER adorable! x) I have like 3 USBs, but I’m constantly losing them, so it’s probably not best to trust my novel on them. xD Usually yarny works out for me, but my whole campus has internet access, and we have it at home now, so it’s not usually a problem… But I do have some stuff saved on word, so that in case the muse hits while I’m in a no-net zone I can still do some writing and just transfer it later. ALSO, I totally know what you mean about notebooks. xD Going through any of my old school notebooks is so interesting, because it is a nonsensical collection of notes and doodles. I usually go back, rip out the drawings that I like, and chuck the rest. (When will I ever need my old bio notes? NEVER.)

      • I still have all my notes from university saved on my external hard drive. Why? Because I’ve never gotten around to deleting them, and whenever I mean to, I get this niggling feeling of “But what if I’ll need them someday?” It’s a silly feeling, but what can you do? We’re all slaves to our emotions. SLAVES! I should start a revolution.

      • xDD I keep almost all of my textbooks–I figure that’s neater than a bunch of my poorly-written notes on paper. Because I totally understand. My perfectly-rational parts say “You’re never going to need to look at your Sociology notes every again,” but some silly part is like, WHAT IF. So i just pile the books up in the back of my closet, just in case. SLAVES INDEED. x)

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