If you’ve read “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” you know that author Anne Lamott swears by index cards for jotting authorly notes–and she’s not the only one. I have seen index card systems used by creators of all walks of life, ranging from children’s book author-illustrator Travis Jonker to decidedly children-UNfriendly writer Vladimir Nabokov.
My index-card usage system is a little weirder, but it works for me.
I temporarily store random bits of detritus absolutely wherever–scraps of paper, notes on my phone, even sometimes on my hand–and then move them to a more usable form whenever they get unruly (usually within a week or two).
- “Ingredients” – meaning random facts, notes, quotes, themes, or what have you – go into my Commonplace Book
- “Funny bits” – meaning things that I find funny (other authors’ bits, which aren’t usable as-is but may spark another idea) – I jot in my Things I Find Hilarious notebook.
- “Recipes” – meaning actual, honest-to-God story IDEAS (or at least enough of a prompt to myself I could sit down and start to try to write something) go onto index cards. I sort the index cards (so far) into four crude groups: HOT! (meaning, I’ve GOT to write this), PBs (meaning picture books…but still murky or needing spice), Seasonal (story ideas with a built-in selling moment hook), and Misc. (which range from poem ideas all the way through YA novel ideas).
(This may sound complicated, but I assure you it only takes 10 minutes a week to keep this system going–which is why I like it.)
Anyhow, then I’ve got all these cards. Then what? Well, I look through them–and see what sparks enough interest/passion to write the thing right now.
In the meantime, though, how do I store my story “recipe” cards? I originally used binder clips and rubber bands, though both bent the cards in ways I didn’t appreciate. But one day, by mistake, I found an adorable option that I have a feeling other writers might like…
Despite appearances, this little storage drawer is not made of wood–but, rather, sturdy cardboard. Which means you shouldn’t put it anywhere where it could get wet, but also that it’s incredibly light and portable. Created by Chronicle Books, it originally came full of adorable stationery reproductions of the original 3″x5″ index cards that the Library of Congress used to keep track of thirty different beloved works of literature. I rehomed the original inhabitants to my stationery drawer and ‘Voila!’: story ideas at my fingertips.
You can buy your own on Bookshop.org if you would like to throw me a tiny commission so I can buy even more books: