In regard to planning for writing, I use as many tools as “Cartier has pillboxes,” to quote either Tom Robbins or Kurt Vonnegut. Tom, I think. Outlines—spreadsheets—lists—webs—notebook to record random thoughts and phrases, ideas on sticky notes—I use them all.
My most important graphic organizer is a mile-long spreadsheet formed by taping sheets of paper together. Each row represents a chapter (or in my case, an entry, as my books are in a journal format). Each column represents a character or perhaps event, such as circle meeting. In the cells, I mark an X when a character appears or an event happens. That way, I can easily see when it’s time to bring Cousin Josephine in again or have a circle meeting. In each row, I write the page # the entry starts on—in pencil, as it’s always changing—so that I can move around quickly in the manuscript. To the right of each row is space for brief notes about the content of each entry—again in pencil, as that can also change. I love my spreadsheet, can you tell? I’ve heard of other writers working this way.
Because my present project is based in the Revised Common Lectionary, I explore commentary that expands upon the scripture lessons. Thus, for each entry/chapter, I have 3-5 pages of handwritten notes and excerpts I’ve copied and pasted from online commentary. To this material I might also attach relevant articles, cartoons, anecdotes, or worship bulletins. Those packets, I’ll call them, help me organize and plan.
A small spiral notebook in which I jotted ideas and thoughts before they were forgotten proved to be most helpful in the writing of the first two books. I outfitted such a notebook with tabs for characters and topics for Sunday by Sunday III, and for months prior to beginning III, scribbled many plot possibilities and bits of dialogue in it as they came to me. I lived in eager anticipation of utilizing them at the appropriate time in the writing process. Alas, in the midst of major redecorating of my house, I lost this wealth of time-saving, inspiring tidbits. The likely scenario is that I’ll find it the day after the book goes to press, of course. How lovely if I would find it sooner—like, say, tomorrow!
The web is one of my favorite graphic organizers for preparing to write. You know—a circle in the middle of the page, write the subject or theme or chapter title in it, and then draw lines off the circle like spider legs. At the end of each “leg” is another circle in which is written a situation or phrase that might be included in the entry. These circles, in turn, can have more legs/lines leading to more circles that provide additional information and details. This process seems to activate my right brain, and I have found that a well-ordered web pretty much writes the chapter. I’ve developed webs for the last three entries I’ve written with good results. However, I may not web again for a while. We’ll see what works next time.