I am a note taker. This started in high school and continued through college. I was the one known for having the notes. If someone was missing something, I probably had it. This is also true of my writing. I mentioned in my post about my writing process that it involves a lot of note taking. I get a lot of ideas all at once and so I write them down. This serves the purpose later I can focus on writing rather than stumbling about wondering where I was going with the story and bemoaning the loss of funny dialogue. The more notes I write however, it seems like there is this law of entropy, meaning the messier things get. And after a while messy grates on me. I can only let mess go so long before I have this horrible urge to wash something!
Or in this case start cleaning up the notes and copy and pasting into new files and breaking things down on what happens when and, oh God where did I put those notes on the characters! Eep! But it is important for me to clean my notes up and put them into different files so that later when I need to know something, I can find it without too much digging.
Notes are especially important if you are writing something longer. Say, more than a book. If you’re only writing one book in that universe, then you won’t need as many notes as say, a person who is writing a series of two or more books. If you’re writing a series it is twice as important to be organized than someone who isn’t. I want to say by the fifth to seventh book of a series, if not sooner, I can tell if a writer had an idea for the entire series in advance or if they are writing without a clear end goal in mind. Sometimes writers have clear end goals in mind and don’t have the middle portion figured out enough to make the end goal make sense when they are done. So, they write their series and by the time their done their original ending no longer makes sense, but they use that ending anyways.
This is a good way to anger the readers. You don’t want angry readers. They might not want to read anything else by you because you’ve disappointed them.
So, as I’ve said, the very first very good reason to be organized is so you don’t forget anything.
Look, not everyone has the time or the willpower to write ten thousand words a day which means fifty thousand words a week and that is a small novel. That takes a lot of fortitude and really, sounds exhausting. No matter what your writing level or skill, it takes time to write something. And with time comes this terrible thing called long term and short term memory. Things pass out of our heads and since no one has cracked the hippocampus like in Meet the Robinsons, we are forgetful people! Even if you are writing fifty thousand words a week, somewhere in the blur of words it is easy to forget a key scene or an important detail. Notes are your friends!
The next best reason to be organized is to have a roadmap of where you are and where you are going. Now, I understand that there are writers who cannot literally write this way. They have characters and some sort of vague idea of a plot and they write and write and write and hopefully at the end of whatever they are doing they end up with a story at the end of it. When I try to do this, I end up with a plotless mess and a story that never ends up going anywhere. It tends to be boring. If I’m organized, I know where the character is now, where I want them to be and hopefully, how I’m going to get them there. (Or at least some cool core ideas for stories that will test their patience and skills.) Otherwise I feel like I’m floundering around in the dark with my hands in front of me hoping that I bump into something that tells me where I am!
The roadmap isn’t set in stone. But it does exist enough so that hopefully where I end up still remains logical and hopefully, I’m not set on my ending idea, that if the road map changes, I can let it go for something that makes sense. Really, the roadmap is there to keep me from deviating too far from what I’m doing and throwing something really strange into the mix.
Stories can change over time. What you feel is right when you first come up with the idea, may change by the time you’re on the second or third draft of the idea. Notes give you a sense of history. This is where you were at the time and this is where you are now. Notes allow you to see clearly what has changed and at times whether or not that change is for the better.
Between drafts and over time, as the ideas and the story changes, there will be scenes and ideas and plots that you toss because it just doesn’t fit with the concept anymore. It happens. But the great thing is if you have notes about those ideas, they might fit a new concept better or become a story of their own. Maybe the discarded idea will take a life of its own and create a whole bunch of new stories to play with. Drat those squeaky toys of doom! They keep breeding!
Notes can also help writers from repeating themselves. Writers tend to be drawn to certain ideas and themes that are important to them. However, if a writer keeps using the same idea over and over and over again, it is liable to become boring. No one wants to read boring! Notes can help a writer see if their story is too similar to their previous stories and make changes!
The other thing notes do is create a level of consistency. (I know, I just said repeating is bad.) This is particularly important when you’re writing a series. Character histories need to be decided on and kept the same throughout the books. Personalities need to be kept consistent and when changes happen, they should be natural results of what is going on in the series. People, places and objects need to be described. A lot of times they end up being described in the book and then later, they might be described a completely different way. It is important to keep everything matching to each other. A lot of author’s solve this problem by copying and pasting their important dialogue and exposition phrased into another document and then copying and pasting that into each of their books when appropriate. This is a viable strategy that saves time!
Speaking of time, having notes saves the writer time for when it comes to doing the very important thing, writing. Having notes allows the writer to focus on the task of telling a story. This means, there is a time for taking notes and a time for writing. If the writer focuses too much on making, sorting and organizing their notes, they’re never going to get any writing done. So, there has to be time for the writer to say, enough is enough, let’s get writing! (Sort of like this blog post.)
Notes are very useful tools for the writer, but they are just a tool to be applied in limited quantities. It is important that notes be organized so the writer can find the information they need when they need it. Notes help the writer remember things, where they are going, keep track of changes in a story, come up with new stories, keep the writer from repeating themselves, create consistency in the work and saves time.
For those writers who don’t use notes, outlines and so on and just sit down and write. I applaud and respect you. It just doesn’t work for me.