It’s that time again: I’m starting another book. Technically, I do have some of this book written but it’s been sitting for so long that I feel like I’m starting cold. In fact, I might have been better off if I were, because when I pulled out what I had, it was 35,000 words and a bunch of almost-notes. It was such a disaster, really, that I promptly decided I needed another way. It was okay with the first couple of books to just throw things into a pile and sort it out later but starting my fourth book, and with deadlines looming for the first time, I realized it was probably time to get my act together. I needed to figure out a better way to keep my story notes organized.
Thankfully, I got some great help from my writer’s group and from a survey I did on my Facebook profile (check it out here if you need more ideas). One of my friends pointed me toward the disc bound notebook. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before because I already use a disc bound planner–but that is a topic for another post (my next one, actually!). So today I’m going to share with you how I got my discbound notebook set up and how you can use it for your story organization too! Don’t worry–it’s super easy and shockingly cheap!
The Discbound Notebook
First things first: what is a discbound notebook? Exactly as it sounds, it is a notebook that has a unique hole-punch that allows pages to easily slip on and off of plastic discs. It’s a compact and versatile setup that, for me, checked all the boxes of what I was looking for in an organization system.
The other question you might have is, why this setup? Why not a regular notebook, or–get with the times, Jamie!–a digital system? Both viable options, and I also use Storyist, but 1) I still brainstorm better on paper, and 2) regular notebooks end up very disorganized and often times, with a lot of wasted space.
Yes, that means, you can write your notes as they come to you on any sheet of paper in the notebook and then pull it out and stick it back in under the right tab later. Or print some research, hole punch it, and slip it in anywhere. Or even create your own page templates for character sheets or plotting systems that you can make unlimited copies of and add into your notebook any time. The possibilities are really endless.
My Discbound Notebook
I’m going to take you on a quick walkthrough of my notebook and how I use it but first you’re probably wondering where I found this notebook. I got mine at Staples for less than $15. A quick search shows you find similar notebooks at Office Depot and, I’m sure, at any other major office supply store near you. There are a lot of different designs and sizes so pick one that suits you! I liked the clear cover on this one so I could make a custom cover, and I chose the 8 1/2 x 11 paper size so it would be easy to print things and add them into my notebook without having to trim the paper to fit. I’m all about making it easy!
So as I said, I started by creating a custom cover for mine. I do have the added benefit of having been a web and graphic designer in a previous life so I went a little wild, but don’t underestimate the beauty of simply copying and pasting some pictures of your characters and/or setting into a Word document and printing it. You could also cut pictures out of a magazine–whatever works!
The notebook I got came with 5 tabs. I labeled them Notes, Characters, Plot, Timeline, and Research respectively. This is my first character sheet under my Characters tab and as you can see, it’s a pretty print-out from my Storyist program. Luckily the program has a really cool layout and since I already had a lot of information plugged in, I simply made sure it was up-to-date, printed it, hole-punched it, and stuck it in my notebook. I also bought some extra Post-It tabs to make it easy to find each main character within the Characters section.
Other things you could add: those cool character interview questions you can find all over online? Print those and add them! Pictures of your character inspiration from Pinterest? Done.
Also pictured here is the ARC portable hole punch that I got at Staples (here is a similar model), which makes it really easy to add pages to my notebook. It only allows for a few pages at a time, which works for me, but if you need something more heavy duty, you can also check out this hole punch. If I ever decided, for instance, to put my hole manuscript on rings, this would be the way to go.
On the right in this picture, you can see the lined paper that came with the notebook, which is a really nice heavy duty paper. I also printed out my index cards from Storyist to keep handy. And the great part is that whenever I update the index cards in my program, I can always re-print them and update them in the notebook with very little hassle. Or, if I come across changes I want to make to the plot or characters, I can make a note of them in pen inside my notebook and then update them on the computer whenever I have time.
I almost died a happy death when I came across these pages in the notebook–a calendar! How many times have you struggled to keep your story events straight, forgetting what happened on which day? This solves the problem! If your story takes place over a period of a few weeks or a few months, this is such a cool feature and I’m loving using it. If your story timeline takes place over many years, you’ll probably have to come up with a better way. When you do, be sure to share it in the comments for others! Also, I haven’t found extra copies of these planner pages that I can order so if you come across them, will you please send me the link?
Lastly, it comes with this useful pocket for any loose notes or tools you might need to carry with you. For me, it’s index cards and extra tabs.
I am really loving this notebook and already it’s been the best system I’ve tried so far. Another awesome thing about it is that I can reuse it for each book. The notebook came with more lined pages than I could ever need for one book so I removed a lot of them to make it lighter and easier to carry around, and then when I’m done with this book, I can simply pull out all the pages I used, put them into a folder, and fill the notebook back up again with new pages–the tabs will stay the same!
What do you think of this system? Do you think it would work for you? What system do you use now?
And if you’d like to check out my discbound planner in my next post, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter so you don’t miss it!