Affiliate link In this article I’m going to discuss the “index card method” of writing. If you haven’t ever tried it, you should know that using index cards to write is a very good and useful way to get the job done. It’s easy once you get the basic idea, and if you practice it regularly you’ll be able to produce better results and faster results on a consistent basis.
For the purpose of this article, an “index card” is the little 3×5 or 4×6 lined paper card that you can purchase at your local office supply store. They provide just enough room to write some notes but not so much to let you go off on a tangent!
Now for the methodology…
You’ll need quite a few index cards on hand. You’ll need anywhere from 50 to 500 depending on the size of your book.
Step 1 is to get your notes onto the cards. Go through your sources, your thoughts, your notes, and write a little bit of text for each topic on each index card. The more detailed you are, the better… but you don’t want to over-do it. If you find yourself needing to turn the card over and write on the back you’re probably getting carried away.
Once you have moved all of your project-related notes onto the index cards, you sift through the cards and start categorizing and organizing them. Break them up into groups of related topics. It’s easiest just to create a few stacks and sort through them on your kitchen table or a similar surface.
The next step is to start to organize each individual stack into an order that “works”. This is the point where you need to consider the FLOW of your story, and how the order of events in your writing is going to affect your audience.
Finally, once you have ordered each individual stack, you need to sort them into order from beginning to end. I usually like to think of each stack as a chapter or section of the book. Depending on how you’ve worked up until this point, the precise divisions and the meaning of a group of cards might be different for you.
Now you have your complete project in a collection of ordered, organized index cards. This is the point at which you begin the traditional “writing” process, of actually typing the manuscript using your index cards as a guide. I would not sit down with the whole stack of cards at once, but would instead use “divide and conquer” to tackle one group at a time, and in each group take things one card at a time.
You’ll probably find at this stage that the writing process itself becomes more of a process of copying from the cards, paraphrasing, and “gluing” things together. If you have followed these steps faithfully to this point, your project will probably start to seem like it’s writing itself! The only thing left to do at this point is to focus on style and form, and making your writing flow together well.
To review, for this method to work, you need to take the following simple steps:
1. Transfer your thoughts and notes to index cards
2. Categorize the cards into stacks of cards that can be grouped together based on topic, etc.
3. Order the cards in each group into an order that makes sense
4. Order the groups themselves into an order that makes sense
5. Write your first draft straight from the cards, “gluing” things together here and there where necessary.
If you practice this method faithfully, you’ll probably find that it takes the difficult parts of [writing and simplifies them, and allows you to spend more time on the parts of writing that you enjoy.