Are you writing a book and struggling with finding enough space to lay out all your notes? Are you constantly losing important notes? In today’s post of Ask An Expert, Alex from Toronto has written to me because they are writing a book and living in a small shared apartment and need to find a solution for keeping all their notes on structure and plot together and laid out. You don’t need a lot of space or money to get your creative juices if you follow my 3 great suggestions.
THE PROBLEM: HOW DO I ORGANIZE MY NOTES FOR WRITING A BOOK
I am currently working from home in a small apartment that I share with a roommate. I am writing a book and am at the stage of having lots of notes and scenes, but I can’t progress until I can sort out the structure. I don’t have a large table that I can spread out all my post-it notes on and in order to progress I need to be able to keep the structure laid out and visible for some months – in a way that allows me to move ideas around a bit. Do you have any ideas that might help? Alex in Toronto, Canada
Thank you for reaching out to me. As a writer myself, I completely understand what your issue is.
The writing process is so private and delicate. Until you are ready to share it with the world it needs to be kept close to you. A writer needs somewhere where all their focus can be engaged in the writing process, somewhere that is private. Virginia Woolf was correct, in order for the creative writing mind to journey it needs a room of its own. However, it is possible to have a “Room of One’s Own” while not actually having a separate room for writing in.
It’s not so much about a physical location, think of it as more of a metaphor of a space you enter each day to write. This space could be your car, a coffee shop, or library. So, let’s think about what the important aspects in a writer’s space might be.
- A flat surface. To write.
- A space where you can pick up where you last left off and all your notes, books, and aids are exactly as you left them.
- A space that provides you with the peace of mind to write.
Alex, you have found the flat surface to write at, the privacy to write in, and the environment to think in. Your particular issue is with finding somewhere that you can physically look at the big picture to help you to manage and organize all the notes and ideas for the structure and storyline in a visual way.
I have a number of suggestions for you and they all entail the concept of a whiteboard. They all work but it really is a personal thing. What works best for you, you will only know.
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The Whiteboard as a creative tool.
White Boards are great when you need to see the big picture. They help you brainstorm, think, and get clarity, see patterns and solve problems. Whiteboarding allows you to see all your ideas in one spot. It’s like storyboarding for animation, only you don’t draw scenes, you write them. The disadvantages of the traditional whiteboards are that they are hard to move, expensive, difficult to keep clean, and do stain permanently over time.
I am not going to suggest a Whiteboard to you as you don’t have the space to keep one and the cost alone for the use you need it for is not worth it. I am going to suggest other forms of whiteboards for your creative process.
1. The Think Board
The Think Board is a novel idea. It sticks to your walls, or any flat surface, and peels off with no messy residue. I have one myself which I keep beside my desk for quick notes. I think this might work for you as you don’t have to use dry erase pens on the board, you can still use your post-it notes, photos, and paper by taping them to the board. It’s a lot cheaper than a traditional whiteboard, takes up less space, and won’t impact the surface you use detrimentally. There are other companies who make similar products out there as well.
2. The back of a print/painting hung on a wall.
That’s right! When you live in a small space, particularly one you share you need to be able to put away or “hide” your work when you are not working on the plot of your book. If you have a reasonably sized picture hanging in your home, take it down and use the back of it for all your notes. Then when you are finished you just hang the painting up and no one sees or touches your work. I would suggest you purchase some Washi Tape to stick your post-its and notes on with. Washi tape is like masking tape but is super durable, flexible, and can be safely applied to a variety of surfaces without leaving a sticky residue behind.
You could also put a Think Board behind a painting too. It would be a great way to strategize and think through storylines. And once you are done you just wipe it all off.
3. Butcher Paper
This is also another option if you don’t have the wall space or any artwork that is large enough to use the back of. I used to use Butcher Paper myself and found it fantastic for brainstorming. You use it in exactly the same way conceptually as a whiteboard. The difference is that you roll it out, cut the length you need and anchor it down with a book either end or pin it to a wall. Then you stick or write all your ideas on it. When you are done you simply roll it up (with all the post-it notes etc. inside it) and put it in your filing cabinet or a drawer. Everything stays intact and out of sight until you roll it out again.
You can also get butcher paper on a roll that mounts to a wall. I found this great wall Mounted Butcher Paper that, though a little pricy, is well made and looks great. You can place/stick all your post-its and notes, rip off what you need, file it away out of sight when you are done working, and in between use it for thinking and processing your thoughts.
I hope this helps. Let me know how you get on and if we need to tweak any of these ideas.
Here are some posts of mine that might be of interest to you:
And don’t forget to check out my Pinterest page to see more tips for the creative process and keeping it organized and flowing.
I found your idea of using the back of a framed picture a real game-changer. I have taken down a picture and stuck the post-it scene notes to the back which has allowed me to order them. Just being able to lay it all out has helped my thinking. I’ve actually been able to do a lot more writing as this was holding me up. I love that the masking tape is reusable so it feels environmentally friendly and it’s easy to peel and reuse so I can move the notes around knowing they won’t fall off when I need to hang up the picture. And it looks nice! I’m so pleased to have a less cluttered space and easy access to my creative project. THANK YOU!!!
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