I once wrote about how putting my thoughts into words on the page crystalized my thinking, completed the circuit in my mind. So in addition to all the writing (and re-writing and revising) I make a lot of notes too. I journal what I’m doing, and what I hope to do, from day to day. I record in detail the research for the books I write, as well as the processes I go through to create the covers and lay out the interior and format the files. But the most important to me of these is the book guide, so maybe I should explain just how I put one together.
For every novel I write, there’s another book’s worth of notes about that story. It all starts when I get the first idea. I jot down all I can of that inspiration and then leave it there until I have more ideas to add to it. Thus I collect a lot of preliminary notes, which I reread when it’s time to develop a coherent concept for the story as a whole.
Then I write a new section to discover that complete idea for what I’m about to write – the basic premise, the structure that defines where and when and under what conditions the story takes place, and the characters and the basic challenges they will face (or sometimes the other way around – the problems and then the people who will solve them.) I keep writing until I have a firm enough grasp on the story to know how it ought to start, whose eyes I will see it through, and the general direction everything will be heading in. Then I’m ready to write the actual story.
But that’s not the end of the book guide, it’s really just the beginning. Up to this point the guide has been showing me where I’ll be going, then I move into what I call a working summary. I discover the story while I write and make notes on what I’m doing and what I’m learning about the characters and the structure and the plot and so forth as everything unfolds.
And as I get further into the story, I realize changes that need to be made to what I’ve already written. So I start making notes about all those things, little and large, that I need to be aware of when I start the rewrite – and then I make contemporary notes about the changes I’m actually making as I work my way through that second draft.
In the end I have a record of the entire process of producing the story from start to finish. It helped me write the book, and it helps me when I look back and write the behind the story posts to share each of these journeys with you. The book guide also becomes a valuable resource going forward, because there’s always a lot, about the characters and plot and setting, that never makes it into the finished product.
And often a new book begins with the notes I made for a previous story.
(Read more about how I use the book guide.)