Sunday, April 26, 2009

Madness comes in 3x5

So...way back before November, I decided that this was going to be the year when I organized my NaNoWriMo story ahead of time. To that end, and partially based on what I saw others doing, I bought a bunch of index cards and a box to put 'em in. I did use a good portion of the index cards--I wrote up lists of potential character names, colors, and other brain joggers for those times when I got stumped. And I wrote character and scene sketches for my story as I pictured it.

Then I started writing.

As I've mentioned here before, and as I keep having to relearn, I cannot write to an outline or preconceived notions. Can't. It's an exercise in frustration. My stories and characters become what they are as I write them, and they very rarely have much in common with the original idea. At this point, I think I have to just accept this and work with it.

But the bottom line is that all those index cards filled with bright ideas and carefully scripted scenes ended up being useless. My main character slipped to second place and turned into a little spitfire of a gal instead of the elegant, cold woman of the world she was meant to be; characters I'd never imagined showed up and brought their lives with them; the world they they all inhabited changed to a completely different location and time...and I never used a single one of my cards. Not one. I tucked them away (except my idea cards) and chalked it up to experience.

But then, not too long ago, I grabbed one of those blank cards when I was hunting for something to use for a grocery list. I felt guilty about using card stock for something so trivial, but I liked the size, and that it held up well in my pocket. I reused it and scribbled to-dos on the back. I started carrying index cards with me and used them for more lists--I love lists. I wrote down ideas for more writing: nothing fully formed, just random ideas and words I wanted to include, or vague lines that sounded nice in my head, or notes on things I'd seen and heard that stirred my imagination.

Now I'm coming to the realization that I'm addicted, or could become so if I let myself. I usually scribble most of these things in a notebook, but with the index cards, I can toss any that have outlived their usefulness or been transcribed, keep works-in-progress and long-term reference items at the front of the stack instead of having them end up pages behind, and even organize into categories. They are just about the perfect everyday scribbling surface. comes the weekend's binge. 'Cause when I fall off the wagon, I fall hard. You thought last week was bad? Ha! Look at this!

Can you feel the power? Can you? You envy me, you know you do. Four bucks for this massive stack at Staples. And I like that they had the unlined ones in the same quantities and not relegated to second-class status.

And then, because I needed a new wallet/money and credit card carrier of some sort anyway, I picked up this little thing at Office Depot. It was labeled as a FranklinCovey Task List Wallet (on-line they just call it a Leather Index Card Holder), and came with some cheap 3x5 cards marked with task lists--I doubt I'll even use them. I had a hard time photographing this since it's black and all, so you'll have to pardon the less than elegant backdrop.

It holds a few cards on the writing surface (the ends of the card tuck under), and has room for additional cards underneath, or on the other side. There's also a pen slot, room for credit cards, and--underneath the pencil box--a clear window for ID. It also has a slot for cash, but since this wallet is so deep (over 5 inches) it feels a little funny putting money in there. I'll probably use that slot for the occasional single check or receipts. Or more cards. I note the Office Depot product page says this has a ten card capacity--I'm assuming they're *only* counting the space behind the writing surface.

It feels...OK. It's a far cry from the Levenger Pocket Briefcase it emulates, but it also doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

The pen slot is a little shorter than the average pen, and a thick pen means the wallet doesn't fold as neatly as it should. So...I splurged a little more and got a Parker Jotter. Isn't it cute?? Love that they come in bright pink!

Oh, and those pencils? Well...what can I say? I didn't have any pencils. Therefore I needed them, right? I love the way Ticonderoga pencils smell...mmmm! My cats are also strangely fascinated by them, though. I wrote with one of them for awhile this afternoon and Halvah insisted on sitting right next to me, sniffing loudly. Like gal, like cat?


Monda said...

I'm guessing that Franklin Covey number didn't cost $68 like the Levenger Pocket Briefcase. Goodness.

I can't remember if it's Natalie Goldberg or Nancy Atwell or Anne Lamott or who, but one of them swears by the note card system. I've tried and I keep losing the cards everywhere.

Don't worry about the notecard/NaNo thing. Outlines were a complete waste of time for me too. Not that I tried very hard to make a good one or keep it.

I wonder if anyone makes note cards that look like yellow legal pad paper? Hmmmm....

By the way, if you put a Parker gel refill in that Jotter next time 'round, your life will be complete. I promise.

speculator said...

No pencils in the house?!
Give yourself LOTS of leeway, there!
Maybe you have a decent art supply place in your area.

Have you tried the vertical-format Levenger index cards? They're actually worth that high price, and are imprinted on both sides. The blank ones are great for typing on.

Anonymous said...

I haven't been able to do an outline, in any form, for creative writing in spite of many attempts. (Non-fiction is a very different matter.) But I do use index cards, 4" x 6" because I use a fountain pen and don't have the smallest handwriting out there. Also, several of my typewriters, such as the Olympia SM3 and SM4, have those plastics shields that hold index cards flat while typing.

I use them to record random ideas as they come to me: character names/sketches, settings, perhaps a scene that seems interesting, a turn of phrase or theme that catches my attention, etc. These aren't intended for any particular story, just items that might be useful at some point. I keep a stack of the cards by the typewriter I'm using at the moment and by my easy chair in case inspiration strikes while watching TV.

I love those little pocket briefcase thingies. Mine was a gift from Levengers and I've carried it daily ("Don't leave home without it") for over ten years. The leather just gets softer and nicer the more I use it. It isn't a wallet. Instead I use it in place of a PDA. No batteries, nothing to go wrong or out of date unless I lose it and it holds a little calendar, note cards, appointment cards, and so on. It fits in any breast pocket. (As a guy, I don't worry about my bust line.) I keep several slim ball point pens available that fit it well but my favorite is a sterling silver, hand engraved mechanicl pencil from around WW I.

To maintain the acquisition mode we all deal with, I got a backup version several years ago when Levenger had them on sale. I would really be lost without one.


Elizabeth H. said...

The FranklinCovey version cost about $15, which is...about what a basic wallet (purchased somewhere other than a thrift store) costs these days, I guess! I admit to coveting the Levenger ones, despite the cost. They make good stuff. Someday.

Thanks for the gel refill tip, Monda! Really! I know I saw those refills at Staples.

Abraham--I think the only art store in town closed down. :-\ I'm aware of on-line art suppliers, but it's not really the same as being able to handle the goods. But we'll see if I even use these that much. I like 'em, but I'm also pretty stuck on my fountain pens.'s a different tactile experience, and (as I keep mentioning) I love the way they smell! As for the vertical format Levenger cards...despite the example in my photo, I actually typically use the plain side of those cards, in vertical format. I like not having lines, 'cause then I can write in whatever line width is appropriate for the pen I'm using at the time. But I'll keep those in mind! I've heard good things about them.

Jeff--thanks for the Levenger pocket briefcase endorsement, among other things. So they aren't just a pretty face? ;-) Sounds like you use index cards much as I do. One thing I can see as a benefit over notebooks is that I also *will* make notes of sudden revelations on stories I'm currently working on, and in my notebook, it's a constant struggle to find where I wrote that scene snippet when I was out and about, or that line I was going to give character X. This way I can sort them out into separate piles if I want.

Elizabeth H. said...

Oh, and I was going to mention, just in case anyone else was interested in ways to carry index cards...this one was from Office Depot, but Staples also carries a wallet by Buxton. It's a few dollars cheaper, too...but wider, a little bulkier, and instead of the pen slot being in the middle, it has you pass a pen through two loops, one on either flap, to hold the thing shut. It felt a little kludgey to me, so I passed.

speculator said...

At least Levenger's cards have very faintly-printed lines. I agree with you about ruled pages. All my journals are unlined- and the beauty of Circa is in getting the holepuncher. The paper you see in al my typecasts is Verge-de-France, which I trim with a mat knife, and punch for Circa binders.
The other day I was at the Levenger store in Boston, and picked up some of these:|level=2-3|pageid=5584

Ayuh, the pencil motif was too good to resist.

Olivander said...

I've had oscillating luck outlining stories with notecards. Plot-driven stories seem to benefit the most, where point Z is more dependent upon points A-Y correctly falling into place. Character-driven stories, OTOH, just go off wherever they damn please--and in retrospect, I think adhering to an outline for those stories would have afflicted them with a fatal rigidity.

Elizabeth H. said...

Oh, gosh...if I ever make it into a Levenger retail store, I am *so* done for. It's a lot easier to resist cute and pretty pictures than it would be the real thing.

speculator said...

Oh yeah, Elizabeth.
For me, it's the whole Boston-Cambridge writer's pilgrimage package:
Bob Slate: Stationer, Rugg Road, Bromfield Pen Shop, Levenger, Harvard Coop, The Paper Source, and uh-huh- Cambridge Typewriter.

Then come all those delicious libraries, cafes, and bookstores!

Monda said...

Your geography is patently unfair.

Anonymous said...

As you value your sanity, or at least your budget, DO NOT go into a Levenger retail store. They opened one here in northern Virginia a couple of years ago and I go there several times a year just to test my will power. Unfortunately, I always flunk the test.

It's bad enough dealing with the fine leather items and the reading/writing accoutrements. But my downfall are the books they offer through Levenger Press. The latest one I got was a beautifully bound copy of E.B. White's "Notes On Our Times". It is a collection of his essays, written over several decades, that hasn't been in print for a long time. Very dangerous.


Mike Speegle said...

"Your geography is patently unfair." Hear hear!

In other news, the reason the cats are fascinated with the pencils is that they smell like tiny scratching-posts. That is all.

speculator said...

Well, Monda and Mike, northern New Englanders endure some intense and lengthy winters. But our rewards are found in these quirky ways- not to mention lobster rolls, Moxie soda, and chocolate Needhams. Home, sweet home.

mpclemens said...

Monda said:

I can't remember if it's Natalie Goldberg or Nancy Atwell or Anne Lamott or who, but one of them swears by the note card system.It's Lamott, though the others may swear as well, I don't know. She talks about keeping index cards on-hand in Bird by Bird and I think it's excellent advice. So much of my story ideas are scratched out on the small pile of cards hiding on my dresser, usually captured right before I'm dozing off. Index cards are low cost, easily pocketable, moderately durable, recyclable, mailable, and come in a variety of colors and styles for the extra finicky. I love 'em, and have a slight hoarding problem with them.

Elizabeth H. said...

Lobster rolls and chocolate Needhams are indeed wonderful things...but Moxie is one of those acquired tastes I've never managed to acquire. Every so often I'd pick up a can, try valiantly to finish it, and give up in despair. It is...unique. I'll give it that! And now you've got me wanting to attempt it again.

So...there is a new chapter in this whole saga, thanks to the Levengerites. ;-) Because of the additional talk, I got to browsing their eBay outlet and came across one of their pocket briefcases (the international version, which is pretty much the same layout as the FranklinCovey, with slots for cash and credit cards / ID) for $10. Even with shipping, it was no more than the cheap version. I couldn't resist. It's coming my way. The one downside is that it's a returned monogrammed item: initialed with the letters MSR. I've seen Levenger's monograms, though, and they're pretty understated. Just look kind of like a brand stamp. And I can always pretend they're the initials of my pen name, right? Hm...gotta think of a name.

Meanwhile, I took the other back to Office Depot. I'm usually one of those people who never returns anything because it makes me feel bad to do that, but I had the cards it came with, all the packaging, and hadn't marked it up or anything, so I guess I can feel guiltless....

Anonymous said...

Speculator, I grew up in New England and drank my share of Moxie in the 50s and 60s. Haven't lived there for decades. Do they still make it? I would be curious what my Wisconsinite wife might think of it. (evil laughter)

Elizabeth, I didn't know Levengers maintained an ebay connection. (Sigh) Something else to check out.


speculator said...

Moxie (which pre-dates Pepsi and Coke) is still with us! The town of Lisbon Falls, Maine- where it was invented- hosts Moxie Days, every July. It's really great. Kennebec Grocery makes malted Moxie floats- and Moxie ice cream.

Mainers either love it or they make gawky faces at Moxie swillers. I love it! I describe it as "root beer with viscosity." Maine is refreshingly replete with quirky time warps.

Duffy Moon said...

pen name suggestions:

Manfield Steele Raunsch
Marguerite Savoy Renault
Miguel Salat Rodriguez
Montgomery "Sticky" Rosenfeld
Marian Seavolt-Rasmussen
Millie Sue Rexman

(Depends what kind of writing you do, I suppose...)

Strikethru said...

Oooh Levenger Pocket Briefcase... want one...

I too have wiped out with the index cards.

Elizabeth H. said...

Love the pen name suggestions, especially Montgomery "Sticky" Rosenfeld and Millie Sue Rexman. Too funny! So...what are your plans for the first week or so of November? I could use some help with quirky name generation....