Hurrah for the Index Card!
If I were to make a list of the 10 greatest inventions of human history, index cards would be right there along with the alphabet and the stuff you put on the back of your pet’s neck to kill fleas.
I don’t know how I’d get along with out them.
Not counting their other household applications, index cards are the mainstay of my writing projects.
Writing about language
I keep a stack of index cards by my chair to make notes of language peculiarities I encounter in my reading or TV watching. This is a more useful method of note-taking than my former practice of recording such notes on the backs of envelopes or even in a dedicated notebook. The cards can then be separated into categories such as grammar, vocabulary, and the like.
I hate to outline, but I have learned that writing a novel requires outlining–if not at the beginning, then at some point down the line. Using index cards makes the process more pleasant.
Once you have your plot in mind, deal yourself a deck of index cards equal to the number of chapters. Using one card for each chapter, write a one sentence description of what happens in the chapter. As your novel progresses, you will almost certainly want to add or to rearrange chapters. Having your outline on index cards makes rearranging easy.
Another set of cards can help you keep the characters and their identifying tags straight. You don’t want to give Bruce Bigpecs piercing blue eyes in Chapter One and smouldering black eyes in Chapter Twenty.
Something I hate more than outlining is keeping track of important records. I should have known better, but when I began acquiring WordPress accounts and GoDaddy domains, and doing things on line that require usernames and passwords, I wrote the information down in a little notebook next to my computer. Now it’s a big deal to find a password or an ID. This stuff is going onto index cards.
Plenty of computer programs exist for doing the kinds of things I’ve described here, but the fact remains that some of us require tactile re-enforcement.
It’s a psychological delight to be able to hold the stack of chapter cards in your hand and visualize the wonderful novel that is to come of them. And when the computer program crashes or is lost, that box of cards is still going to be there.
Low-tech or not, the index card belongs in every writer’s toolbox.
NOTE: We can thank American librarian and efficiency freak Melvil Dewey for the modern cardstock index card. Christened “Melville,” he dropped the “inefficient” letters. He experimented with spelling his surname “Dui,” but apparently that was too exotic to be practical.
Here’s a writer who shares my addiction to index cards:
Lela Davidson’s tribute to the index card
And here’s a brief bio of Melvil Dewey.
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