I want my cards back!

How many people are like me, old enough to have used the card system for writing extensive papers in high school and college? I used to have stacks of cards for any paper longer than two pages. One set was for the resources. I would label each one with the correct MLA/AMA form and number it. As I took notes, I would label another set with the resource number, the topic of those notes, and the order of the cards with the specific notes. When it came time to write, I put all the cards with notes into order by topic, and was thus able to see whether I had support from several resources on a topic (and could thus claim it was common domain) or whether I needed to credit the information to a resource or two. I could re-order the cards so that the information would flow as I wrote. Sometimes I’d write the whole thing out by hand, and only then type it up … on a typewriter!

As much as I love my laptop and word processing, I wonder how many writers are still writing their manuscripts by hand. My little book is really just a long story that is going to be a bit thick in print because it will have illustrations and an extensive glossary. But even so, I couldn’t keep track of what I’d said in one part and how it flowed to the next. I have been wishing for the card system. In fact, if I ever write another book (no, Cindy, definitely not happening soon!), I want to come up with a card system to keep track of the chapters or themes or something. What I had to do the other day was print most of it out, lay it all over my floor, cut it into sections, then crawl among the pieces, labeling what they were before crossing pieces out and cutting even more apart to move them into new places. I compared them to the 40 or so sticky notes that I had with comments on them for changes or improvements, scribbled on the pages whatever I’d forgotten, taped them together in a new order, and went back to the computer in despair that I could ever fix it.

I still have twelve sticky notes next to me as I write. Some are reminders to go back to the real story and read up on what truly happened with the artists, and some are notes I couldn’t make sense of while crawling around on the floor. But hurrah! My kind, surely exhausted, editor reread and said that I made it flow. Her words: “I read it in one breath.” Well, “Я прочитала на одном дыхании,” to be exact.

I’m so relieved. I was thinking it was going to be another couple months just tweaking the writing. And it may. But I feel a lot better. Authors out there: what systems exist for writing efficiently that don’t involve printing out entire manuscripts?


7 responses to “I want my cards back!

  1. Elizabeth Weltner

    I still use cards! I also put all my references into apa format, in alphabetical order in a word document on a thumb drive so I can just easily copy and paste. If I read an article or book electronically and I want to keep just a portion of it for a quote, I screen shoot it and have a file by topic.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a class, but if I ever do again, I’m sure I’ll stick to the method. However, since I’m retired now, the chances are slim I’d take a class with that kind of requirements.

    Hope you are doing well there in Alaska.

    Beth Weltner

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. So where are you now, Beth? And how nice to know that the card system hasn’t died. (You probably know how NoodleTools does the APA punctuation for you.) Yeah…I probably am not going to be taking that kind of class again either. But I might be using APA or MLA at the end of this story to share the articles I used for it.


  3. My brother writes novels in English, 100,000 words, and he uses cards! Allows him to be flexible as he reworks the plot structure.

    I like to have a plot outline that can fit on one page so I can see the flow of the whole novel. As I write I make notes, draw arrows reordering parts & it gets very messy.


    • I did have the plot outline on two facing pages in the notebook for your class, but I think I forgot to use it. But also, it was little pieces of text that turned out to belong in a different chapter. A couple times, I had close to the same text about a person in two different places, but because I couldn’t see it all, I didn’t know I was duplicating until reading it through slowly with another person who pointed it out.


  4. There is software that attempts to reproduce the card experience on the computer. One of those programs is Scrivener. I’ve never used it, but I know authors who do, and they think it’s great.


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