I’d love if anyone could recommend good reference material on writing. Specifically I never got into using index cards for writing so I feel like I am missing out when it comes to Scrivener. I can get by writing shorter pieces but I’d like to push myself into longer writing exercises.
Assuming you are talking about writing fiction:
There are a few books I have read on writing, some of which I agree with, some I don’t (as with everything).
Two that I think are more good than bad (so long as you take them as starting points, or just ideas to think about, rather than gospel) would be ‘Character and Viewpoint’ by Orson Scott Card, and Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’.
However, from your post, I assume you are really interested more in books specifically about writing novels, and focusing on plotting/planning aspects. To be honest, I haven’t come across any books I would recommend on this topic. The ones that have tried to cover it I have mostly found unhelpful.
My best advice might be to think of a story idea that you think would work well in a longer form (sometimes it is good to get 2 ideas and intersect them to get a well-rounded storyline), plan out a very brief outline (where are you starting, where do you wish to end), and then just start writing.
Accept the fact that you might wander initially, and that some of the stuff will be off-topic, tangential, or just plain bad. You can fix that up after you get to the end, and do a second draft with your “whole” in mind.
Hope this helps, although it didn’t really address index cards too much (what can I say, I use them in a very superficial way. I’m sure others who use them more thoroughly might have alternative/additional advice, and maybe some good book recommendations).
I’ll add a couple of recommendations to Matt’s that you may find of some value.
The Art of Fiction - John Gardner (although his companion book, “On Becoming a Novelist” is not as helpful IMHO)
Fiction and The Complete Guide to Editing Your Fiction - Two books by Michael Seidman, a longtime editor with Walker & Co
Beyond Style - Gary Provost
Elements of the Writing Craft - Robert Olmstead
Writing the Novel - Lawrence Block (hybrid on basic writing/elements of plot structure)
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers - Renni Browne and Dave King
As Matt said, read the books; take what you need; some advice you’ll agree with, some you won’t; some techniques will work for you, some won’t. None of the above contain writing exercises because, personally, I’ve never found books that concentrate on writing exercises as valuable as just working directly on my own writing–keeping in mind knowledge and techniques I’ve gleaned from books like those I’ve listed.
And, here are a couple of posts about using index cards in writing fiction:
Hope this is of some help.
- The above referenced Beyond Style is intended for both fiction and nonfiction as is Elements of Style.
Two other references for nonfiction:
- On Writing Well - William Zissner
- The Elements of Editing - Plotnik
Here’s what one successful nonfiction book writer says about how to use index cards:
“Get a pack of 3x5” index cards, and on each one write one point you want to make to support/demonstrate/uphold your premise (points that, taken together, have convinced you of the truth of your premise). Make notes of any quotes, anecdotes, speeches, etc. that you might want to include. Keep track of these (and their sources) so you can find them later.
From these materials you should be able to formulate an outline that will lead you step-by-step, point-by-point, through your book. I find it useful to rate these points as to their importance. You will give these points the most attention. A rule of thumb is, “Save your big gun point(s) for the end.” That goes for sentences, paragraphs, and chapters as well."
My personal favorite is Ursula K. LeGuin’s Steering the Craft. It covers a lot of the craft of writing, but its biggest strength, imo, is on point of view. I have found it to be of enormous value.
Alternative index card method: shuffle and reshuffle until you get them in some kind of order that makes sense. Depending on the length and complexity of the piece, this might involve multiple stacks and substacks (or not), cards of several different colors (or not), and a large table (or floor). Start writing, either ignoring the cards completely, using them to nudge your memory, or simply adding cards until, strung together, they form a coherent whole.
Wow, thanks for all the feedback. I’ve read On Writing and Elements of Style and enjoyed them. I’ll have to check out the rest.
I guess I specifically brought up index cards because I remember my high school teachers going on and on about them for working on reports. I somehow managed to get by without writing most of the papers… I believe there were two that were requirements for passing and I just wrote them from beginning to end. I then went on to art school and didn’t have typical classes, so I regretfully never learned what it was they were telling me about in high school.
Now I’m trying my hand at longer fiction and non-fiction and using Scrivener I thought it best to figure out what it was I missed. At least I’m lucky enough to be in a relationship with an editor, and can rely on her for that stuff!
I became an index-card convert after spending a couple of days with a famous writer I won’t name and noticing that when something interested her, she’d fish an index card out of her pocket and write about it, or make a sketch, or a note, or in some way capture the moment. She’d date each one at the top, and then write a cryptic description and a category–character, place, plot, whatever–and then she’d tuck them away until she got home, when she’d file them (by character, plot, place, whatever).
Since stealing her method (hardly her method; John McPhee does this too) my books and magazine articles have gotten both better and easier to write. I keep a packet of cards by the bed, by the toilet, in my pocket, in my car, in my boat, as bookmarks–everywhere I might be. And I scribble, scribble scribble at the drop of a hat, or a name, or a leaf, and then I file them away, and when I go through the files and find what I’m looking for, I keyboard them into Scrivener and move them about until they make sense. And then I flesh them out and, well, there you are. Index cards are cheap and handy and, for some folks, indispensable tools. For other folks, they’re just fiddly bits of paper. But Scrivener is uniquely useful for index-card aficionados thanks to its metaphor and its ability to organize unorganized bits of brain-farts.
Thanks for the insight. I’m totally psycho about cards: I have InDesign templates for checklists that I print on Index Cards for work, Hipster PDA stuff, Tarot, Poker decks, Oblique Strategies, etc. I even use them instead of post-it notes. Now that you mention it that is probably why I am drawn to Scrivener!
I’m thirteen years late to this thread, but seeing as it’s still here… I thoroughly recommend Release the Bats by DBC Pierre (author of Booker winner Vernon God Little). He comes afresh to the topic of writing, yet with undeniable authority. It’s a great book – part memoir, like Stephen King’s On Writing – but I particularly useful are the sections on structure.