Upgrading Your Moleskin AKA Organizing the Clutter Your Writer Life AKA When Your Notebook Overfloweth by Dave Connis

Three college lined notebooks. Five different notes on my iPhone. A stack of nondescript scribbles on random sheets paper. Two manila folders. One leather bound journal (with the little wrappy strings). Five separate binders for separate WIP ideas. Some audio messages, napkins from coffee shops, post it notes, scraps of paper, envelopes, etc.

This massive list of various objects is how I've organized my writing ideas for the last six years.

This list of chaos may make you feel some sort of kindness toward this "the most successful writers can't remember what a Tuesday is" sort of idea. Well...maybe it isn't misaligned. I will say there's something magical and ancient about seeing the gritty harvest of your creative soul in heaps around you, but regardless of how magical it feels, and that it might work for someone else, it grew too chaotic for me. 

I recently posted a picture of my writing goals for the year on my Insta. I set them Mount Everest-ingly high because I used most of 2016 to either write like a popcorn maker.--jumping in and out of things that amused me, only to eventually be scared away by an evil plot hole demon--or avoiding writing all together. These goals include finishing first drafts of three new books and revising seven others.

Looking ahead, I knew that my magical heap whisky manic writer archive system wasn't going to help me be efficient at recalling the information I needed when I needed it, so I researched some ways to condense and reduce and found a little thing called Trello.

Trello is a desktop/mobile app described by the company as follows, "Trello keeps track of everything, from the big picture to the minute details...Trello is the easy, free, flexible, and visual way to manage your projects and organize everything."

"HARK!" I exclaimed upon finding it. "What light beyond yonder magical heap pile breaks?" Well, not really. Confession, I'd been familiar with Trello before I'd decided to bring it under my creative employ. I'd been using it sparingly in my "feed the family" job for a few months before I realized I might be the tool I needed to condense my chaos a bit.


With Trello, you start off by making boards. These boards are like folders in which a frick ton of stuff is put, below, you can see the boards I made. We'll come back to what I put inside them later.

After making your boards, you click into them with the expediency of an excited writer who's about to get their shit together, and inside you'll find a digital sandbox that allows you to make a LIST.

Below is what happens when I click on my teal board, BOOK RESEARCH & INSPIRATION.

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Each list you see is its own little box in which you can add CARDS. A card is the box within the box. The tiny white squares within in my "random" list. In "random", there are words I like, and links to articles that picked at my imagination when I read them. In my "American Myths" list, I've separated things into two sections: a collection of actual tall tales, and a collection of things that I'd like to explore related to my idea.

To the right is a close up of an actual list and the cards inside. You can move the order of cards inside a list. You can duplicate cards, add cards, archive cards, share cards, add labels and tags to cards. Oh, and lists share similar features.

Within a card, you could add a description that doesn't show in the card text. For example, say I wanted more information on my word "Mematiane," but I didn't want a massive block of text populating the crap out of my list. I could click on the the "mematiane" card and add a description that only shows up if I click on the card.


Once I learned the basics of Trello, I took a few hours and scavenged through my piles of ideas, condensing them all into lists, cards, and descriptions. I organized loose quotes I'd written into their own list. Things sort of naturally fell into their own categories and subcategories. For example, I made a board specifically for YA book ideas, and another for MG book ideas.

Here...I'll just show you. Bringing back the board picture.


Book Research & Inspiration: A collection of links, anecdotes to dig into further, snippets of things that don't really have a home anywhere else. Ideas from friends that haven't been sussed out, etc.

MG Book Ideas: Ideas for books that are in various stage of brewing. Some have a rough outline, others are just three lines of a possible plot. Others are one line of an basic idea that doesn't even know what plot is.

Names: A collection of lists for names I like or came up with. These are names of places, people, things, towns, far off lands, and all that noun brickabrack.

Other Book Ideas: When the phenomenon of getting an idea that has nothing to do with kid lit happens, it goes here. This is by far the most desolate board because I don't like things if they come without the essence of dragon or youth.

Quirks/Things: This is a board with lists of things that could make up a context or, in a more writerly term, a voice for either a person or a setting. I have lists of possible vocab words, strange quirks that I've observed from people around me (family and friends, your oddities are not safe with me). If I have the idea that some character somewhere should say the phrase, "Sup, Demon," It goes into this board under my list of "possible lines." If I have an idea that some MC's family should own an arcade, and maybe the MC's dad also fixes pinball machines, it goes under my "context" list.

WIP Ideas: In this board, I have a list of each WIP I'm working on. WIP here means, anything that's  an in progress first draft or waiting to be revised. If I find something while out and about that's relevant to something I'm working on--a link, a quote, a picture--or if I have a plot or character idea, etc I'll throw it in a card in the list for that specific WIP. If I'm actively working on something and I think of something I want to change, I'll make a card with what I want to change and the corresponding page number and go back to it the next morning during my re-read stage.

YA Book Ideas: Same concept as the MG board, but for YA ideas. I have so many that i had to separate them into genres like so.


My favorite part about this system is it's mobility. If I'm out somewhere and one of my friends says something I want to plagiarize, I can open up Trello, go to my quirks board, and throw the phrase in a list. If I have a story idea, I can put it right where it needs to go at that moment instead of just piling it randomly in a note on my phone and scrolling through my phone to find it later. 

So far I've found this system incredibly useful, and hope that maybe my outline of how I made the switch from sifnsrkgtnerlntu to organization will help get you an organized start to the new writing year. 

Now, by no means do I think this is going to completely cut my tendency for magical heaps. Sometimes, I just need to draw/map something out, write something down, or collect some thoughts in a unique way. Writing will never cease to have some physicality to it. It's archival in nature, storing words. My brain will never not have the need to overflow, and it doesn't care what specific media it overflows into. I'm resigned to always magical heaps on my desk, but at least they'll grow a lot slower with Trello around.