How To Read Your Novel Notes

If you read my update post about my writing goals as well as my May Goals, you’ll know that I’m trying to get some more work down on my detective novel, George Florence.

Of course, in order to get any work done on this novel I need to go through all my notes, drafts, and research.

This has been a slow process.

how to read through your notes rachel poli

If you follow me on Twitter, I’m sure you’ve seen me tweeting now and again about my attempt at organizing everything I have for my novel.

I have notes, case ideas, evidence lists, research, timeline notes, feedback from my writer’s group (multiple feedback as I submit 20 pages a month), plus previous drafts I have edited myself. I can’t stress enough how overwhelming it all looks when it’s laid out together.

Before I do anything, I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts. But in order to do that, you need to be able to read your own notes.

There’s really no easy way to go through your novel notes. Not when you’ve been working on this specific novel for almost three years.

Thoughts while reading your notes:

1. “Different strangulation techniques…” Boy, I hope no one finds my research.
2. “3,000 bucks for an apartment?! Are you kidding me…?”
3. What does this mean?
4. What was I thinking when I wrote this?
5. What is this supposed to go to…?
6. Was this an idea for this novel or something else?
7. Look at all the research I have done! And I still haven’t made a dent…

Some notes I was able to make sense of. Others, not so much.

Then there was dialogue I created between George and Lilah that were too funny, but have yet to make it into the books. I know one is for a later book, but I have no idea where I’m going to fit the other conversation.

For example…

George: Why do they always look like zombies…?
Lilah: Well, they just killed someone! I would act like a zombie too being like, “Oh, my God! What did I just do…?” Unless I was super crazy and then I would be like, “Ha ha, look at what I just did!”

George (to Lilah): I bet you were the type of kid that poked dead things with a stick, huh?

This post was titled “How To Read Your Novel Notes,” wasn’t it? I guess that’s a bit misleading. Then again, I don’t really know how to go through my notes. I sifted through them wondering what to do with them and then eventually shoved them back into my notebook.

So I guess I wasn’t very helpful.

Have you ever had just too many ideas for a novel that you didn’t know what to do with them? Any notes you thought were funny or didn’t remember writing?

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16 thoughts on “How To Read Your Novel Notes

  1. I run into #3 all the time. I make a note that I fully understand at the time, but I can’t decipher when I get back to it. Usually this is a solitary word in an outline or a scene description that I can’t make sense of. ‘She fights the guy’ turning up in the middle of a chapter with no previous mention of ‘the guy’ is a common one. Usually scrap it and rethink.

  2. I write all of my notes in a single document, trying to keep a certain order to it all. For example, I have character descriptions first, followed by general story ideas, random conversations that could fit anywhere in the story, and then scenes that are ordered in a way that I think they will appear in the story. After that, I also have potential chapter titles. It’s a lot to sift through, especially early on in the writing process (as I write more chapters, my notes dwindle), and it can also be challenge if I have specific scenes for a chapter that aren’t in complete order of if one scene maybe contradicts another scene or has repeating elements from another scene. In that case, while I’m writing a specific chapter, with my notes laid out in that chapter as a guide, it can be a bit of headache (okay, a monster headache) to get everything in order and coherent and reading like it’s not all disjointed.

    Plus, I may actually start writing from one scene and by the time I get to the next scene that it connects with, my characters might be in a different frame of mind and I’ll have to adjust the next scene I want to connect or see if there’s anything I can use before sweeping it aside and continuing to write in the flow of the chapter the way it’s building. There’s a heck of a lot that goes into the writing process, so much so that even if you have a touch of OCD, like me, you can still end up getting swamped by your mountain of notes. The key, though, is just to take it one step at a time. I like to quote Bill Murray from the movie What About Bob? when he lists everything he has to do while saying, “Baby steps.” It’s like a way of putting into action that saying that you can move a mountain simply by moving a rock at a time. It may take awhile, but you’ll get it done. And just knowing that it can be done is half the battle.

    By the way, I wanted to make a comment about a point on your list, if this reply isn’t getting too long already.

    “Was this an idea for this novel or something else?”

    I think it would be a fun idea to take ideas that seem out of place with each other and see if you can fit them together. You know, like a mystery idea of a person finding a dead body turning into a sci-fi idea of the body being a disguised alien in hypersleep (making it appear dead), hiding from a civil war on its own planet that turns into a Western idea of a stranger riding into town and getting mixed up with the person who discovered the alien who is now awake and under attack by its enemies with whom the stranger engages in a small town showdown. I think mixing notes would be a nice way of bending genres and just writing something completely fun.

    • Keeping it all in a document is a great idea. However, I always tend to use paper notes only because I think of these ideas in the most random of places.
      That would actually be a cool idea to mix ideas up together and see how they fit together. I’ve thought of doing that with some prompts I wrote. Though I haven’t actually sat down to try it yet.

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