The Sticky-Note Method For Outlining A Novel

There are a lot of different outlining methods. Some people use lists, others use templates they create or find on the Internet, or there are methods floating around such as the Snowflake Method. I’ve never really outlined in those kinds of ways. I’ve always summarized or made lists. You know, the basics of the story. I recently started outlining scene by scene, especially now that I’ve been outlining as I write the first draft. So, here’s the sticky note outlining method that I use.

The Sticky Note Outlining Method | Novel writing | creative writing | outlines | novel outlining | RachelPoli.com

I’ve always loved office supplies, especially Post-It Notes, or sticky notes as I like to call them. I started to use them for a novels a long time ago. I’d make notes to myself within my manuscripts as I edited and stuck them in between pages. Well, I still do that, but I actually do it less now that I use them for outlining. Now I use each sticky note as a scene or an important event such as a plot point or special time.

Where I Put The Sticky Notes

I started using this method during my second or third time editing my mystery novel, George Florence & The Perfect Alibi. I placed the sticky notes 3-by-4 on each page. I filled in the notes as scenes in chronological order of what was happening in the novel. I did this for a while and filled up a notebook doing so, but then I decided I was kind of wasting good notebook paper.

While it was great to have the sticky notes together in a notebook that could close and keep them sticking and flat, I decided I’d rather use my notebooks for writing. So, now I use this method in a different way.

Instead of leaving the house to buy a poster, I taped a few card stock pieces of paper together and made my own poster – best part about this “poster?” It folds! So it works similar to the notebook in keeping the sticky notes together and portable, but I can also hang it up on the wall and work on it as I go while still sitting at my desk.

Why Sticky Notes?

They are so easy to move. You don’t know how many times I’ve written something down and then needed to change it. The only time I like to use pencil is if I’m drawing. So, I always use pen when writing or outlining. Then I need to scribble something out if I make a mistake or change something.

The sticky notes allow me to pick up the scene and either move it to a different spot or put it on a separate sheet of paper. I never throw away the sticky notes because even though I may not use it at that moment, I could very well need it later. I don’t want to forget any ideas no matter how good or bad, old or new.

I Love This Method

Sticky notes make things so much easier. As I said, I can easily move them around from draft to draft, see things all at once together in one big sheet of paper rather than flipping through pages of lists and ideas, and it’s really colorful. Sticky notes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They’re a lot of fun and brings your project to a new light.

Do you use this method at all? How do you tackle outlining your novels? Let me know in the comments below. If you liked this post, please share it around!

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13 thoughts on “The Sticky-Note Method For Outlining A Novel

  1. I only use sticky notes to remind me of things I need to add. For outlining, I use a notebook. When the outline needs to change, I start a new one. Sounds arduous, but works for me.

  2. Truth be known, I have not written a novel yet. But I HAVE outlined one. I used Robert Olen Butler’s method in his book “From Where You Dream.” I will probably use it again too.

    What you do is write down scenes in a notebook as they come to you, but no more than say 10 words for that scene (and attached is some sensory type cue, at least in your mind). Do that until you have however many scenes you think should go in the novel–no particular order. You just “dream storm” them.

    When you feel you’re done, put every scene on a 3×5 and begin ordering them when you sit to write. You can add scenes as needed. Then when you’re done, then you just write the scenes as you would your novel. You don’t have to backtrack to fix plot holes and I think the scenes/chapters will just blend together since you spent enough time already “writing/dreaming” about the scenes early on.

    • That’s an interesting method. I’ve never heard of that. I’ll have to give that a try sometime and see how it works for me. I’ll also have to look up that book. I’m glad you found something that works for you. 🙂

  3. I know of a few writers who use the sticky note method. It seems to work for all of you.
    I use a similar thing in my outline. Though I have to do everything in digital format, because… Blindness…
    I do a bullet point outline on a Word doc, but every chapter’s title is colour coded according to which MC it is following. I have 2 MCs and there are overlapping chapters where the 2 characters are in the same scene. That’s how I’ve kept my plot evenly divided between the 2 characters. It helped to assign them a colour. I wish I could use sticky notes because I like colourful things, but… 🙂

    • You gotta do what works for best for you. As long as you get the ideas down and they make sense that’s all that matters. I’m sure your lists look just as colorful. 😉 That’s a great way to do it though. I can see how that keeps you organized with the two MCs.

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