Cardsmith

Using Cardsmith (And Other Tools) to Write Your Novel

We’re doing something a little different on our blog this time around; we are featuring a guest blog post from one of our users, Catherine Nogle. A significant chunk of our Cardsmith’s user base is made up of creatives — in particular, writers. Catherine published a fantastic breakdown of the tools she uses to organize all of her research and initial brainstorming when writing, which includes Cardsmith, and we wanted to share it on our blog as well. If you’re looking to write a novel and need some tips on how to get started, look no further!

Give it a read: 

Novel crafting is an art. I don’t care who the hell you are, if you haven’t lost a few chunks of hair over ideas/character creation/world building/research/outlining, you’re a liar and a scoundrel.

This is the part that makes and breaks people. Anyone and everyone has the ability to write or tell a story, but the process of getting your plot bunnies in a row and building them from nebulous little creatures into the hulking beast of a novel you’ve always dreamed of is daunting.

Many people don’t get past this part. They believe it to be too much work, or they just don’t know how to go about it.

Both are valid concerns.

I’ve dumped countless hours into plotting and fleshing out characters. Don’t get me started on world building. [That’s a separate blog post in itself.] But I don’t have a day job–other than keeping my furry co-workers alive and making sure my house doesn’t smell/burn down. I am so lucky to be able to pour myself into my work.

I am the outlier in this situation.

Be it a day job, spouse, friends, kids, pets, having an actual life—things get in the way and your story takes the back burner—which is perfectly okay, as long as you’re happy and doing what you want.

Then, there are those who either have made the time, or don’t have as many outside responsibilities, who just don’t know how the hell to go about writing their first draft.

For a long time, that was me. I’ve tried free writing, skeleton outlines, chubby outlines, and fully fleshed out outlines. I’ve tried world building sites, like World Anvil. I’ve tried writing in notebooks, in MS Word, and Google Docs. Hell, I resorted to Notepad on occasion.

No one thing has ever worked for me on its own. At all. But, an amalgamation of different things does. I don’t know if it’s a side effect of my ADD (I’m not able to stick to any one thing for long), or just the fact that my brain takes the interfaces of different programs and interprets them as ‘this is good for x’ and ‘that is good for y’. Who knows?

I’m just about to start the fully fleshed outline of the fourth Blank Space book, and what I’ve found is that I now have a system that works. I’m elated with what I’ve come up with for my fourth book, and it only took me a day (like, a full day–eight-plus hours) to get this far. Most of that was research.

I have a second series I’ve been world building for years that I want to tackle after The Blank Space is fully done, and now I feel I have the proper tools to do it.

I’m going to go through what I use, and how I use it, and hopefully it helps someone out there, or they learn something cool and can spin it their own way.

 Applications I use

·         Spotify

·         Good ol’ Notepad

·         Microsoft Word

Sites I Use

·         Cardsmith

·         PB Works Wiki

·         Pinterest

How I Use These Tools For Writing My Novel

Spotify

 I need background noise to survive. My house is quiet, and unless I want to have silence drilling into my brain, something needs to be on. When I’m plotting, I have my writing mix on—which is just songs I like.

When I’m drafting, especially for this series, I have an instrumental playlist of creepy songs that I play softly so I’m not distracting myself by serenading my furry co-workers.

Notepad

As the image says, this is all for quick ideas or things I can flesh out or put somewhere else once they have a place to go. Names for characters that don’t have their place in Cardsmith? Notepad. Ideas to explore in the outline? Notepad. Certain dialogue I want to include? Yup, Notepad.

Microsoft Word

I am a total fan of this writing processor. It runs easy on my laptop, costs $7 a month, and doesn’t lag like Open Office. All good things.

This is for my ‘stream of consciousness’, or soft outline. This is what I THINK is going to happen before my fleshing out my outline, which always changes things. My hard outline never matches the soft one.

As I cover it in Cardsmith, it gets highlighted so I know where I left off.

Cardsmith

This changed the game for me. This is my Holy Grail plotting tool. It works well with how my brain processes things, and can be used for more than just outlining. I do my character profiles here. I create my  author platform and social media stuff here. I’m on Cardsmith ALL the time.

Characters 

In the grid view (which brings in columns and rows you can edit), I use the ‘image card’ feature and slot my characters into where they fit. Main character, antagonist, secondary and so on. You can click on the pictures and edit what info you want for each character in it. This makes it easy to go back to and reference later.

Skeleton 

This is where I figure out my opening, my mid-point, climax and falling action. I connect all those using cards in the free-flow workspace. I add anything that I might need to refer back to—so a lot of my research goes here. There’s a link function, so you just open a card and can click the link to go to the page you need info from.

All of it can be coded with headlines, colors and symbols to suit your needs.

Hard Outline 

This is where I feel Cardsmith really shines. I keep a key of terms to the left of my window so I know what means what, and then I move left to right, working top to bottom. I find my pacing is better with this feature because I know not to stick too much of one color together.

Each of these cards, again, can be opened and filled with all kinds of information—and for my hard outlines this is where I put dialogue or things I don’t want to forget when I start drafting.

PB Works Wiki 

This is something I learned from Heartbreathing’s YouTube Channel, and thought might work for me. Low and behold—it does.

I use this as my book bible for all the behind the scenes stuff; it includes things I need to know, even if the reader doesn’t necessarily need to be aware of this information. It is private unless I share it, and the interface is simple to use. It takes a lot of time to set up and fill out, but once you’ve put in the work, it’s a valuable tool.

Pinterest

I like having approximate face claims for how I see my characters. It just makes it easier for me when building my outline to have a photo instead of a line or two of text. I have private boards of all my books and the characters that appear in them as a back-up in case my computer dies.

Extra Stuff

I hate coming up with names. Absolutely hate it. So, unless I’ve got a specific idea for a name, or a nationality that a name needs to fit in, I use [Link]. Hasn’t let me down yet.

In Summation

It might not work for everyone, of course But I have what I feel are two solid outlines done in under a month because I have a system that fits my particular needs. It’s messy, it’s chaotic, but it’s mine, and I’m feeling very confident going into the final book for The Blank Space.

MORE IMPORTANTLY…

Let me know what you think of these tools! Do you use them? What do or don’t you like? What are you going to try?


Catherine Nogle is an author from Phoenix, Arizona, who has just finished outlining her debut horror series, The Blank Space. An avid coffee drinker and cat lover, when not writing, she enjoys playing video games and working on digital art pieces. You can find more about her on her website or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Featured image by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

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