How To Organise Your Writing With A Card Catalogue

As writers, we produce a lot of information, and believe me, the sooner you have a system in place for organising your writing, the better. 

Now some people prefer to organise everything digitally, but if you prefer something more hands-on, consider the Card Catalogue method

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When you don’t plan

I have been a writer since I was about 8.  Throughout my childhood and teen years, I wrote –  a lot!

When I was about 18, I came up with a few characters that were so strong in my mind that I just started writing scenes.

I never really planned a novel I just wrote what felt right and ended up with… yeah… well… thousands of scenes… seriously, thousands!  O.O

These scenes have enough plot ideas and new characters to give me about 6 – 8 books.  I even have an idea of how the series ends.  But it’s still one big ol’ mess of disjointed scenes.

I have always returned to this massive collection of scenes and about a year ago I decided that THIS would be my first book (by that I mean one I would finish and polish and possibly try to publish…because I have finished manuscripts in the past. But they didn’t feel right for being the first.)

Now I know a lot of writers have an idea and plan or jump into writing their story.  If they are lucky and bleed enough they will get it written as a full manuscript.  Awesome! I am happy for everyone who does that.

However, because THIS series is a mass of scenes… (not counting the first book because that is separate and is being written with focus(ish) and planning(ish) and with a definite idea for where the hell it’s going…er….(ish)…) I needed to figure out where all the scenes were and have a way of cataloguing them.


The Problem

Obviously, all my scenes are digital *cough* on several devices and with numerous copies of the same scene *cough* (I also have hard copies because why WOULDN’T I make this messier).

Okay, you got me, sometimes, especially when I was younger, I was not always thinking about being organised and yes I am paying for that now. Moving on!

Now when faced with storage boxes of scenes that I can barely lift, I knew I needed to do something and the longer I put it off (as if the many MANY years already isn’t long enough) that I would never get it done.



I found a stack of index cards and they’ve just been cluttering up my house.  Well, now they have a use! 😀

But why Card Catalog? I hear no one ask (because I’m alone in my house and if someone had said that I’d be pretty creeped out).

I use computers ALL day at my job, for my side business, for blogging, for writing, for designing, for marketing, for connecting with friends… sometimes you need to step away from the damn computer and give your eyes a break!

So for anyone who was about to suggest Evernote or the like, thanks but no thanks. I want something off the computer.

Also, I like tangible things and since these cards may eventually be used to work out several book plots, having the option of spreading them out on the floor or pinning them to the wall is useful.


The System

First, I need to catalogue all my scenes *huge groan* I then also need to make sure that I

a) don’t have duplicates and

b) know where all the digital copies are and just MAYBE get them into one location (that’s then backed up…rather than several locations…that are all backed up… no wonder I need Unlimited Cloud storage! Sheesh)


Since I will be using Card Cataloguing for all my ideas/scenes (and I have loads!) I thought it would help to mark on the series.

So in the top left-hand corner, I put the initials of the series “DH” (for Dark Hart series…yup that is the actual series name for this series, look at me sharing something about my work! :D).


Next to the series initials, I give the card a number e.g. #0001


The title is the scene title. All my scenes have titles, (usually) I pick something that represents what the scene is actually about.

But having looked through them, sometimes I must have just been touched with whimsy and come up with some weird shit for the title!


I then add a few lines covering what the scene is about, characters who are in it and if it’s attached to a specific plotline.

If I need to write more and go onto the back, I add an arrow at the bottom to remind myself there is more on the reverse.

Hard copy scenes

I am currently cataloguing the hard copy scenes so every card I make, I then put the corresponding number on the scene page, adding a (1), (2) to all additional page.

Digital copy scenes

When I get to this part, I will create a specific place for my scenes and will go through them.

Then any I have already catalogued will be marked up with the corresponding reference number in the document name and on the document header.


A long way to go

This is going to be a long job and thankfully almost all my other series’ were written with more control and with a stronger plot structure in mind right from the start.

They are also saved better. You may remember my post How To Organise Your Writing On The Computer I did. Well, all my other series’ and the first novel of the DH series are all stored like this.

This system works for me… I can tell because I’m like 50 cards in (just started!) and I haven’t just given up yet and believe me if I was going to, I’d have done it by now.



Happy writing

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7 thoughts on “How To Organise Your Writing With A Card Catalogue

  1. Pingback: How to stay focused when story ideas invade | Ari Meghlen – Writer | Blogger | Bad card player

  2. Pingback: How to organise your ideas | Ari Meghlen – Writer | Blogger | Bad card player

  3. I like the idea of cards to lay out your scenes. Sometimes the computer can make you crazy, I agree. I may try this on my next novel. Good luck, it’s a massive project but tackling it one card at a time you will succeed. 😆

    1. Thank you 🙂 Yes having something tangible when I’m arranging scenes helps and the index cards definitely seems like the best option. Glad I’m not the only one who finds being on the computer can be too much. 🙂

  4. This sounds like a fun way to tackle all of this!

    I wish I was “a manic scene writer or … overwhelmed with numerous ideas.” I am usually burdened with too few of both.

    If it was me, everything would also be color coded, just because I like color in my life. 🙂

    Hugs! 😊 ❤️

  5. I used these for learning also – but what a great idea to find what fortifies your momentum!
    Keep going and you sound like a natural born writer with so much to give!
    And I am currently finishing some small writing projects – and like you – I ofTen. Need to be offline – and spiral notebooks are my choice! Easy to store and I can mark up pages – I also only write on the one side of the page – so if I go back – the opposite blank side can hold additional thoughts.

    I have also learned that the gift of writing does not always mean the person has the gift of writing or publishing or promoting – whew
    And so I see it takes very different skills to write the way you do – bountiful – and then to switch gears and pub is different work- do you know what I mean?
    Anyhow – I have learned to use off computer – awesome – but all of my garden analogies are now in notebooks and so I have to harvest and input them now! I don’t mind – but this year I made sure not all was in.notebooks for my other stuff because it would make more work –

    In closing – just my opinion – but be careful worrying too much about what your first one will be!
    I know many successful authors who talk about their journey and it might just help to get that first one done. Well I know your series is different – and how cool it sounds -and so best wishes!

  6. I’m a writer and I do this as well. I keep a card catalogue for each chapter and important scene, and then I use a board and push pins to make my plot board. I do it whenever I have massive writers block. I pull them out to see if the scenes fit and if the pacing is right and if I’m missing anything. You’re not alone. 🙌 I also do this at the start of each new book. I have two completed so far and 4 more book ideas.

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