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  • Writer's picturesianynleigh

My New Obsession: The Happy (Novel) Planner

I started planning out my stories a few years ago as a way to combat the inevitable burn-out brought on by trying to pants my way through a novel only to lose the thread entirely. What started out as hastily jotted notes in a random collection of spiral notebooks slowly evolved into something more sophisticated, more organized, and ultimately more inspiring. With a well-thought out and executed binder, I never had to dredge my memory to pick up where I left off or forget a crucial bit of dialogue - it's all right there in my story binder.

Last month, I stumbled across an author (Sarra Cannon of Heart Breathings) who has taken the concept of the story binder to an expert level. Within seconds I, too, became obsessed with using discbound binders to plan my novels. Today, just for funsies, I'd like to show you the system I now use to organize and keep track of my characters' journeys.

By no means is it a requirement to have a binder, bible, manual or any other term you may be familiar with for your work-in-progress. Many do just fine off the top of their head or only a few notes. Or you may already have a method that works great for you. I'm not here to tell you to eschew all else in favor of planners; If it ain't broke, don't fix it. But in case you're looking to try something new or simply like taking a peek behind the scenes, I'm more than happy to share with you.

This is a binder for a novel I recently began working on. I haven't gotten very far into it yet, so many of the pages are still blank and I haven't shared much about the story outside of my writing group. The planners I use are The Happy Planner brand, but any that can be easily customized will do. I also am not an artist, so please excuse the amateurish penmanship.

I try to find a cover that blends with the aesthetic or tone of the novel. This colorful geode cover is exactly the sort of thing my protagonist would love. If there's a quote or other writing that doesn't quite match what I'm going for, I cover it with a printed or hand-drawn label, such as the name of the series or world setting. To add to the mood, I create matching page flags by attaching colored paper clips to scrapbook paper or laminating pretty patterns. There's a lot of DIY involved in this, so beware. I find working with paper crafts gives my brain a break and makes me feel refreshed and ready to tackle the hard-thinking part of writing, and creating accessories for my binders helps me get into the mood of the story.

Next, I clip in some sticky notes and flags for marking sections, and create an inspiration page of quotes or images that remind me of my protagonist or plot. As you can tell, my MC for this story loves lots of color.

Any world setting notes or rules follow the inspiration page, divided into sections if necessary. If I have enough notes or books set in a particular world, I'll make a separate binder just for the world setting.

On the back of the inspiration page, I've taped a collection of pictures nabbed from Pinterest that resemble or keep me in mind of my characters' physical appearance. None are exactly what I see in my head, but it's enough to remind me where my head was at when I need to describe a feature.

Next are the character profile pages, lists of places, items, or things of note that will or might crop up in the story, background information, and anything else I may need to refer to. These I've typed out and printed, cutting them down to size to fit my 7x9 planner, but you can just as easily hand write notes on a variety of pre-cut note paper available for the planners.

I like to include a mock cover for a fanciful divider to separate all the setting info from the actual outline, followed by the novel dashboard with all the technical information - genre, setting, word count, and all that fun stuff. I mark the days I've worked on the story just so I can track my productivity, as well as the current word count. I jot a to-do list of boring book-related tasks that need to get done on the other side, along with the date I completed them - again, just to track my productivity.

For the actual outline, I've repurposed an old daily planner, turning each column into a chapter breakdown space, along with room for any notes for editing or changes I need to make. The full, more detailed outline is all printed up on standard paper, but these easy-to-find calendar pages allow me to look at key points like a snapshot, and will come in handy during Book Two to refresh my memory of things my character has already experienced or may make mention of. A laminated strip of scrapbook paper serves as a bookmark so I can flip directly to the dashboard as needed for marking wordcount.

And finally, the full outline. I use the Save the Cat method so I can manage pacing easily, using little colored flags so I know where I left off last time my fingers graced the keyboard. In the back of the binder is a folder for loose notes I wrote on random scraps, and envelopes for stickers I might want to use. Sometimes you can find envelopes and folders pre-made for the size planner you want, but I decided to recycle old folders by cutting them down to size and punching holes along the edge. I did the same with greeting card envelopes. I'll scan the clearance sales of planner sections looking for any packs I might be able to repurpose (for example, my novel dashboard is a meal planner with the food labels covered with stickers!). Whatever will do in a pinch! A lot of my dividers are also recycled paper scraps run through the laminator.

Each of my stories has a color theme (the Witches of Lewyn series being pink, with other pastel hues), and I'll look for note paper and stickers that match those colors, as well as pens. Dividers, flags, bookmarks, sticky notes, everything that goes into the binder I do my best to keep in the color scheme. It's not vital to the process, but it's fun and I enjoy finding colorful little gems to add. It's also helpful if I ever fall out of my character's head. I just look at the inspiring pictures and patterns to recall her personality.

I don't get too hung up on it looking perfect and just enjoy the whole process of designing, decorating, and outlining my stories. The organization reminds me writing is work, but the personalized theme reminds me it should still be fun!

I hope you enjoyed this look into the fun side of my planning process, and that it inspired ideas of your own. I hope to share more of my WIP as it develops and introduce you to my cast of characters and the world they play in. Until next time,

Keep writing!

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