This growing stack of index cards will become my third novel. I recently posted on social media about how I’ve been writing plot points, research references and character profiles on them. A sweet friend commented, “Oh, that’s how you write a book.”

It is part of how I write a book—this time around. My approach to writing earlier books was different. During The Last Hoffman years, it came as a complete surprise that I was writing a book. The story began with inspired doodles, then self-denial, followed by a eureka-moment years later when I realized the novel was my calling. I pantsed it, as writers say, told the story as the characters led me.

By the second novel, I’d studied craft and with the experience of the first novel, came to appreciate the value of planning ahead. I drafted the plot in advance of writing. Overlaying the story with this road map allowed me to plunge into each day’s scene writing in a more direct way than complete pantsing had. In the end, I deviated from that plan when certain characters refused to leave after one scene. They moved in moved in with their own baggage and a hankering to unleash emotional mayhem on the protagonist. How could I turn them away? For me, the plan is soft-edged, a guide that’s subject to change at any given moment. The research books—accumulated and studied over a five-year period—sprouted sticky notes from between the pages. On my laptop, folders teamed with ill-organized word documents, vaguely titled. Organized chaos, really. I can find anything, but you’ll need to give me a minute. Or two.

Now I better understand the process of writing a full-length novel. I understand how my mind and imagination work. The story for my book in progress is coming to me in bits and pieces. And so, as the ideas filter through my consciousness, I capture them on the index cards. I could record these nuggets on the computer, but there’s something comfortable about having those neat rectangles of lined paper, that I can access without powering up a machine. The pen notes in different colours, the mishmash of paperclips, being able to hold it in my hand. It feels real. And I need that.

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