Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Spiral Notebook Writing Method

All authors have their own methods to plot and write a book, which are a fascinating insight into author personality--each one different than the other. And since this is my first post for Cozy Mystery Magazine, I thought I’d introduce myself by describing my method. That saves our readers from enduring a bunch of facts about me that I consider boring. (If you want to know more about me, please go to my website

So without further ado, here’s my book writing method using my current work-in-progress as illustration.

At the beginning of a project, I have a working title. I know my hero/heroine and I have a vague idea where the story is headed. My first step is to grab a new spiral notebook from the stack in my closet. Why a spiral notebook? Because I like them a whole lot, and for some reason paper is much less intimidating to me than a blank page on a computer screen. Real ink on real paper also allows me to see how much work I’ve done, even when I cross stuff out, and that makes me feel productive.

Page of Brainstorming
The first few pages of the notebook are simply brainstorming. They are messy and chaotic, much like my mind at the beginning of a book project. These pages are where I splatter my thoughts. To help, I'll often head to my mother’s and we’ll toss ideas around. This is the step where I start building my hero or heroine, the setting, other characters, their backgrounds, etc. I never use all the ideas that come from brainstorming, but the process is like gasoline for my book. I use what I need for momentum and discard the rest like exhaust.

After that, it’s time to flesh things out—time to get to know my characters. In my notebook, I begin a character name list, which is subject to change if a character begins to develop in such a way that he or she no longer fits his or her name. I also begin to explore my characters in more depth: descriptions, motivations. For instance, why is the bad guy bad? What quirks do my characters have that make them memorable? Why would my hero or heroine consider solving a mystery? How is everyone in the book related to everyone else? Each main character gets a page or three. Again, it’s nothing terribly organized. Some authors use character description forms, charts, or spreadsheets.  I wish I could use those techniques, but I’ve tried and for some reason such an organized approach makes my creative engine seize up.

Character development leads me to the motivation for the crime, which is important for a mystery. I have ideas about the crime because of my initial brainstorming. Now I need to flesh them out. What is the crime? Why is the victim the victim? What is the last straw that makes the bad guy commit a crime?  (And in cozies, this is very important. Readers feel cheated if a bad guy commits a crime simply because he's a psychopath.)

As I work on my characters, motivations, and the crime, ideas for whole scenes start forming in my mind. I jot descriptions of those down under my “Scenes that Need to Happen” section. I also begin a list of clues (red herring and real). And in order to easily access all my information, I avail myself of those cute little colored Post-it tabs, (which I totally love) to separate my notebook pages.

It’s at this point I begin to write the book. Important stuff is transferred to the computer. I use Scrivener as my word processor instead of Microsoft Word to write my novels. Scrivener uses a “binder” system, which reminds me of my spiral notebook.

Through brainstorming, to the completion of my books, my spiral notebook remains a precious reference. It’s also more easily accessible for jotting random thoughts than my laptop when I wake up in the middle of the night with another bright idea. Once I’m past the brainstorming portion, the notebook never leaves my house. That’s because one time I left a notebook at a doctor’s office an hour away, and it was two weeks before I got it back.

So from all of that, you probably get the picture that I’m a contradiction, and you’d be right. I’m organized in my approach, but my creative side needs the freedom to be messy. I also love office supplies.

I hope you enjoyed a little glimpse of my novel writing technique. I’m glad to be here at Cozy Mystery Magazine, and I look forward to writing future posts.


  1. I like some of your ideas - mind if I borrow them?

    Thanks, Candice. Welcome to Cozy Mystery Magazine!

  2. Love your spiral notebook idea, Candice! I do that too. I write down expressions and funny sayings I want to add as well--also ideas for awkward or funny situations. Great approach. Thanks for sharing and a warm welcome to Cozy Mystery Magazine!

  3. Great information Candice!


  4. Thank you, ladies. I appreciate being here with you guys. :-)

  5. I, too, use a spiral notebook for plotting out my mysteries. The prettier the notebook, the better :)

    1. That's cool that you use spiral notebooks, too, Cynthia.I get pretty exited when I'm at Staples and find a spiral notebook that speaks to me.


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