Setting up "portable writing desk", advice needed please

Hi everyone,

I was hoping to get some ideas from all of you with a little project I'm setting up right now. I'm a teacher and I just started my summer break. My intention this summer is to do a lot of writing. I'm actually going to the Vermont Studio Center for two weeks in July and I've been working on maintaining and developing my writing habit before I go.

Anyway, I'm trying to set up kind of a mobile writing studio. My main writing tool is my new MacBook which I'm just loving to death. I'm also trying to set up a notebook system for brainstorming, plotting, character notes, research, or for when I just feel like doing my work longhand for a bit. I've put a large Rhodia notebook into an old folio I have and that seems to be working in the sense that I can put index cards, loose paper, and all the other odds and ends I need in there.

My question to all of you is, what do you think the best way to make the pad work effiecently. I want to be free to write as I will, but I want to be able to access the information I write easily. My idea right now is to leave an index page with categories like "character," "setting," "plot," "research," etc. Any ideas on what categories I should include. I fear I may be overthinking this, but input would be much appreciated.

Thanks in advance and I hope this hasn't been too longwinded of a post.


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Simple indexing as you revise

Hi Rob,

I think your system sounds very sensible and the index page is an excellent idea.

It may be worthwhile making the index 2 pages long in case you want to make brief notes in the index or sub-categories some of the categories. For example. family groups of characters. An index can end up much larger that one anticipated.

I've found cheap sticky notes or sticky flags to be useful ways to mark what I need to index as I write. And they help to temporarily sort the contents as I revise. For example, flagging paragraphs that I may want to expand upon later, making temporary references to working pages on the computer, etc.


P.S. I'd suggest a handful of large categories in the index and sub-dividing those categories by major topics as they surface.

I think you're right about

I think you're right about having two pages for the index, especially with the idea of having sub-categories thrown in there.

Thanks for the reply and the ideas. I tossed set of flags into the portfolio just this morning.

my thoughts

Welcome Rob,

First off, congrats on your new Macbook. Welcome to the club. So, you want a portable writing office, eh? First off, if you haven't got a good sturdy desk for your system, I'd love to suggest the Frontgate Portable Laptop Caddy. It's a desk cart that allows you to write where you want, from your favorite comfy spot. It has two surfaces, one for your computer and one for your drink or notebook. Both sides do tilt and I find that I can have my Macbook sit comfortably in the large side for hours while I hammer out articles or stories, and any notes I have out on the side tray.

I use a hPDA with the D*I*Y Planner Story cards and Project cards to note down any ideas for my current endeavors. Inspiration for writing comes to me everywhere so I like to have them handy. I don't use categories other than what's on the forms (the story pack contains a plot card, setting card, character card, and a blank "story" card). And if I need to title another card, I do that manually.

I've learned over the years that creativity likes to have enough freedom to grow and if you try and force and cramp it into categories... it makes it harder to write. I guess what I'm saying, is that what works for me, may not work for you and you may find that you'll be constantly tweaking your setup. I know that it's been about 2 years of slight adjusting for me to get to what works seamlessly.

Good luck and happy writing! Hope my thoughts helped,

I am LOVING my new macbook.

I am LOVING my new macbook. I got introduced to macs through work and never looked back. That desk looks pretty cool. I may have to snag me one of those when I have the cash.

I also use an hpda for capture of ideas. The portfolio that I'm setting up now is really more of a working book once I've started working on the ideas that I have captured. So far I haven't made a whole lot of use of the story pack cards yet other than the story idea card. Maybe I'll print out some of the other ones you've talked about and give them a whirl.

Thanks for the reply and ideas.

Hi, Rob --

Hi, Rob --

Good luck with the writing! If you're going to be working on fiction, I can highly recommend the workbook system outlined by Lee Wyndham in her book "Writing for Children & Teenagers" (Chapter 13, “How to Organize a Book”).

I used a variation of this system to workbook my first novel and I'm using it on the two novels I'm currently writing. I find it a very effective way to pull everything together in one place and keep control as the writing progresses.

Tab 1: Title
List title ideas as they come. Include deadlines, length in words, theme, number of chapters, and milestone dates.

Tab 2: Plot
A synopsis of the plot that will evolve as the writing proceeds. This is the “sound bite” summary of the book that you use when pitching the idea to editors and agents.

Tab 3: Situation
The circumstances that cause the main character to take action and thereby put the story into motion.

Tab 4: Problem(s)
The thing that the main character must solve through personal effort and against almost overwhelming odds. Plus other incidents, complications, and developments that might be used in the course of the story.

Tab 5: Chapters
A list of chapters with summary descriptions of the main action, followed by one page for each chapter where events are described in more detail. Includes historical chronologies and timelines.

Tab 6: Characters
List of characters followed by individual pages for each character with physical and behavioral characteristics and a biography.

Tab 7: Background
Everything needed for the various settings for each scene and chapter.

Tab 8: Research
Notes for the project including bibliography, authorities, interviews, links, etc.

Tab 9: Check
Questions to be answered at a later time.

Tab 10: Inserts
Additional useful information that you find after you begin writing, such as background details or character business.

Tab 11: Words and Phrases
A “safe deposit” section for figures of speech, bits of dialogue, quotations, and other flotsam that you find while researching and writing the story.

Happy (and productive) writing!


(PS: I should also mention that my workbooks are Rollabind (mostly Jotz) notebooks. Makes it easier to insert and pull out scene drafts, character sketches, etc. as I revise them.)