Did you know that Nabokov wrote Lolita on index cards? Yep, it’s true. I’m always on the lookout for tools that will make writing easier and more fun. And like Nabokov, I’m a big fan of the humble index card. How do I use them? Let me count the ways! First, I write inspiring quotes on them. As I write this, I’m looking at a quote I love: “If the words don’t sing, the idea can’t dance.” My mom hand wrote this on a bright yellow index card and I look at it every day.
But the card I use most serves as a focusing prompt. Sitting on the upper left hand corner of my writing desk is a pink 3×5 index card. On it I’ve written the words: “Now I’m going to concentrate as hard as I can. I’m not going to think of anything else.” I can’t tell you how helpful this one little card is! It was inspired by Joyce Brothers. When she had to master lots of material she would say to herself: “I am going to concentrate on this now. I am going to think of nothing else.” She always used the same words to focus her attention.
I hope you’ll try this technique and make a prompt card for yourself. It works! When I’m writing, if I feel my attention flagging, I simply shift my eyes over my card and then return to the page. Somehow, it renews my concentration.
Large index cards are also great: When a project seems overwhelming, I break it down, paragraph by paragraph, on 5×8 index cards. They shuffle easily and you can play with text flow to loosen things up. When I was writing Birthing the Elephant and hit a major roadblock, my husband David rescued me by helping me break down all my interviews on big index cards. A lifesaver!