Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Post-it Notes on My Wall

About a year ago, I started to work on what will be my second novel. Of course, at the time I did not know it would be my second novel. Last summer was a weird place for me, in writing terms. I was deep in the editorial pit that is polishing a novel, had started and stopped two new novels when I discovered I had no idea where I wanted them to go, and generally felt like a crazy person surrounded by swirling plotlines that refused to make sense.

Then my best friend Erin stepped in. Erin lets me dump my rough drafts on her, wading through it like a champ while still getting her own writing done. She deserves several medals by now, just for sticking with me through all these horse stories when horses are not Erin’s thing even by a long shot.

Last summer I was deep in planning mode, trying to find plotline strands and tie them together. Because Erin is also a planner, she pulled out her Post-it Poster and waved it at me like she does every other time I see her. The Post-it Poster is a W-Storyboard told in—you guessed it—Post-its. As a writer, I’ve always been dedicated to the uncomfortably detailed outline. I’ve discovered I am shockingly good at invariably taking some turn right off the outline somewhere in the middle, forcing me to re-outline the outline. This is expected. As I outlined the new novel, I wasn’t sure how to stop what I was fast accepting as a fact of life. The sudden turn was a force of nature, always showing up, sometimes repeatedly. This was how I dropped two novels back to back. It couldn’t happen again.

Cue Erin and her Post-its. The W-Storyboard is pretty simple in theory. You start off with a sparking point—the beginning of the novel—and then you plot down to a turning point, which takes off to a counter turning point, and so on until your plotlines all arrange nicely onto a W. It’s basic, and yet I was somehow missing this in all of my outlines. I liked the structure, since plot points building on each other meant there was less time for me to make random changes.

So I bought a plethora of Post-its. Neon colors, pastels, with lines, without. I assigned a color to each character. I stared at my outline, and then I looked at the mostly blank wall in my old apartment. Then I really did go crazy.

Remarkably enough, my cats left it alone.

Yes, I put my book’s plot on my living room wall. Yes, people came over, would inspect my Post-it art, and always said, “Is this a book?” I would nod sagely. Yes, it will be a book.

But most importantly I wrote. I stuck to the Post-its. It wasn’t perfect, because no first draft is perfect, but I didn’t go careening off the writing cliff mid-sentence. This was a major victory, and it goes entirely to Erin and the Post-it Wall.

I’m in the middle of the second draft now, and the plot has shifted, the characters developing, the theme becoming more pronounced. I tore the Post-its off the wall, but I’ll put them back up after the second draft is finished to see where I am, and to see where I need to go next. I can see more clearly now, and the book is better off for it.

So thank you, Erin. Thank you, Post-its. I don’t know what would have happened without you.

Mara Dabrishus is an author and librarian at a small college in Northeast Ohio. Horse racing is her first great love, but for the past several years she's ridden dressage, learning how to spiral in, half halt, and perform the perfect figure eight. Her first novel, Stay the Distance, was released in March 2015. For more information, please visit


  1. This is such an awesome idea! I love that you did it on your wall too. XD Now I wonder if I should see if my current novel does the "W" ~ I haven't worked out the plot in advance, but I'm almost finished... Hm. Thanks for sharing!

    bonita of A & B Novels

    1. You're welcome! The W is great for finding plot holes, even in already completed drafts. Might be worth it to plug in the plot points to see what's going on. :) Good luck with your novel!

  2. What an interesting idea! And great that it helped you through to completion, Mara! I'll have to remember it :)

    1. It's definitely an enlightening way to plot. Hope you find it useful! :)