Friday, 20 June 2014

Index Card Terror, Identity, Masks & Music

Image by George Hodan courtesy of
In his comment on my last post, my fellow ROW80 writer, John Holton, reminded me of a project I was working on a couple of weeks ago. Briefly, I was setting myself the challenge of finding a way for time-challenged people - particularly mothers because this is the perspective I'm coming from - getting a novella or novel completed in 15-minute writing sessions throughout a busy day.

Because of the utter despondency I was feeling in my last post - and the trampoline has been fixed since then and I'm feeling much more optimistic! - I felt that I needed to put my initial ideas to the test, to see if it actually IS possible to get a novel or novella written in such a short space of time.

My Version of Julia Cameron's Morning Pages

This week I've made one change in my writing practice. I've started writing in my writing journal again. I put down on paper how I'm feeling, what I want to tackle in my writing session whenever it happens later in the day, and ideas I might have for character or plot. I'm finding that I feel less frustrated when I do this. I feel I've made some headway in preparing for the writing session. I take about 15 minutes in the morning when my son has had his breakfast and is pottering about outside. It really has made a huge difference to how I feel about my writing.

Index Card Terror

Which brings me to a snippet from my writing journal yesterday:

"So, I looked through the index cards. And I'm terrified. Because what I wrote has very little resemblance to what I want to write. Some scenes go nowhere. Some scenes create story elements that complicate things unnecessarily. Scenes I need structure-wise are missing. I know what they are, what they need to be, but I haven't written them.

"So where did my careful planning fall apart? It wasn't just pantsing. (Note: What I meant was, I didn't just pants the first draft. There was a beat sheet to follow.)

"A-ha! I had an inkling of my characters, but now I know them so much better and that changes everything. Perhaps also understanding tension better and how to separate out external plot arc from internal character arc helps, too."

I had an idea of who my characters were, but by writing my first draft I got to know them even better and my knowledge of them now means that the first draft plot points don't work. But I needed to write that first draft to discover what I now know. I can't run before I can walk.

Now I just need to face my fear over what's currently in the index cards so that I can document the specific areas where what I've written falls short of what I want to write. I have to look at the flaws. That's the scary part. "They're only bits of paper!" is how I ended my journal writing yesterday and that's how I'm going to tackle the fear. I'm not afraid of paper! (I've just googled it and papyrophobia does exist.)

The Idenity and Mask - with Music

I was browsing through some online writing articles and I again came across one by Janice Hardy on a character's Mask and Identity (the face they show the world at the start of the story.) Given that I know more about my female protagonist after writing the first draft than I did before I began it, I decided to represent her Mask musically so that I can add the music to my playlist as a reminder of how she operates at the start of the novel and what lies beneath.

The Mask is made up of four elements. A longing or need, a wound, a false belief and a fear. And a character's Identity at the start of the novel is very different from their Essence (or who they truly are or have the potential to be) by the end.


The False Self my heroine shows the world at the start
Pack up by Eliza Doolittle

Eliza Doolittle: Pack Up from The Music Network on Vimeo.

It's a feelgood, easygoing, quirky type of music, and this fits my character as I know her to be now.

The Wound

The Lonely by Christina Perri

Her False or Limiting Belief

Love Hurts, as sung by Gabriela Guncikova

I love Gabriela's powerful voice and the huskiness; she sounds so fierce and vulnerable at the same time. Just perfect.

Her Fear

Ghost by Ingrid Michaelson

Similar to Christina Perri's The Lonely, because the Fear is usually about not wanting to risk anything that will re-open the Wound. The difference, as I see it, is that flying in the face of her false belief, and losing, will destroy the Identity, destroying her.

Writing-related Achievements

  1. Accepting the despondency and taking a good hard look at why I felt that way helped me to identify little changes I could make in my mindset and my writing habits that would help.
  2. I started writing for 15 minutes each morning in my writing journal.
  3. I contacted an illustrator on to ask for her input into helping me create a badge for my time-challenged writing project.
  4. I read David Gaughran's excellent ebook on "Let's Get Digital" which I'll review in this month's Recommended Reads post.
  5. I jotted down more notes on my 15 minute writing project and I've decided to share those tips here on this blog.
  6. I researched and decided on the songs for my female protagonist's Identity and Mask.
  7. I read through what's involved in the next stage of the revision process (a la Susan Dennard). It involves index cards, hence the title of this post...
  8. I left comments on four ROW80 blogs.
  9. I wrote this post!
And please check out the other ROW80 blogs in this blog hop.

Over to you! Do you use music to help set the mood for writing or to remind you of your character? Do you know the factors in your protagonist's Mask and their Identity? If you'd like to share, leave a comment below. I'd love to read (or listen to) what you have to say.


  1. Time isn't just a mumma issue. I know writers (including myself) who are "wasting" too much time on plotting or research. Time limits can help everyone!

  2. Oh snap !! I was also thinking about the masks people wear this past week and was going to write a blog on it. But I haven't gotten around to it yet.

    I really like how you used music to show the different masks. I love using music as well when I'm trying to develop a character. It's a great source of inspiration !! :)

  3. I listen to music sometimes, if I need a mood - but I am not sure I could match music to characters like you do:)

    all the best with all your plans :)

  4. @oracleopus: Time is a problem for so many people. Despite the fact that we have technology designed to work faster and make our lives easier, it just doesn't work that way. The faster things get done, the more we expect of ourselves.

    Hopefully the posts linked to the new direction I'm considering for this blog will be of help to everyone who is time-challenged.

  5. @NaomiF: I'll check out your blog for the post on masks. I'd love to read your take on it. :)

    Music is very important to me. If I hear a piece of music, it taps into feelings and emotions and I can't help but be influenced in my writing. I remember a keyring I once had "Where words fail, music speaks". And it's true.

    The downside is if I'm going to listen to music, it had better be the RIGHT music. :)

  6. @AlbertaRoss: Matching the music to different facets of a character's personality is actually a new thing for me. I've had selections of music that I know fit my character, but it was only when I re-read the Masks and Identity article that I could see how different pieces of music actually had a direct bearing on those four aspects of a character. It was a fun exercise, seeing how my intuitive side and my logical side worked it out. :)


Hi! I love reading new comments so thank you for sharing. I'll be sure to get back to you to continue the conversation. :)