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Holey 3x5 Cards Empower Creativity And Organization
by Will Mitchell

Creativity vs. Organization

They seem to hate each other inside the brain. Unfortunately, Organization will win every confrontation between them. Our society trains us that way. This is part of why 97% of the people find it so difficult to be creative.

Creativity occurs mostly in the right half of the brain, and Organization occurs mostly in the logical, or left half, of the brain. The problem with creative writing is often this. The writer gets a dozen great thoughts down on paper, and then feels the need to organize them. (That feeling is the logical, left half, of the brain trying to take over.) The unsuspecting writer starts organizing, and gentle Creativity loses yet another battle.

The trouble is, many people have great difficulty lulling their logical left half of the brain back to sleep, so they can become creative again. While you’re being creative, why not remain that way a while? Don’t stop and organize; let that happen later. I’ll show you a trick in a minute. Just create.

One of the finer ways to organize in a creative manner is to use the common 3x5 card. The idea is to write a separate thought on each card, and sort the cards later.

What this does is separate a predominantly right-brain (creative) activity from a predominant left-brain (logical) activity. In doing that, it prevents the dominant, logical (left) half of the brain from suppressing the recessive, creative (right) half of the brain.

Pick up a card and write down one idea on it. Quickly. Don’t think. It might be as simple as “Jannette has brown hair and blue eyes”, or even simpler: “Jannette”. Pick up the next card, and write another idea. It’s fine for one idea to spark another. Just pick up another card, and write the next idea on it. It's important to write as fast as you can.

When you’re about done, go back through the cards. Don’t read them with a thought of how you’ll organize them. Just read them for sparks of other ideas. When you get another idea, and you will, pick up a new card and write it down.

I forgot to tell you.  (Forgot like a fox)  Don’t use ordinary 3x5 cards. Use the ones that are spiral bound, but first, make them “holey”. Remove the spiral wire, because you have a unique need for the holes. Just unbend one end of the wire with pliers, and deftly screw it out of the card deck. You can discard the wire, but keep the cards and use them for your ideas. Mead #63130, or Pen-Tab 78178 cards work perfectly. Each brand has 20 holes. You can also get 4x6 cards and other sizes, spiral bound.

Here is how you can organize your cards in dozens of ways. It’s a trick I worked out way back in 1954. It was a lot harder then, because you couldn’t get spiral bound cards. I had to punch all of my own holes! Actually, I made a jig and used a drill press.

Prepare one card as an index for all the rest. Next to the holes, write your organizational categories. If you have 10 or fewer categories, you might want to use every other hole. Your index card might look like this. If you’re right-handed, put the holes on the right:

| o
| o  Hero
| o
| o Heroine
| o
| o Antagonist
| o
| o Setting
| o
| o Plot

Find an ordinary, hand-held, single-hole, paper punch.

Read each card, and see what categories it fits. Perhaps the first card contains something about the Heroine. Use your index card to see which hole that is. Use your paper punch to remove the paper between that hole and the edge of the card (don’t punch your index card). Now, next to Heroine, you have a sort of u-shaped channel where there used to be a hole.

Punch out several other categories, as appropriate.

If you need to, add some more categories to your index card, as many as you need.

Does this still sound mysterious? Hang in there a minute.

Do the same for all your cards. Some cards should receive multiple punches. Perhaps you have a card that mentions your hero’s reaction the first time he sees your heroine. Make a punch for the Hero, and one for the Heroine. If it relates to the Plot, make a punch for Plot too.

Okay, here’s the trick.  Stack your cards back into a deck with the Index card on top. It’s time to find all the Hero cards. Stick a nail, or even a crochet hook, through the Hero holes and shake the deck. All the Hero cards will fall out.
Simple as that!

You can have compound selections. If you want all the Hero cards that are also Heroine cards, just stick your nail through the Heroine hole of the Hero cards you just shook out, and shake that deck. If you want all the Hero cards that are Not Heroine cards, do the same thing, but this time use the cards that Don’t shake out.

The power of this trick is subtle. You might have 7,000 cards before you’re done with a book! You can sort the whole deck in a minute, instead of a full day! If you don’t care for that selection, you can put the deck back together and re-sort an entirely different way, in only a minute. Hey, if I live to be 80, I’ve only got about 1,200 weeks left to live. Why should I spend a whole week sorting seven thousand cards seven ways ‘til Sunday?

The subtlety is this. Since you only spend a fraction of a minute selecting and sorting cards, your right brain can stay in control, and you stay creative. Double tricky, eh?

Of course, you can add new punches later. Just annotate the index card. The 20 holes in the Mead 63130 or Pentel 78178 card allow up to 20 categories, but you can even have more.

Advanced Stuff ...

Say you need 30 categories, and for some reason, they are named “1”, “2”, ... “30”.

Use two ranges. “1” through “15”, and “16” through “30”. If a card is in the first range, punch out the first hole, but not the second. If a card is in the second range, punch the second hole instead. Now make another punch in each card to indicate where in the range that card falls.

For “1” or for “16”, punch the third hole. For “2” or “17”, punch the fourth hole, etc to the end of your ranges.

You might create one index card for “1” through “15” range, and a second index for the rest.

So if you want the “19” category, check your index card. It should say to put a nail in the 2nd hole, and from that shaking, put the nail in the 6th hole. Voila!

There’s a limitation to consider. You can’t have single card that has holes in both the “1” to “15” range, and in the “16” to “30” range to boot. You should be able to arrange your categories so that’s no problem. If you just can’t, then use one of your spare holes for a new, combination category.

Are 36 categories not quite enough? You can double it to 72 easily. Your first two holes are your super-index. For another 18 categories, punch holes #1 and #2. For another 18, punch neither hole. Go to a three-hole super index, and you can get 136 categories.

I’m a mathematician. It’s actually possible to generate 524,288 separate categories with your 20 holes, but each card can only be punched for one category. That should be enough for most projects. If it’s not enough, remember a card has two sides! And 4x6 cards have more holes!

Copyright © 1997-2000 Will D. Mitchell, all rights reserved.  Reprinted with permission.

Originally published on Weblications, Will's site for writers.  

The lovely people at Weblications.Net(tm) like to help writers any way they can. Writers can rent about 2,000 words and a 30k image to publicize their works on the internet, for the budget-busting fee of $7 a month. They've helped a number of writers find agents and publishers that way, because agents and publishers visit the site looking for the next block buster. They use the $7 fees on paper mail to ask agents and publishers to visit the manuscript pages.

You can e-mail Will by clicking here.



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