Plotting a Novel with Sticky Notes

This pantser has gone plotter, and for one particular reason:


My first attempt at a novel took me two years. I wrote it by the seat of my pants, never knowing which way the wind was going to blow. I had characters, but let them do most of the decision making. In the end… well… I never did come up with a great ending for that book. I put it in the drawer, and it hasn’t come out again. I feel grateful for having written that terrible novel, because I wholeheartedly believe it taught me how (and how not) to write.plot-twist-ahead-sign

As a pantser I have written multiple chapter ones that go nowhere. Mainly, because I have a great premise but can’t figure out for the life of me where it goes next.

So Plotter It Is.

From my experiences in writing, I determined that it is so much easier to write when I know what is going to happen in the story. As a weekend warrior, I finished my sci-fi middle grade in 9 months. Better than two years, but still not quite fast enough. I decided for my next novel that I would plot out the whole thing before I wrote one word.

This is the method I used. It may or may not work for you, but so far, I love love love knowing the entire arc of my story as I’m writing.

Gathering Supplies

I went to Goodwill and found a cork board in pretty good condition for about $4.

Then, I took a quick trip to the Walmart, and picked up: a pack of tiny sticky notes, a beautiful Pilot mechanical pencil with extra lead, some push pins and a tupperware container.

The mechanical pencil is a must have because the sticky notes are small. The lead is thin and doesn’t smudge. Plus, it eliminates having to stop mid-thought to sharpen a pencil.

I covered the cork board with butcher paper.

Doing the Math

Next, I needed to figure out about how many chapters my book would have. Most middle grades come in at about 50,000 words. If each chapter is 1,500 words, then I would need about 33 chapters. Compensating for word variance, and the fact that even plotted out I might need an extra chapter here or there, I lined up 30 sticky notes, 10 to a row, like this:

IMG_0877Each row then became the beginning, middle and end of the story.

Whoever invented the sticky note was a genius.

I knew what I wanted my first chapter to be, so I just jotted down the idea quickly on the tiny sticky note.

I knew at some point that there would be a big showdown. So, I noted that towards sticky number 25ish. There were a few scenes I thought would be cool to add, so I jotted those down and picked a spot in the lineup where it would feel right for it to happen.

From there, I just started filling in the details. I didn’t worry about going in order, I just wrote down what felt right, and stuck it to the board. The cool thing was, that as things started to fall into place, I could just pick up the sticky and move it to the desired location.

Keeping it simple. Using the tiny notes enabled me to condense my ideas down to the essentials. I didn’t get caught up elaborating like I would using the computer.

Plot in a Day.

Voila! In a day and a half I had the entire book plotted out. Okay, loosely. However, I do a lot of marinating in my head before I write, and knowing the arc of the book allows me to think about the story as a whole as I am coming up with ideas.

Now to Write.

I have been dedicating about one hour a day to writing. At an average of 1200 words an hour, and realistically writing 4 days a week, I can potentially get the draft of this new story done in about 3 months. That’s the goal. Honestly, I think I’m going to make it.

WRITING UPDATE: Just finished writing The End of the first draft of my novel. 40,000 words in 2 months. Sticky notes are my heroes.

Related Posts: Book Review: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder by Marianne Knowles


p.s. Arthur Fry and Silver Spencer invented sticky notes in 1974. Way to go guys!


  1. Alison, this sounds like a great idea. I’m trying to expand a story and this would help me decide where tomcc have things occur. Thanks for this post!


  2. I’ve always wondered how anyone could plot, but this set-up of sticky notes makes it look pretty manageable. I may try this-sometime! Thanks.


  3. Alison, I’m going to attempt to write my first longer story this fall and had already decided that my panster ways would not help me with the limited time that I will have. This only confirms that I do actually need to plot. I think I’ll try this method!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea Kirsti! I’m so excited to read your first CB (or MG maybe?) 8>) There are more complicated versions of this, but I think the stickies are a great way to get started!


  4. Alison, I am also turning from a pantser into a serious plotter, step by step! Right now I’m in the process of laying out as many details as possible, chapter by chapter, and also tracking the subplots across chapters so each one recurs at reasonable (and hopefully logical) intervals before getting resolved near the end. I hope the time investment pays off for both of us.

    Liked by 1 person

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