How Do Writers Take Notes and Plan Stories

by Tanya April 30, 2024

All writers and planners get hit by a stream of thoughts and ideas throughout their day.

The problem is, if you don’t catch the thought quickly enough, you lose it.

A system of note-taking and planning is important if you want to keep hold of your ideas.

Here, we go through a few ideas related note-taking and how you can adapt your approach as necessary.

Physical notebooks and journals

Many writers prefer the tactile sensation of writing by hand. They use notebooks or journals to jot down ideas, sketches, character outlines, plot points, or dialogue snippets that come to mind.

This method is great for free-form thinking and brainstorming.

Journalists also use physical weekly planners & pads to plan their weeks and to-do lists ahead.

I prefer physical notebooks to apps because I feel like I already have so many distractions on my phone.

Digital tools

There are many digital tools and software designed specifically for writers that help in organizing notes, plotting stories, and keeping track of character development.

Popular choices include Scrivener, Google Docs, and Microsoft OneNote.

These tools often feature ways to easily rearrange notes, plot elements, and chapters.

Digital tools now operate based on voice recognition, AI-powered schedule planning services, and a whole range of other brilliant solutions.

Utilizing cloud-based services like Dropbox or iCloud for storing notes ensures that they are accessible from any device and are backed up in case of hardware failure.

I love digital, but it’s not 100% reliable: your phone could run out of battery, there can be issues with data roaming, etc.

Voice recording

If you are more spontaneous writer, it can be easier to dictate your ideas.

Using a voice recorder or smartphone app allows you to capture thoughts, dialogue, or narrative ideas while on the go.

This method can be particularly useful during walks or commutes  (when we probably get our best ideas).

Software for plotting and structuring

Specialized software like Plottr or the Snowflake Method software can help writers build their plots and ensure a solid structure.

These tools are designed to guide a writer from the idea phase through to detailed plotting.

Index cards and mind maps

For creative writers in film, theatre, and books with interwined stories and different characters, index cards and mind maps is  a flexible, visual way to organize a story.

Writers often use them to outline scenes, plot points, or character arcs, arranging and rearranging the cards as the story evolves. This method is particularly useful for visual thinkers and for managing complex narratives with multiple storylines.

Mind mapping is a method used to visually organize information. Writers use mind maps to explore relationships between characters, themes, and plot elements. This can be done on paper or with digital tools like XMind or MindNode.

Storyboarding can also be useful for organising visual content in film. It allows writers to sketch out scenes visually, helping to manage pacing, visual details, and action sequences.


Writers may use one or a combination of these methods, often experimenting until they find what works best for them. The key is flexibility and finding a system that supports creative thinking and organization.

You’ll need to adapt your approach depending on the task at hand.

Equally, what works for you, won’t always be what works for others.

We all have unique ways of processing and retaining information, and you need to adapt your strategies based on your own personal strengths.

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The first Millennial blogger in the UK. Twitter @_luckyattitude

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