09 February 2012

Guest Post - Writing Filofax - Amanda

Thank you to Amanda for submitting this Guest Post about her Writing Filofax....

I am a (sadly, as yet unpublished) writer, as well as a university tutor. I have written three novels and am currently on my fourth. In the past, I have tried all sorts of methods for planning these – large Moleskine books, ring-binders, index cards… For book #4 I am using an A5 filofax because:
  • I liked the size and space of the Moleskine, but didn’t like having to flick through it all to find the notes I had scribbled – I wanted the ability to file things.
  • So, why wasn’t the ring-binder the best choice? Do I really need to answer that? A cheap ring-binder or a Filofax? Is there a contest?
  • I wanted more portability than A4 so I went for A5 but I also wanted space, so I went for a Domino because of the 30mm ring size, and also the stiffness of the cover (for writing out and about).
  • At the time, WH Smiths were selling the ultraviolet A5 for half price. It seemed fate.

The A5 ultraviolet writing Domino

Decision made, I now needed to set it up. I knew what sections I needed and I already had a load of templates that I have used in an A4 ring-binder before. I settled down with my printer and the (hateful) filofax hole-punch and got started.

The Filofax opened up

The first section, unsurprisingly perhaps, is one on The Plot. I have a mind-map to look at all the different threads and how they interact and that’s right at the front of this section. This was done on a piece of A4, folded in half, with the right-hand edge trimmed and the left side punched so it goes in the Filofax folded, without sticking out. Behind it sit lots of pages of notes – sometimes thoughts as they come to me and some of them a bit more structured. As it is a murder, there are quite a lot of pages about the forensics! Most of these are written on home-made lined paper so I can write in fountain pen and not get irked  

The plot section showing the mind-map opened out

The second section is The Timeline. This has a page with a table detailing ‘fact uncovered; how/by whom; when’ and then a day per page calendar (printed using the DIY template software) so that I can write down what is happening each day, on the days leading up to the murder(s), the murder(s) themself and the investigations (and so avoid having people finding out things before they’ve occurred or other such errors). There’s a home-made ‘today’ marker in there which is nothing more extravagant than an off-cut of thick card punched so that it sticks up a bit above the pages. At the back of this section, there is also a week on one page to summarise things.

The home-made day to page sheets and ‘today’ marker

The third section is Scenes. In here I file any jottings about any scenes (either written or to be written) plus I plan the next few scenes using a scene-builder template which I adapted from some on the DIY templates site. The front page of the scene-builder sheet covers: a one-line summary of the scene, who is involved, where the scene comes in the book, what happens in it, notes about whose point of view it is, what the character’s objective is, what obstacles to them achieving their objective there are and the outcome of the scene. There’s also space to note down dialogue, or things that must get mentioned, etc. The reverse of the sheet is lined for notes. The beauty of using a filofax is that I have planned some scenes then changed my mind about the order and been able to re-file them/look at the order of the scenes and work out what’s best, something which was cramped on index cards and impossible in the Moleskine.

Home-made scene builder sheets

The fourth section is for Notes. I jot down things to look up or check, and things that have occurred to me about scenes or the plot or a character or whatever. Again, the joy is that these notes can be re-filed into other sections when necessary.

The fifth section is for Paper. This is in the middle of the filofax to make scribbling things down easier (so the rings are less in the way). From here, notes get moved to the relevant sections.

The sixth section is for Character Notes. Again, I have my own templates for these and I write detailed notes about each main character (running to many pages) both to keep the character consistent (so they don’t have a nut allergy on page 16 and be munching away on some peanuts in a bar on page 172) and, when I am writing them, to help me to develop the character. There’s space to include the layout of their homes, pictures of their favourite outfits, details of their schools, parents, siblings, food likes – you name it, I probably have it in there!

Right at the back there is a plastic top-opening pocket to store bits and pieces in and in the notebook in the back slot, a log of how many words I’ve written at each sitting.

You’ll have seen from the pictures that all the dividers are home-made and have top-tabs instead of side ones. Because the filofax is A5, it seemed wasteful to make dividers with a side tab as it’s only possible to get one out of a sheet of card. I wanted to use this gorgeous dark purple card and none of the stick-on side tabs you can buy (Avery; Post-It etc) matched well enough, so I had the idea of making the tabs at the top. Then I could punch the card so that the top 5mm was sticking out above the paper-line and then trim the divider to make a tab. Yes, the divider is now 5mm short at the bottom, but hey, it works for me. I used a silver ball-point pen to write the labels.

The top tabs

So far, it’s working out really well. The size of the page is big enough to get stuck into but the whole filofax is still pretty portable and the ability to move things around is a huge bonus for me.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed a nosey into my writing filofax!

Thank you Amanda and good luck with finding a publisher my wife knows exactly what you are going through....


  1. Excellent post. I bought my new filofax binder to be a writer's journal as well. I have mind organized differently than you, but it is great to see other writer's concepts of the same idea. Thanks for sharing. :)

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  3. Great post! I've been using a Personal-sized Filofax for general use. It helps me keep afloat in the sea of tasks I have to do during my day job, as well as social activities, holidays, etc. Basically, I use it for time-keeping, info, notes, and so forth. Some would say it's my brain. I've got several binders I use for this: a Ruby Deco, Ebony Deco, Mushroom Aston and a Scarlet Adelphi. The Aston has been the most practical of all because it's so soft. It's also not too pretty either, so I can use it anywhere without worrying its looks may fade. The others look more precious. ;-) I change binders the way other women would change bags. The only thing I have to do is transfer the inserts.

    In my spare time, however, I'm also a freelance journalist, and writer of YA novels. I have myriads of notebooks to help me with my novel writing, but they get messy very easily, and ripping out pages makes them even worse. So I came to the same conclusion as you. FILOFAX. Just a few minutes ago, my Malden A5 in Vintage Pink got delivered to my door. I then logged onto Philofaxy to find your post. That made me smile. So I'm not the only writer doing this!

    Equipped with my time-keeping Filofaxes and my new Malden A5, I hope I'm going to meet my novel writing deadlines (eek!).

  4. Brilliant post, really liked hearing how you have set your filo out. I have been wondering about buying a Domino for a while, but I think what is putting me off is the elastic closure (I think the cream colour looks a bit cheap).

    I do like peeking into other peoples Filo's because you can be inspired in so many ways. Co-ordinating the dividers with the cover colour really ties the whole thing together.

  5. Fabulous!!! Thank you Amanda, you are an inspiration. xx

  6. That's inspiring. I have all the planning plus the first 6,000 words and some later passages of a novel all in a single Word file. If I could get the kind of structure to my planning that you have I might be able to make faster progress with it.

  7. I've been waiting for a post like this for a long time, kicking myself for not writing one, in fact. Creative organization is, for me, the most difficult kind. I'm in the same boat as Amanda, a lifelong writer who hasn't YET published. The flexibility to shift pages around gives a ring binder not just a classic but also very contemporary appeal: you can treat handwritten documents like you treat files and folders on a computer.

    The A5 Domino hits a particular sweet spot, as it's a premium product yet lacks pretense toward luxury. I have one in black myself, holding a WOTP calendar; a "manuscript" section containing the beginning of a novel; a "projects" section for short stories; and a daily journal section where I write to begin and end each day.

    Most importantly, the Domino securely holds ANY pen I choose with the completely elastic loops. The cover and interior can take a serious beating, and the elastic (shame it doesn't seem replaceable) shows no signs of slackening.

    Amanda, thanks for showing us not just the category but the innards as well. One of my longer term projects is to work on some serial fiction - right now enjoying writing shorter pieces that put less of a premium on plotting and long-perspective. I wish the entirety of my novel appeared to me with the clarity of yours. The pages you use to plot & outline are a very helpful guide, and some I might try for myself.

  8. Wonderful post, thank you for sharing the inside of your Filofax.

    I love to see the alternative ways people use their Filofaxes instead of just a diary/notes book.

  9. @everyone
    Thank you! It's really heart-warming to hear all your support.

  10. Very clever use of your Filofax and good detail about the methodical way you have organised your information.

    I use a grid to keep my timeline straight; it's particularly useful for seasons, for example, to ensure a character doesn't have snow on his overcoat in high summer.

    Many people do not appreciate how complex the business of writing a novel really is.

    Good luck with securing a publishing deal.

    The Hand of Philofaxy

  11. Thank you for sharing your FF set-up. It is so interesting to see how you have created the different sections.
    I also have a Domino which I like exactly because of the elastic band. I can stuff it as much as I need to.

  12. This is amazing, thanks so much for sharing your setup with us!