I always have a stack of index cards close to hand. They are useful for writing down phone numbers, grocery lists, character names, brilliant ideas, quick notes, or possible book titles. You can even use them to get something out of your teeth or provide a nasty paper cut.
With a blank wall, a stack of index cards, and pushpins/tape/that-gummy-shit-for-putting-up-posters-in-dorm-rooms-where-they-freak-if-you-put-holes-in-the-wall, you can plot out your entire book from girl-meets-boy (or girl discovers boy’s bullet-riddled corpse) to happy ending (or not-so-happy).
I love the flexibility of index cards. Yes, you can fold, mangle, and spindle them. Rip them in small chunks–or heck, use scissors–. The best part though is that you can continually rearrange and shuffle them. Say you’ve got ten key moments in the piece you’re writing. Don’t number ’em, just move ’em from chapter to chapter or scene to scene and see where they will work best. If I have this happen before that, will it shock the reader? Or do I want to save shock and awe for Act 4 and go for more creeping dread in Act 2?
I especially like to use them for story ideas that don’t really belong to a particular project yet. I write crime novels, and there is no end to the horrible, shocking, and creatively cruel things human beings do to each other. When I read about a murder that starts the creative neurons firing, I jot it down on an index card and stick it in a little idea box.
The beauty of the index card is their size and their autonomy. Each card can be a piece of a bigger puzzle or it can be its own thing. An atom or a galaxy.
I’m currently writing Summer Wind, a Mike Malick spin off crime novel. At least that’s what I’m supposed to be writing. But Lexy keeps invading my subconscious and trying to get me to work on Lexy #4. Sometimes she convinces me, but mostly I’m able to keep her at bay by jotting down plot twists and snippets of dialog on index cards and shoving them in the Lexy pile. Which is not to be confused with the Summer Wind pile. Hey, how did that note for Lexy #6 get in there?!