It may be hard to recognize, but the image above is pure literary gold. It is J.K. Rowling's original hand-drawn spreadsheet for chapters 13-24 of the fifth book in her series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Starting from the left, Rowling records the chapter number, month the chapter takes place, chapter title, and plot synopsis for that chapter. Then she has six additional columns where she keeps track of the larger subplots running through the book--things like the romantic subplot, Harry's interactions with Professor Snape, what is going on with the Order of the Phoenix at the that time, etc. It is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the woman who created one of the most vivid fictional worlds of our time, and who managed to weave together an incredible number of characters, subplots, magical items, places, and other items that went into her magnificent seven-part Harry Potter series.
I was just with a group of writers this weekend, and they were discussing how they liked to write. Quite a few of them found that writing came much easier and was just better when they write by hand on paper rather than by computer. Another uses her old college typewriter, finding her writing just can't make the leap to computer, although she uses the computer all the time for her "day job."
I think this is something that our technology-assisted children might be missing out on. I know my son writes everyone via keyboard. We are actually making him write on paper some now to prepare him for the writing required by upcoming tests like the SAT and AP exams. But I haven't encouraged him to try writing his fiction by hand. Now I think I will get him to give it a try, just to see if that makes a difference for him. You never know unless you try....
And don't even get me started on my battles over trying to get my son to outline or flowchart or mind map or do SOME kind of visual organizer before writing his papers! But maybe this will help convince him. If it's good enough for J.K. Rowling, maybe it will be good enough for him.
For some other samples of handmade visual aids by authors such as William Faulkner, Norman Mailer, and Sylvia Plath, check out Famous Authors’ Handwritten Outlines for Great Works of Literature, or Charts and Diagrams Drawn by Famous Authors, both on Flavorwire.