Trello Tips and Tricks for Outlining and Drafting

Trello Tips And Tricks

When it comes to novel drafting, I’m firmly in the “Planner” camp. As a planner, I’m always looking for ways to organize my ideas. I was tired of flipping through the chaos of my notebooks trying to find a page where I scribbled down a certain scene, or deciphering the complicated maze of arrows and circles when I’m working my way through an outline. I needed something simple and easy to edit that could encompass the whole story while not losing the details. My lightbulb moment was when I realized that the skills I use in my day job, the Trello tips and tricks I cultivated for organization, could also apply to my writing.

I need to feel organized in order for my creativity to flourish. In my day job, I have to juggle deadlines, prioritize tasks, and make sure I’m not falling behind on future projects while maintaining my current goals. In order to accomplish this, I use productivity apps like Trello. And I realized Trello could help me organize my story ideas as well.

What is Trello?

Trello is a planning and collaboration app that allows you to organize and prioritize projects.

The basics:

  1. Start by creating a Board for a project.
  2. Under each board you can create a List.
  3. The list can be broken down further into Cards.

For example, the image below shows the brainstorming to article writing process I used when drafting this article. I initially used Trello to brainstorm sections of the article that I wanted to write and listed them as individual cards. I moved the cards to different lists as they progressed through levels of completion.

Trello Tips And Tricks Article

Initially this was all I used Trello for, but the more time I spent with this app, I realized that it can be used through each stage of the writing process. For this article, I’m mainly going to discuss Trello tips and tricks for the outlining and drafting stages.

Trello as a Cork Board

When I first started playing around with Trello, I thought that the list/cards looked a lot like the method of using a cork board and sticky notes for outlining and moving scenes around.

If you already have a rough outline in mind, one way to start is by making a master list with each of your scenes in a card below it, then you can start moving them around for the following:

  • Make a timeline
  • Separate scenes into acts
  • Build character arcs
  • …anything else you can imagine!

It’s a great way to visualize the big picture of what you’re planning, and just one of the many Trello tips and tricks you can use for outlining your story.

Putting Scenes into a Beat Sheet

One method of outlining is using a beat sheet (read more about beat sheets at Jami Gold’s helpful database), which allows you to see if your story is aligning with traditional story structures, such as character-based or plot-based arcs (Save the Cat!, Story Engineering, etc.)

In the image below, I put the components of the Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! beat sheet into three separate lists. After doing this, I can start inserting scenes that I’ve already brainstormed into the story structure to see if the story I’ve outlined on paper aligns with the arc laid out by my chosen beat sheet.

Trello Tips And Tricks Board

I can write a brief summary of the scene in the card title (shown here as Opening Image: Girl stands on top of a building). When I open the card, I’ve written in the description the purpose of the scene as stated in the beat sheet, and I can add more details if I wish.

Trello Tips And Tricks Save The Cat

I can easily add scene details in the description as well if I want to further plan out my scene, keeping in mind the three hooks in Rachel Aaron’s, “What Makes a Scene” article, or I can use Susan Dennard’s method of scene-level planning as well.

Trello as an Organization Tool for Drafting

After I’m done with my outline, the actual drafting portion begins. Since I do my writing primarily in Evernote (I need something that syncs across multiple devices and allows for offline writing), it’s as easy as opening two windows. My outline on the left and my Evernote on the right.

Trello Tips And Tricks Desktop

My typical desktop while drafting.

During the drafting process, I’m a big fan of Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k method. For those of you who aren’t familiar with her method, there is an overview on her blog post, but I really recommend buying her book and reading it.

The method looks something like this:

  1. Know what you’re writing before you write it.
  2. Track Productivity.
  3. Find Enthusiasm in your work.

So far, putting the outline in Trello fulfills the “Knowledge” part of the triangle, and breaking down each scene using Susan Dennard’s method shows us the “cookie” or the “Enthusiasm” that excites us about writing each scene makes sure we keep going.

But what about the third part of the 2k to 10k triangle—productivity? How do I track that?

Trello actually syncs with third-party apps, too, to make an amazing app even more amazing.

I love the pomodoro method, which I talk about on my blog in more detail. Basically, it’s about working in set chunks of time and then taking a break before continuing for the next chunk of time. I use Pomello, which syncs to Trello so I can track how much time I’ve spent working on each card/scene (Pomello refers to them as “tasks”).

Trello Tips And Tricks Pomello

Whenever you start and stop a timer, Pomello tracks how much time you’ve spent on each card (scene/chapter, however you break it down in your outline). You can make note of where you were writing, and then track your productivity based on your location, time of day, word count, or whatever factors you want to use.

Trello Tips And Tricks Productivity

I’ve put an example board of one of my WIPs below to see how I used Trello in the drafting stage. I can see at a glance which scenes I’ve worked on and which scenes I’ve spent the most time on. There is a satisfying feeling when you move a completed scene from one list to another and see your to-do list grow smaller and smaller. I also like to include motivating/cheesy titles to cheer myself on further!

Trello Tips And Tricks Example Board

Here’s an example board from my WIP.

Trello Tips and Tricks for Drafting Success

If you read my article and try out Trello, I’d love to hear about how it works or doesn’t work for you. Feel free to comment below. We’d love to hear about any Trello tips and tricks you discover. Happy writing!

Feature image by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash.

Judy Lin
Judy I. Lin is a YA writer with a love for the creepy, spooky and strange. Born in Taiwan and currently living in Canada, she navigates the in-between by writing stories about girls who also have hyphenated identities. You can chat with her on Twitter (@judyilin) or visit her website at http://www.judyilin.com/.

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