So here's where I am at the moment. I decided to take a first cut at this by getting my old stack of cards from 2008's NaNo hole-punched and prepared. I would up with about 200 of the silly things in the end, keeping track of three main story ideas and timelines that all eventually came together in the end. (Or that was the hope, anyway.) Thinking about those cards and the issues I had with them led me to this setup:
One problem I faced was my very curious toddler who happily emptied out my box of cards every chance she got. Keeping her out of the cards was like trying to contain an octopus: she's clever, and all hands. I did have the presence of mind to number all the cards on their back according to which day I'd hoped to be turning them into novel mulch: this was my outline. Still, trying to re-form thirty piles of cards while the same toddler is simultaneously trying to un-make those piles was a challenge. Thus, the blue circles in the above picture.
Here, the idea is to use a hole or combination of holes to sort the deck. By punching out numbers on each card, it's possible to pass the needles through them and restore them to their original order. So, cards for the first day get the "1" edge punched out. Cards for the 8th day would get "3" and "5" punched. Using holes to sort like this is an old idea, and there are various schemes to do it, but I wanted something that would be easy to add up in my head, and would cover all thirty days of NaNoWriMo. The best way I've found to sort is to start with the highest numbers first, and then work down. This removes the problem of "false drops," which occur when you're trying to select cards with commonly-used hole, like the "1". If I took my stack of cards and tried to pull out only day 1's bunch, I'd wind up with a lot of other cards where the 1 was used, like day six (1 + 5 hole), eleven (1 + 10), sixteen (1 + 5 + 10) and so on. But by starting with the highest number and working down, you'll never get a false drop. It's magic. Now when Little Miss Trouble comes through, I've got a solution to get the stack back in order.
The other issue I faced was just trying to find something in the whole deck of cards, like that one obscure detail I wrote down about such-and-such character, but I don't remember where it was, or trying to remember if I'd written down a certain plot development already. That's what the red-colored holes are for. Only one hole in this group is punched out per card, and I tend to write cards that are one of those four things: something about a Character, a description of a Scene I want to include, a general description or history of a Setting in the novel, and an overall Plot Point to try to aim towards.
That leaves me with nine unused holes in the middle. Now it occured to me that those nine holes can each be used to supplement the four leftmost "category"-type holes. So now I'm trying to determine what to do with this extra space.
Things I've learned:
- Accurate punching is not for the impatient. I've torn the punched edge of a couple of cards by trying a punch-and-tear maneuver. Must. Be. Patient.
- I get cleaner punches overall by doing multiple cards at once. Punching individual cards often leaves hanging bits that need to be carefully torn off.
- I've moved to smaller-diameter knitting needles. I'm using U.S. size 3 now, and may even try size 2 next. Cards don't always drop off the needle, as it catches on the lip of the punched notch. Friction is not your friend here, and a good shake often loosens a bunch of cards unexpectedly.
- 200 index cards are a lot to sort through by any means. I've had the best luck paring down the pile into smaller groups, like sorting by the major number divisions first (20, 10, 5) before detailed sorting.
- I tend to get better "drops" when the bottoms of the cards are resting on a surface, but I'm still working on a video-worthy technique.