A couple of queries have come up about exactly HOW I use index cards.
I don't do anything complicated like plan out scenes using Excel, I start with three or four plot points and write to join them, making notes as I go along. After about 80,000 words and much gnashing of teeth I reckon I've scraped my way to the end.
That's when I use the index cards. I print out the novel, single spaced to save paper, and go through scene by scene. It's a scene per card, regardless of length - a scene could be just a paragraph, or 25 pages. (However, trying to squeeze all the info from 25 pages onto one little card might give me a clue there and then that I need to divide that scene into two/three/four separate scenes.)I reckon there are about 50-100 scenes per novel. The set of cards I've just done, I started with lots of little scenes, but they've been rationalised into some meatier scenes ie I went from approx 100 cards to about 60 (I'm guessing the numbers). Some scenes have been completely cut, and new ones imagined.
On each index card I write the major points from the scene - it could be action, information, anything. When I first started doing this they were very neatly written. Six novels in, and it's all pretty much a scrawl. Still, I know what I'm on about, and they're a tool for me, not anyone else.
Then I sit down at the computer with a stack of cards beside me. I save the draft as Draft 2, and go through the cards until I get to the end. I move stuff I don't need to the very end of the text rather than cutting it, and I make notes to myself as necessary along the way marking them with XXX so I don't miss them at a later stage. Then I do the whole thing again. And again. 16 times for Adultery for Beginners (my first novel), 4 times for A Single to Rome, 3 times for Kissing Mr Wrong (but I was pushed to make my delivery date and did another complete re-write after my editor had seen it).
What I don't do is divide it into chapters - I won't do that for ages, it's the very last thing I do before sending off to my editor, although I'll have an inkling of where some of the chapter ends may fall.