This is the way my mind works and it can make it hard to write something coherently.
Hierarchical outlining does not always work because you still have to place things in order (in a tree structure for example).
Index cards simply leave too many options. This is not a jigsaw puzzle kind of thing. With the jigsaw puzzle, you can always refer to the finished picture on the box. With your own mess of cards, you still have no idea how it’s supposed to look when it’s done.
To harness all my tangents, I might use something like a mind-mapper. Then I could connect the dots. It’s a real scattergun way to write.
Imagine having a box of treasured items that you picked up while making a leaf collection. Along the way, through the trees (doing the real assignment) you pick up a snail shell, a piece of an old green toy, a heart -shaped stone, a playing card. These seem like found art or messages left by the muse. Or a terma left by an enlightened being. At the very least, they are happy accidents. At most, they are signs. And you know you should look for the signs.
You get your required leaves, but you also have this grab bag collection of things that you have attributed meaning to. Now you can’t dispose of them. Aside from having gathered them in a particular/defined area of land, they seems to have some connection to each other. Their relationships make me
Imagine a narrative. Not just clues to be used as a contrivance in a mystery story, these objects now have many possible lives of their own. Each has a history, and a history with each other.
How did they get there? Who was the kid who just had to have that green toy and his mother couldn’t afford it?
Was that playing card someone’s fortune? Was the heart-shaped stone formed here far below the surface, or lost or thrown away by a girl whose young suitor scanned the lakeshore miles away for it for two days?
Put each of these items into a mind-map, each one representing a character with a story, a history, a time-line, a beginning and an end.