To Organize…or not

wq-index-cardsI started my writing career in newspapers and magazines, and let me tell ya, there’s nothing more effective for getting a piece of writing done than a deadline. I guess we’re all a bit like Pavlov’s dog that way. Look at how many of us stayed up late just before the holidays to get those handmade gifts done!!

My writing career has morphed over the years, and I now spend my time writing novels, how-to books, and consulting with other authors about their publishing desires.

To me, novel writing is just that…novel…because organizing a book (huge project) based on one’s imagination is so fraught with possibilities, it can be a real challenge to choose this direction for a character or this plot sequence to see what happens, etc. etc. etc.

One of the lessons I learned as an editor is how difficult it is to organize a book. In addition to one’s skill with words, organization is the difference between a book that succeeds and one that doesn’t.

It’s also, in my opinion, the most difficult skill to teach someone else.

I once tried to edit a memoir that was so disorganized, it was impossible to figure out where or when several key instances in that person’s life occurred. Editing it was akin to putting a puzzle together without a picture and with pieces from other puzzles thrown in for good measure.

The author eventually tried other editors, and we all hit the same wall. As one of them later told me, what she had been given was a collection of words in search of a book. I still wonder how someone cannot describe the chronology of their own life but I don’t think I’m going to learn the answer to that question.

So, yeah, deadlines and organization. I like to bring my novels out in the spring because winter is such a great time to hunker down to work on them. And this year, I have an added incentive because I’m facing hip replacement surgery at the end of February, and I want my next baby (entitled Lights in Water, Dancing) ready to edit while I’m recovering in March.

Now some novelists I know plan their new books in great detail, writing out long synopses of plot and character before they pen “word one” of their newest creation. I tried to do that once but then I got so excited, I just jumped in and started to write. I can tell you from experience that that doesn’t work out so well because it helps to know where you’re going before you take off.

I finally landed on a compromise method that works for me, at least for the Carding novels. After three books and lots of short stories, I now know these characters so well, I trust my instincts as to what they will or will not do under a given set of circumstances. So I concentrate on framing my main story arc, and then plunge in.

But here’s a twist. As I write, I use index cards to track the details of my plot one by one. Later, when I’m ready for my first edit (also known as slash and burn), I start with the index cards, shuffling them until the sequence of events becomes seamless. Then I know which scenes to keep, which need bridges written between them, which ones need to be fleshed out, and which ones were fun to write but definitely don’t belong in the finished book.

That throwing away part is really, really, really important.
These 60-second reads about the writing life include  practical advice and guidance on book publishing. They will be gathered in a new book scheduled for late 2017 called What Would William Shakespeare Do?

I’ll let you know when it’s ready to read.

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