Organized Chaos

January 21, 2008 at 9:43 am | Posted in getting organized, Jessica, writing | Leave a comment

I’ve heard people say that a cluttered desk is the sign of a busy person, which I believe and perpetuate since I am one of them. But for me, a cluttered desk is also the sign of a cluttered mind, which is a state that I find both aids and hinders my creative process.

It aids me in that there is never an end to the thoughts, voices, and activity taking place ‘upstairs’. The hindrance comes in trying to sift through the detritus to relate what’s in my head and get it down on paper. In a logical, coherent way.

I’ve been toying with a new book idea for a while. I tend to have to let my ideas take root and nest before I am able to translate the story from mind-image to words-on-the-page. I have a different kind of love for this story and want to do a better job in telling it than I have with past manuscripts. Maybe it’s because I’ve learned a lot since working on my last book or maybe it’s because there are some more personal elements entwined with this idea. Whatever it is, I want to give this story greater justice.

This year the two areas I want to work on with my writing are plot and story structure. In my past manuscripts, my mid-sections have tended to lag, sag, and frag. When I reach that point in my writing momentum I feel like I’m behind the wheel of a muscle car where I wail on the gas and race in circles, peeling out and doing endless donuts. Not fun, at least from the writing perspective. I’ve always worked from a loose, mental outline . . . so I know one solution to the ‘writing donuts’ is to do a better job of getting my work-in-progress organized before I veer off and make some potentially bad plot decisions.

With the road map idea in mind, I’m going to try to be faithful to three organizing tools as I piece together this new book.

The first tool is one I’ve mentioned beforeHeather Laskowski’s story boarding tips. This exercise will help me better visualize my plot and distill it down to its basic pieces. I’ve already started pulling together the images and themes needed for the story boards. Fun!

The other two tools are mentioned in the Writing World article, “Your Story Outline: What It’s All About” by Rekha Ambardar.

One is the idea of a “W” folder, a low-tech method to plot your story by using the three-act structure. Bria has got me practicing with conflict squares, and assigning the squares to the different junctures in the “W” has been very helpful to me in getting some thoughts not only more organized but more concise.

The other tool I look forward to using on this book is another low-tech option: index cards! I have heard a number of authors talk about the different ways they use index cards, but my cluttered mind always dismissed the idea as just one more thing I had to keep track of . . .

While writing my past four books, I had always embarked on the process in a strict, linear way — it was the storytelling process that fell within my comfort zone. But as I mentally formulate this new book, I see the story in pieces . . . some which are linked to one another . . . but then I’ll conceive of another vivid piece that takes place at a random juncture within the larger whole. I have some of the pieces already determined, but not enough to lay the book out in my ‘traditionally’ linear way. As I puzzle through the remainder, I think this new book will have to lend itself to organization-by-index-card. Scene by random well-drawn scene – the cards can let me shuffle and organize at will. I’ve gone from not wanting to be bothered, to anxious to get started.

What do I have to lose? I can’t be any worse off than I have been in the past, and I may actually enjoy the process a bit better. What I like too, is that I’ll have a clearer road map but also have the flexibility to stray if the creative process craves a sanctioned detour.

What tools do you use to help keep these massive projects on track? We’d love to receive your tips!

Happy writing!

-Jessica

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