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Writing is Hard, But

 

Writing is hard. Even writing a paragraph.

You get an idea. You sketch it out until you’ve covered the ground…then you wait.

You take the best parts up a level…then you wait.

As the rest of the piece comes together, you start to know what this paragraph is really doing, so you revise your paragraph some more, planting seeds or tightening connections…then you wait.

And finally, you recite it to yourself for the real music and meaning.

So yes, writing is hard. But it’s easier if you pick stuff you care about. In fact, that might be the only way we ever finish with style.

 

Mary Poppins on the Magic

 

 

“First of all, let me make one thing perfectly clear. I never explain anything.” — Mary Poppins

“Show, don’t tell” is likely the most commonly used writing axiom, but it is not new. In fact, it is old as rhetoric. Bringing people to conclusions via sensual imagery, momentous actions telling dialogue, or irrefutable logic has been advocated for thousands of years.

No one wants to be spoon-fed…but we are hungry. How can you bring us into the scene or make your point in a way that feels inescapable — and so we think it was our idea in the first place?

 

 

Cut Up Your Scenes

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts (3D), the third book in the Book Architecture trilogy, came accompanied by a wealth of writing know-how in the form of 9 bonus PDFs. We are opening up the vault for the first time and publishing them here: one blog at a time. Behold, PDF #2.

Before you get started here you may want to watch THIS VIDEO. When I tour the country, I usually ask the audience to save all questions until the end, but this is one subject where people can’t seem to control themselves.

“You mean, you actually print the manuscript out and cut it up?”

“Is that every scene in the whole book right there?”

“I don’t have a table big enough for that!”

So I wanted to show you some real people.

This is Liz; Liz is doing it. There are her orange scissors. Closest to her in the front row are some meaty scenes, where multiple paragraphs and pages are paper-clipped together. And there, in the center of her table, are those scraps of paper she has been dragging around from draft to draft that probably belong in this pile:

We call that the detritus pile, because that is one of the nastiest words for “trash.”

We heard Biz talk about how terrifying it is to toss something out: “What if the best line ever written by a human being is somehow stuck under that pile?” Well, as Ro$hi tells Biz in one of the deleted scenes, “We don’t have anything to fear, because your creativity is inexhaustible.” Besides, forward motion cures many ills.

Here’s another example of a work-in-progress:

After Wendy cut up her scenes, she was able to move her individual scene names around with more confidence. In the foreground you can see her scene list of the good, bad, forgotten, and missing. And in the background is her outline, the one she was able to put together after her messy draft—as opposed to those complex outlines done before any work has begun that I have rarely seen truly work.

And eventually it looks like this:

This is the end of Sondra’s process in preparation for her method draft. Her scenes have been grouped and rearranged, and some have been dropped. The Post-it notes on top of each scene contain instructions that she wanted to remind herself about when she rewrote each scene.

Sondra was writing a memoir about her sister, who died of cancer. When Sondra and I met for the final time to put all of her scenes together, we convened in a room at Grub Street, Boston’s incredible writing center. There was nothing in the room at all except this one book, a poetry collection from a college writing program whose front cover simply read, “MARGIE”— which was Sondra’s sister’s name. I think we both felt at liberty to follow our instincts that day, to trust ourselves to envision the structure a little more deeply.

The Method & The Mystery

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a guest blog by Kimberly Savage

I make it a point in life: never argue with Albert Einstein. Who knows what he had in mind when he wrote the words above but, to me, he describes the mysterious process of writing perfectly. And how we surprise ourselves along the way.

Applying the method

Starting the first draft of my work-in-progress, I had a sketch of what my book was about: the characters, the setting, the ideas. Enter the Book Architecture Method which both helps you organize the material you already know, and helps you discover things you didn’t know about your book.

I wrote my first draft and then, following the Method, I analyzed it. I figured out my theme. I recalled my scenes from memory. And I wrote down my series.

If you don’t know series, it is the quintessential Book Architecture concept. I think of it as an archetype, which can be a character, a setting, an object, a phrase, an idea, a theme. For more information on series, check out this PDF from Stuart’s third book, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts.

Many of my series that I had in my mind stayed mostly the same, maybe with some cutting and stitching. But I also found I’d started something new in the draft that stood out: Biology.

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What the method reveals

Being able to take a step back is what any writing method should help you do…or else it’s not doing its job. In my case, I saw:

  • Biology is my main character’s favorite school subject.
  • There’s some subtext about genetics – since the character is half Native American.
  • Add to that, the character is a cutter, so there’s blood.
  • And, oh yeah, there’s rumination on life and death – what we know, what we don’t know.

I made Biology a series. If I was wrong, and it turned out to be a dead end, I could always erase it from my series grid.

Then I wrote my second draft, and a funny thing happened. Biology became a big deal in the story. I used it as a metaphor, a scene-builder, a character-enhancer. It became one of the main series of the story. It made my story much stronger, much deeper.

Biology as a series surprised me, because it wasn’t in my head when I’d started. And if I hadn’t been looking for new series and surprises, I would’ve missed it.

Get the big picture

Using the Method is an amazing way to harness the mystery of your own writing.

  • You go beyond what you already know about your story,
  • You identify the mysteries that you’ve created, and
  • You figure out how to make your story stronger with them.

You still have lots of room for all the things you have yet to discover.

So go ahead, give the Method a try. Your story will be stronger for it. And you’ll make Einstein so proud.

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