Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Battling Chaos

Katharine Davis, who posted this lovely piece on the blog after seeing an artist speak about the creative process in Maine, has an article out in the December 2007 issue of The Writer magazine. Unfortunately, there’s no link on line, but her advice is worth a trip to the library or bookstore.

“How to Avoid the Paper Chase” is about managing all the scraps of paper and files and folders and, simply put, crap that can accumulate during the years-long process of writing a novel. Here’s one of her suggestions:

Keep an idea book. I took a notebook when I went to Paris to work on my first novel.* This idea book had to be small enough to carry everywhere. I used it to record details of place—like the color of the aprons the waiters wore in the Café de Flore. I used it for seating charts, because in a Paris novel the characters frequently sit around tables eating and drinking. I kept notes on my characters in the idea book. I wrote down thoughts wherever they came to me: in the middle of the night, while riding on buses, or sitting in a café.

“The idea book is extremely flexible—essentially it’s a place to write any thoughts you don’t want to forget. It’s useful in the early inspirational state of a book, but also a great tool when you come to a stumbling block or feel stalled. Flipping through it may trigger an idea for a scene that gives a character greater emotional depth, or remind you of a detail that will make a setting more believable. The idea book is useful at all stages of a novel in progress.”

Sure beats my system: let scraps of paper, ripped-out newspaper and magazine articles, and scribbled on manuscript pages held with giant binder clips pile up in every corner of your writing area until you want to scream at the chaos and your husband pulls your office door shut every time he has to pass by it; but never, ever throw anything away because you superstitiously believe that once you do, you’ll later realize that was the key to the whole book…if only you could remember what exactly it was that you had written on the back of that last deposit slip you tore out of your checkbook while riding on the Metro.

I fear it’s too late for this current novel—my “system” is entrenched—but I plan to adopt some of Kitty’s strategies with my next book. Maybe my husband will stop recoiling in horror when he glances in my office!

* Capturing Paris—a wonderful book, beautifully evocative of Paris!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.