The writer’s Kindergarten: cut and paste

WHEN STUCK I GO BACK TO BASICS

And I’m writing this post now for two reasons:

  1. I just had to go through this – again – and other writers might need the same trick
  2. When I woke up this morning and reached for something on my desk, I disturbed the page I used (photo above), scattered all the little pieces of paper, and realized I don’t need to keep them around forever, even if they did rescue me.

I’m an extreme plotter by nature and by practice and by brain damage.

Things have to be organized so I know what goes in each scene, because I can only work with the content of ONE scene at a time (and yes, if you’re wondering, I have used this trick on paragraphs, beats, and scenes as well, when my brain refused to do the organizing internally).

When I got to the current piece in the middle of the WIP, I realized that, inexplicably when I stared at it, the next scene was NOT ready for my ‘process.’

I came to a standstill

For several days.

Abortive attempts to write the next scene failed to make that scene gel, despite having a title and the usual nubs I use to attach words.

Since I was worrying about politics, and in the middle of getting vaccinated for the coronavirus, it took me a while to track down the reason: when I was doing the Great Reorganization of 2007 (GR07), I had had the same reluctance, created something that sort of worked at the time (a list of scenes covering what would happen in this part of the story), and decided to DEAL WITH IT LATER.

Unusual for me, but I was trying to get to the end of GR07, we had half the way to go, and I only had a few more days of the concentrated time I had been saving for the reorganization.

I believe in football American style they cause it punting.

In 2007 I moved on

Never thinking that it would be 2021 when I got to this point in the writing.

I was young(er). Naive(er).

Trying desperately to take that original rough (very rough) first draft of the whole story to the next level – which required the complete reorganization AND a committed devotion to upping the quality of my writing (no, you are never going to see that draft).

and it worked

I moved on. GR07 became the reality.

By dint of work, the writing problems got solved one by one.

Pride’s Children PURGATORY was written and published in 2015 (yeah, I’m slow), and I immediately moved on to NETHERWORLD.

I believe they call it a poison pill

Maybe not so bad.

But a buried little landmine all the same.

Because there was a reason. I know it now and I knew it then: this piece was going to be very hard to write.

And, as is usual with such, incredibly important.

I couldn’t handle it in 2000, when the story came to me.

I couldn’t handle it in 2007, except to realize there was no way around it, and I would have to deal with it during the writing of the second book (nameless at that point).

And I couldn’t handle it at first when it got to be late 2020 and I hit the red flag marking the mine.

I couldn’t even have written this post.

You can’t skimp on the hard parts when you write

The hard parts are WHY you, and not someone else, is telling this story.

The hard parts are where your writing should shine, and, given enough work and time, where they will.

If your story doesn’t have hard parts well executed in it, it’s not going to be the best book you can write.

Because you shirked.

I don’t shirk.

I kick and scream and complain and try to find ways around the roadblock and hope some insight will just remove it.

And then I admit it needs the work, and I do it.

On this one I had to go back to Kindergarten

Yup. Basics. Writing things on single lines. And cutting the sheet into real-life strips of paper.

And rearranging those strips, edited as necessary (in pencil), into the RIGHT order, with the right words, plus any surrounding fill text, until the whole emerged.

Somehow.

That’s the level I have to go back to when things get really bolloxed up for whatever reason.

Eventually, it works, and I find it all amusing. Sometimes I blog about it.

But you’d think that by now I’d be out of Kindergarten, wouldn’t you?

**********

17 thoughts on “The writer’s Kindergarten: cut and paste

  1. Lloyd Lofthouse

    I don’t think PANTSERS have it any easier than PLOTTERS. When a panster like me finishes his next novel, all of the problems still have to be fixed and/or straightened out and that also can take years. Writing is easy for a pantser and the story flows like muddy water until the end and a new beginning called revisions and editing starts to sift out the mud.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Which is PRECISELY why I’m a plotter. I work out all those details BEFORE I spend gobs of time on the language and the nuance and the fine details; then I don’t need to discard words I’ve worked hard to perfect because they don’t fit the plot! Or worse (because that is the temptation), twisting the plot because the words are so right.

      I refuse to tell anyone else how to write (I’m leaving that for a book on writing when I’m famous 🙂 ), but there are consequences to either kind of writing.

      I won’t say, either, that you choose how you write – I think that’s a part and parcel of who you are (which may change as you grow and mature) – but the consequences come, whether you like them or not.

      Or you could pants your way through a novel, and then publish it the way it is. I think there are way too many ‘authors’ who do this – and I won’t read the ‘product’.

      Isn’t this fun!

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Something ‘different’ seems to be part of the trick.

      But for me, going to paper is a last resort – and it works. It helps me sort out complicated text, lists, calendar stuff. I can literally see one line at a time.

      I don’t do it frequently.

      Liked by 1 person

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  2. marianallen

    I’ve definitely done the literal cut-and-paste method. It may be tactile or visual or a bit of both, but the actual, physical shuffling of index cards or bits of paper can clarify things that get jumbled in my jumpy brain.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      When one medium isn’t working, try another. Jiggles the brain loose.

      This one is something I used a lot when I was learning how to write better – literally a sentence at a time.

      I don’t often have to go to that level any more, unless the brain is having trouble, which it does. But it works to sort out all kinds of little problems.

      Liked by 1 person

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Good – I’m not ashamed of my brain (I had a good one way back when, and it STILL sometimes pulled this stuff on me), but when it needs help, I can wait (long time until I FEEL better and magic happens) or I can figure out how to do what I need with its less-than-stellar capacities.

      As long as something WORKS, it also provides insight. And this last effort provided a LOT of insight into what was going on and why, and especially why it was hard.

      I’ll take it.

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  3. Chris

    Massive thanks for this, describing a rather intimate aspect of writing, one which – on top of everything – feels very alien to me. I’m an instinctive writer. Not quite stream-of-consciousness, but definitely by-the-seat-of-my-pants. So, your experience is a great learning opportunity.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      NOT a pantser – except sort of, once the limits and goals and times/dates/places are locked down – then it flows, but because the boundaries are set, I don’t go off track.

      I can’t afford to lose words, or to waste words, and this works for me.

      I do feel a little silly when I have to resort to the scissors…

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  4. acflory

    lmao – my process is different to yours, but boy do I know this scenario well. Those chapters/scenes that are the hardest to write are often pivotal, not just to the story the reader eventually gets, but to us, the writers. I’ve just finished a chapter like that.

    Thank god I’ve had a couple of days of decent sleep, because I’ve had to rewrite that chapter a great many times. Each time I’d get close, but when I re-read the scenes/chapter the next morning, there’d be that sinking feeling…nope, not quite there yet.

    I knew roughly what was supposed to happen, and I knew those actions were important to the next part of the story, but the /words/ always felt awkward somehow. Actually they were awkward because I was trying to shoehorn too much into each sentence. I’ve been here before so I tried to simply what I was saying, but it still felt awkward. And then bang…it hit me. I’d been trying to write this whole, pivotal chapter from the point of view of the main character, but there are three characters, and it’s the intersection of their actions/assumptions/motivation that creates the next part of the story. I couldn’t write all three from the one pov. As soon as I split the pov into three, the whole thing fell into place. Suddenly it feels like a well-oiled machine. 🙂

    Sorry to blather on but this really resonates with me. 🙂 Glad your kindergarten process helped you sort out your chapter.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Exactly. It’snot blather at all – it’s an understanding that the process is not monolithic, but fragmentary, and you don’t always know what is going to be best when you start.

      I found that the best way, in many cases, to get rid of the stranglehold of the rough draft is to rewrite the scenes from a different character’s pov. I can keep what happens, but it frees me to use different words, different styles.

      What was internal monologue, if it survives the cut, becomes dialogue – because we’re no longer seeing inside that character’s head. Loosens things up.

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      1. acflory

        Yes! That’s exactly what happened to me. Plus I managed to create some delicious tension simply because none of the three characters knows what the other is thinking. Sometimes the simplest approach really is the most effective.

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  5. Janna G. Noelle

    I revise all my drafts on paper but I’ve never gone the scissors and glue method with them (or at least not yet). But sometimes old school methods are best. I know that some writers do similar things with their outlines as you, using sticky notes that they rearrange on a white board. I don’t do that either – or again, not yet. Anything is possible when it comes to writing!

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      It isn’t as common as it was for me a long time ago – I have basically learned to do it on the computer.

      It is a strategy for coping with a brain which is 1) capable of writing, and 2) almost incapable of the task that needs to be done NEXT.

      That won’t make much sense to people who don’t work linearly, as I have to, or who can move on different parts of a task at will, or even most of the time.

      These are coping methods of desperation. For when my brain needs it.

      If the results were not worth it, I would have stopped writing long ago.

      If the results were just not frequent enough for it to be worth it (I started this novel in TWO THOUSAND), I’d just give up.

      What is wrong with my brain is a chronic illness – hard, a pain in the neck, and, when I can, something I ignore. Because this is the only way I can write BUT a day comes along, the sun shines and the heavens open up, and we get enough of something to do the next chunk.

      I NEED this.

      I NEED to know I can do this, still, and have found a reason why, this time, I can keep going (the second vaccine shot and a new administration, together, finally kicked in and I can THINK).

      I will not quit.

      That about sums it up.

      Liked by 1 person

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