Thursday, September 16, 2010

House of Cards

I generally do all my writing on the computer these days, but that approach has not been working at all for a nonfiction picture book that’s been putting me through my paces. It’s about Jane Addams and it’s called The House that Jane Built. Writing the manuscript in a Word document was hemming me in. I had dozens of run-on pages—notes, story, more notes, more story. As the manuscript grew this way and that, I felt as though the house I was trying to build was being taken over by climbing ivy. The ivy was obscuring my view and strangling my story. The topic was too big. The pages too small. I felt claustrophobic and overwhelmed. I needed to break out of my computer-screen cell.

In the old days (I use that loosely) I had all kinds of non-computer tricks up my sleeve for organizing my thoughts. Spiral notebooks, index cards in different colors, file-folders and their corresponding lovely, crisp paper tabs. Those materials had all but vanished from my workspace since my Mac moved in.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. She has a Mac, what’s the problem? But virtual organization, however snazzy, was not about to cut it. It was time to go Old School. So now, I am pleased to report, my dining room has been transformed into a post-it covered, multi-colored, index-card crazed den of story organization bliss. These ghosts of the office-supply-closet-past are back in full force. My workspace is partying like it’s 1999.

Scattered amongst the books and notecards are a dazzling array of pens in fuchsia, lavender, moss green, and sun yellow, and yes, even a comforting canister of whiteout. Now I can color code to my heart’s content, shifting and shuffling my multicolor cards, making my mark on them with a rainbow of writerly and editorial commands.

Creating this new space for myself has made all the difference. Where before I was getting in my own way and tripping over myself in all the clutter, I am now able to see the house taking shape. Rooms are coming together, hallways planned so traveling from one room to the next will be smooth—and there might even be space for an addition. The ivy is clearing itself away. The house of index cards I am building, I now trust, will not fall.


Amber Keyser said...

I laughed to see your post today because I've spent the last few days drowning in my own Pages document that is a disastrous mish-mash of words. Early this morning, I broke out the notecards too! Sometimes I need to have a physical & visual way to see how the critical facts and the story line will come together.

BTW, Almost Astronauts was one of the best books I've read all year! Way to go!


Tami Brown said...

Great post, Tanya!

Isn't it interesting how writing things by hand and seeing the product spread out in front of you can get all new synapses firing in your brain. That's one reason I love storyboarding a project once it gets moving along.

Sue Macy said...

I agree that sometimes computers--and even the Internet--get in the way of the creative process. I'm starting a new project and was trying to figure out where I could find resources that shed light on the event I'm writing about, which took place in 1928. As I hit one dead end after another online, it suddenly hit me that it might be useful to start by looking in books!

Rosalyn Schanzer said...

This is a little off topic, Tanya, but my grandmother used to work with Jane Addams at Hull House. She had a college degree and was the nutritionist. I know a couple of fun and interesting stories about that!

Melissa Stewart said...

Sometimes the old-fashioned way--writing long hand, using notecards--helps you see things in a new, fresh light. You have to do whatever it takes to get the fire burning and the pen flying.