Long long ago at one of my first SCBWI conferences, I remember a speaker talking about revision and recommending, “Tape your manuscript on the wall…lay it all out…” It appealed to me because it sounded like a lot of fun, but, I was no where near revising. For me, it was out there in a land far far away. The thought of revising was so intimidating. After all, I was working on a rough draft and had just learned the meaning of PB, MG, and YA.
Today, if you entered my studio, you would see sheets of paper on the walls. They greet me daily; they challenge big time. I’d like to report that I carefully planned this, but well, it just happened.
Here’s how: I couldn’t find a chapter (an organizational consultant would keel over at the sight of my Word files!) and was feeling overwhelmed and confused about my plot. I resorted to pen and notebook which always clears my cobwebs. I started writing on individual pages, “Chapter Number/POV/Year,” then below that, I wrote a tight one-sentence chapter summary. I ripped out (love that sound!) one sheet at a time and it hit me – Get tape! Put these on the wall! I taped each piece of paper in a horizontal line traveling across a wall. I couldn’t stop. If I was unsure about a summary, I left space on the wall and kept going. After I reached the corner of one wall, I moved to the next and the next, until I taped up the summary of the last chapter.
I stopped. I was a kid in front of a huge drawing board. I glanced over the first wall. Suddenly, I spotted a connection between two chapters (that are some hundred pages apart). I had no idea, had never thought about it. Then, it hit me – Get yarn and thumbtacks. I used the yarn to “draw” and tack a line between the connection. Then, I saw more connections, a possible plot twist, an ah-ha about what motivates a secondary character, a what-if… This went on for days, weeks; it’s still going on.
Putting my YA on the wall gave me a chance to stop (and stare at my walls!), be quiet, and interact with my writing. Ah, a perfect fit for my short attention span and very visual and tactile learning style. There’s only one problem: I may run out of walls! I love moving papers, and even wadding them up. I’m amazed and humbled by how much of my writing doesn’t show up in the words on my computer screen. As Natalie Goldberg says, “Behind writing, behind words, is no words. We need to know about that place. It gives us a larger perspective from which to handle language. Silence can be the door to listening, which is one of the great cornerstones to writing.”