During these past couple weeks, I’ve made huge progress on my next middle-grade novel and also put a collage of photos up in our newly painted stairwell. Seemingly very different projects, no? I actually found many similarities, which really spoke to my love of finding patterns.
The stairwell collage is something I’ve wanted to do for a decade, ever since I was given an envelope of old black and white photos of distant relatives (including my great-great-grandfather). But, we had a million other house projects that were more important and, plus, I couldn’t fill the hallway with art until I painted it, which was quite a job. I painted not just all the walls, ceiling and trim in the foyer, stairwell and upper hall, but also the handrail, posts and 50 individual spindles. This was…not fun.
Some people would just start hammering nails after that, but I’ve learned a lesson or two over the years, plus I had dozens of pictures, all in frames of different colors and materials, mostly gathered from a box my neighbor had marked for Goodwill. In other words, I needed to do this carefully. So, once I’d matched all the photos to frames, I traced the frames on Kraft paper, jotted down a note about the colors in both the photo and frame (this way I could avoid having similar pieces right next to each other) and started hanging them up, with painter’s tape, along the wall. This took an afternoon. The next afternoon, I changed my mind and rearranged, and the next, I got out the hammer.
I’ve talked here about how I used to think I was a “pantser” when it came to writing novels, a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer, but I was so very wrong. I’ve learned that I produce my best work through very meticulous, often tedious, planning. That’s where my outline comes in, carved out of 70 pages of ideas I’d been adding to for the past year.
I had the pleasure to take these notes to the Highlights Foundation campus (on the property of the original founders of Highlights magazine). In my little cabin in the woods, I spent three wonderful days carving away at all those notes to find the shape of the book inside it. I decided how I wanted the book to begin. I decided how I wanted it to end. I’ve still got holes in the middle, but I feel much more prepared to tackle them now that I have a good chunk of roadmap completed.
With my last novel, I actually cut out each individual scene and spread them all across a table, to check whether each logically flowed from the next or needed to be moved around. I made sure I had the various subplots scattered throughout the book (I color-coded scenes to help with this), much the same as scattering different colored frames along a wall. I will likely do this process again with my current book once I have the majority of my scenes planned out.
I don’t know that most people would see writing as “visual” in quite this way, but it works for me. The original title of my spring 2021 novel, RULE OF THREES was REARRANGED. It referred to both the changing elements of the protagonist’s family as well as her love of interior design. Rearranging is a theme I keep returning to, whether I’m doing something huge like drafting a novel or something small like placing items on a shelf.