Friday, January 28, 2011

Let's get Organized! Or not.

Hi there--and happy Poetry Friday!
Before we get started, run over and read the dynamite interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by TeachingAuthor Carmela Martino and enter our latest book give-away!  Note that the deadline for entry is 11 pm (CST) Wednesday, February 2, 2011.  Make sure you follow the rules by posting a comment at the bottom of that blog post and include your contact information.  And you must have a USA mailing address.

TeachingAuthor Esther Hershenhorn kicked off our current topic with a great intro to 6 + 1 Trait Writing: OrganizationTeachingAuthor JoAnn Early Macken followed with Getting Your Ducks in a Row.  TeachingAuthor Mary Ann Rodman's It Just Looks Disorganized came next.  All include practical and inspiring Writing Workouts, so check them out.

Well...I can certainly relate to our topic of Organization as it relates to both writing and life.  For example, in my writing, 
Girl Coming in for a Landing, was essentially a shoebox full of poems all written in a teen voice when my editor at Knopf accepted it.  She literally spread the poems out on the floor of her office in New York while I spread them out on my floor in California and we talked about how best to tell this teen's story.  
Finally, we organized it around a school year divided into Autumn, Winter, Spring, with (roughly) an equal number of poems in each section.

I could analyze the organization of each of my books in this post.  But for me (unlike Mary Ann Rodman, who deliciously describes what she needs to research her books) it also comes down to decluttering my house and my office (especially the floor around my desk!) so that my mind is free to let each poem or the story tiptoe out.

I don't have much trouble getting rid of unused kitchen utensils and coffee mugs.  I'm happy to give old dresses to the Goodwill.  But paper paralyzes me.  

Or paper DID paralyze me, until I read Clutter Busting--Letting Go of What's Holding You Back.  

Actually, I'm lying. I hired the author and Clutter Buster extraordinaire Brooks Palmer to help me get out from under the paper clutter of my office first.  Then I discovered his book--which is gentle.  And gentle is what I need to be with myself, whether it's about the pile near my desk or the book I'm afraid to keep writing.x

I decided to ask Brooks how he organized his Clutter Busting book.

"I didn't know how to write a non-fiction book. But I felt the need to write my clutter busting book.  So I wrote it stream of consciousness.  I enjoyed the process.  But when people read what I wrote, it made very little sense to them.

So I used my clutter busting process on my book. I went through page by page and cut out anything that wasn't an encouragement for the reader to let go of their clutter.  At one point I printed up all the pages and spread them out on my living room floor.  I read the book thinking, "Is this serving the book or not?"  When I found clutter, I cut it out with scissors.

As I got rid of things that weren't serving the book, the book started to make sense.  I could have tried to organize what I originally wrote to make this happen.  But that would have kept in the things that weren't making it a strong book and it would have been bogged down with chaos.

As I got the book down to its bare essentials, I was able to start moving pieces around in a way that continued to serve the book.  By the time it got to a publisher, it had a strong impact because it just had the things that mattered.  Luckily the publisher assigned the book to an editor who continued the letting go process.  And then I got to do one last clutter busting of the book.

Essentially it was the chopping away of the clutter in the book that gave me the clarity to make it a powerful book."
Thank you, Brooks (his comic above reminds me not to stuff too many things into my life...or my books).  Now I see how I need to clutter bust my current novel.  Yikes--lots of decluttering ahead!  But at least I understand what my book needs LESS to be stronger.

And my office?  Now I hire Brooks once a year to keep me on track.


Are you stuck on a picture book, a short story or a poem?

Try this: cut out half the words.

Really.  Then tell us about it!

And finally, here's today's poem:

by April Halprin Wayland

this big shirt  
used to fit
but today I swim around in it—
out go all my give-away clothes

now my closet opens wide
it's easy to find the clothes inside
hangers dangle

this old idea
used to fit
but today I reconsider it—
out goes what I used to know 

now my life is opened wide
it's clean-swept, wind-blown...simplified—
it's easy to find the me inside

poem and drawings (c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland (except the comic by Brooks Palmer)


JoAnn Early Macken said...

I love the poem, April, & I reserved the book from the library. Thank you!

Carmela Martino said...

Yes, April, isn't it wonderful how true the old adage is: LESS IS MORE, in both writing and life. I need to check out Clutter Busting too! :-)

April Halprin Wayland said...

You'll enjoy his book...very readable. And...get this: though I met him in L.A., Brooks now lives in Chicago and travels around the country giving workshops and helping individuals.

Anyone live in Chicago who needs a good speaker for a group or who would be interested in hosting a clutterbusting workshop at her home?

June Sobel said...

Wished he still lived in LA!!! I guess I'll have to make do with the book.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Hey, June--howdy! He may still be in him
brooks (at)clutterbusting(dot)com,
He was here for a workshop and private sessions. Also, he does come to LA often.

BUT, that said, his book is like a declutter coach in itself.

Rita said...

GORGEOUS poem; I'm adding this to the encouragements I'm posting on my wall. (A literal, real-world wall in my writing space.) And I just put the book on hold at the library. Thanks!!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Wow, Rita...thanks so much--my poem is honored to be on your wall!