Writing Notes I – Don’t be afraid to rearrange.

As any reader of this blog can tell by now, I like to write about different things. Today, I am beginning Writing Notes, which will be posts about helpful things I have learned on my journey as a writer. Hopefully, they will help you, too.

Many years ago, 12 to be exact, when I was in the process of putting together my application for a low residency MFA program at Warren Wilson (due to the birth of my daughter, I decided not to pursue this option), I was looking at the manuscript I had written and liked the story, but something wasn’t right. The dancer/choreographer in me, started looking at my story in a different light.

When I was in college, I had been taught that the entire program of a dance performance was a performance in and of itself. The way it was arranged mattered. Things could be moved around within a single dance, or within the whole performance. The goal: do what you have to do to make it the best performance it can be.

Looking at my manuscript that day, while thinking about my dance training, I had a spark of creativity. What if, I thought, I rearranged my story? How many times over the years had I done this with cut out costumes from catalogs arranging them in an aesthetically pleasing order, making sure that not too many purple costumes were in a row, than making sure there wasn’t a run of ballet, tap, or jazz dances in a row, and then arranging the levels of dancers in a way that the audience wouldn’t get bored? The answer is: many. And, if I could do that with the recital order, why not my story? So, I printed out my story, which was about 15 pages, got the scissors and started cutting, paragraph by paragraph. I spread out the many paragraphs across my living room floor and got tape and 15 blank pages of paper.

In choreography, it is the way in which the dancer moves from point A to point B that demonstrates the brilliance of the choreographer. In writing, it is how one moves the reader from paragraph to paragraph.

What I discovered on that day, with my many paragraphs spread across the floor, was that paragraphs within the same scene, yet written a page or two apart, followed each other more naturally when put together than they did the paragraphs they were originally written before or after.

I discovered a great freedom, and an unleashing of creativity, when I let go of any expectation I had of how my story was supposed to unfold. I birthed the story, but then discovered that it, much like a child, had dreams and desires of its own. Through deep attention and care, I allowed my story to show me the path to its greater truth.

Recently, I wrote a short story, and while I liked the opening, it seemed misplaced. And, then, I found my opening line: a single sentence in the middle of the first page. As a result, all of the paragraphs, and in some cases the order within the paragraphs themselves, were rearranged. The result was a more cohesive, dramatic telling of the story.

And, now, for a total curve ball, like Dr. Crusher tells Data in the Star Trek: TNG episode “Data’s Day” after she attempts to teach him how to dance, “And, don’t be afraid to experiment.” Or, in this case, rearrange.

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