nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘writing

garden escapes: abandoned gardens and what becomes of them

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I am so happy! I have just won a Creations Grant from artsnb (the New Brunswick Arts Board). The project is to write a book-length poetry manuscript on the subject of garden escapes from abandoned New Brunswick houses and communities.

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The landscape of New Brunswick is changing. As demographics shift towards populated areas, communities are abandoned. When gardens are left behind, some species die out, some thrive and some migrate, finding favorable conditions in adjacent properties.

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foxglove Williamsburg

For example, in Fredericksburg, an abandoned community near Stanley, foxglove crowds the ditches; and near Carroll’s Ridge south of Canterbury, no homes remain, but forget-me-nots turn the woods blue. Although local people are aware of these escapes, the stories of the gardens and gardeners are mostly lost.

forgetmenots and lupins

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The subject of abandoned flower garden escapes is the matter of poetry. The names of abandoned communities and of plants, common and scientific, provide a lexicon of poetic words. Abandoned and escaped gardens involve all of the senses: sight (pink of the foxglove flowers), sound (calls of birds who find new habitat), smell (scent of flowers), taste (sour stem of an abandoned rhubarb plant) and touch (the thorniness of escaped raspberry).

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I am looking forward to taking you on my adventures this summer as I search out abandoned houses and communities, look for remnants of the gardens left behind and capture these remnants in poems and images.

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So, I won’t be staying home as much,

but I am still going to be staying safe!

All my best!

Jane

 

 

 

Written by jane tims

July 1, 2020 at 7:00 am

clues in a mystery

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I am still revising my novel, the third in my Kate Eliot Mystery series: Land Between the Furrows.

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A mystery places additional demands on both writer and reader. It is the writer’s job to present the mystery, include clues to solve the mystery and then, work with the reader — ta da! — to solve the mystery. It is the reader’s job to accept the challenge of solving the mystery, look for clues, put them together and work with the writer to solve the mystery. The result is a story and plot where the writer and reader collaborate.

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Mine is a cozy mystery. In this book, there is something to find. At first it is not clear what the something is, but gradually its characteristics are revealed and the location (where the object is hidden) is revealed. The mystery uses a device, a stack of post cards and the messages on them, to present the clues.

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Most of the information is sorted through the gradual telling of the story and by the end of the first draft, I have a rough idea of the way clues will be distributed through the book. But, as for all writing, adjustment and revision is usually needed.

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To do this, I use two tools. One is my Table of Chapters and Scenes. The other is my List of Clues.

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So take a simple mystery. I have hidden an object in this room. There are really two sets of clues 1. What is the object? and 2. Where is it hidden? In a simple, straightforward mystery, the clues should be presented in a logical way and information should be progressive.

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Library

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So, here is the room.

List of Clues

What is the item? the clues are:

  • it’s cold
  • it tastes delicious
  • it’s purple
  • it’s on a stick

Where in the room is the item hidden? the clues are:

  • in the library
  • on a library shelf
  • in a hollow book
  • name of the book: “Warm Day”

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I use the Table of Chapters to make sure the clues are distributed completely and in order. These Table is not complete (there are probably ten chapters in this simple book), but this will give you the idea.

chart

Of course there can be complexities: clues within clues; red herrings; dead ends; twists and turns.

By the time the book is near the end, I want to make sure all the clues have been given.

And Kaye and her kids get the Popsicle.

popsicle

All my best,

staying safe,

Jane

 

 

Written by jane tims

June 22, 2020 at 7:01 am

continuity errors

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As I do revisions of my new manuscript, I find continuity errors in the First Draft. A perfect example cropped up today.

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The story revolves around the clues contained in a shoe box of post cards. About a quarter of the way through the book, someone steals the post cards. In the next chapter, Kaye and her friend Clara make a list of the post cards and a summary of the clues. Hard to do if they don’t have the cards with them! This kind of continuity error is easy to find and correct. Switching the chapters and correcting any new continuity errors is relatively easy.

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post cards

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Fixing continuity errors begins with identification.

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My main tools in this process are the “find” feature of my word processing software and a “table of chapters” that tracks the characteristics of each chapter. The table includes chapter-specific information on scenes, days/dates, setting, characters, Point of View, symbols and so on. This table is a lot of work, but it helps me over and over again during the review process.

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Sample Table

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In my search for continuity errors, I consider:

1. days and dates: I begin every chapter and scene with a day and date. This helps the reader to understand passage of time and helps me with time-related continuity errors. For example, Katie is in Grade 10 at school. On Tuesdays, she can’t be driving around with her mom looking for clues. The table lets me check on these various characteristics of the story and the time/order when events occur.

2. symbols used in the story: mentioned once in a story, a firepit is just a firepit. Mentioned twice, it begins to resonate; it refers to earlier mentions and takes on metaphorical meaning. Mentioned three times, it is all metaphor, a reminder of family, warm memories of a cold night and gathering. When these symbols are identified in the table of chapters, I can forward search on each symbol and read the context. The progression of meaning should be steady and discernible. Ideas out of order can be identified and their order fixed.

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3. character development: sometimes continuity errors are about an out-of-order character arc. When Clara’s home suffers a break-in, she is fearful and unwilling to trust strangers. When she meets Daniel, she learns to trust again, but the progression of this change must be logical and gradual.

4. gradual changes to setting: sometimes significant changes to setting create continuity errors. For example, in my book, an old road is bulldozed. The first time it is used it is muddy, almost impassible. When cars use the road later in the story, I have to explain the change with a spell of dry weather.

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Continuity errors can creep into a story in so many small ways. Character names, hair colour, vehicle make and model, even community names … everything needs to be checked. In the revision stage, it is important to review the story with intent and focus: continuity errors are most easily identified when the writer’s brain is attentive, alert. Drowsy-minded reviews are for finding and removing adverbs!

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All this effort is needed. Readers can be ripped from the world created by a book if the heroine with curly red hair suddenly has hair that is wispy and blond. Readers can be unforgiving.

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'Odymn and Vicki talk' (2016_12_30 00_28_35 UTC) (2)

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Have you ever found an unforgettable continuity error in a book?

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All my best.

Stay home, stay safe.

Jane

choosing a title

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The title of a book can be chosen in a great hurry, the product of the first thing that writes itself on the back wall of the author’s brain. Or, it can emerge after hours, even days, of consideration.

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The title is an important part of a book. It is often the first impression a reader has of the story. It has the responsibility of telling the story in a few words without being a spoiler. It must inform and in the same moment ask a question. It can not confuse the reader … it must not promise a mystery by one author and deliver a book about the life cycle of bees by another.

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I am working on the third book in my Kaye Eliot Mystery Series. I first conceived of the book in 1989. The working title flashed before my eyes … No Stone Unturned. Over 30 years later, I have a first draft. Time to move from a working title to the final title.

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blue stone (Jane Tims) (2016_12_30 00_28_35 UTC)

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So, what is wrong with No Stone Unturned? First, it is a cliche. Second, I searched on Amazon books and found eleven other books with the same title.

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So, to come up with an alternative title, I considered the following:

  1. other titles in the series. Other titles in the Kaye Eliot Mysteries are How Her Garden Grew and Something the Sundial Said. These are longish titles and both ask a question. Both start with a pronoun and include a noun and a verb. To continue this pattern, I considered a title like Where the Stone Lies.
  2. what the story is about. This book is about various efforts to find a stone and return it to its home. Finding the Stone. Searching for the Stone. Setting the Stone Free. Hmmmm.
  3. words and ideas that repeat or resonate in the story. Words in this book with symbolic meaning include stone, stone house, standing stone, mill stone, furrow, land, repatriation, betrothal, demographics, house plans, etc. Some of these words can go out right away. Repatriation of the Stone. No.
  4. the book’s genre. I had a look at the book titles of other writers in the mystery genre. The word ‘mystery’ is usually on the cover … I have A Kaye Eliot Mystery on every cover. In this genre I see titles like Cold Earth and Dark Water (Anne Cleary), Candle for a Corpse and Flowers for His Funeral (Ann Granger), and Death in a Darkening Mist and A Killing in King’s Cove. (Iona Whishaw). So perhaps I should choose something like Seeking the Stone or Death by Stone or just The Stone House.

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Perhaps I am drowning in stones, because my choice for a book title at this point is The Land Between the Furrows. It is longish like my other titles. It is a little unfamiliar, to entice a reader. It asks the question “What happens on the land between the furrows,” or “What is the land between the furrows?” The worst thing about the title, it suggests an agricultural theme which is not quite true.

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img_1246

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If you are considering the ideal title for your own book, have a look at https://thejohnfox.com/2016/07/how-to-create-good-book-titles/ for a step by step approach to finding a great title.

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All my best.

Stay home as much as possible

and stay safe.

Jane

Written by jane tims

June 10, 2020 at 7:00 am

first draft

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This past weekend, I finished the first draft of the third novel in the Kaye Eliot Mystery Series. This is my favorite part of the long process of working on a book.

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I plan my novel to an extent. From the beginning, I knew the basic story: Kaye Eliot finds a packet of old postcards and is set on a search for a valuable stone. The idea for the story was sparked way back in 1989 when I first saw an abandoned stone house during field work in Nova Scotia. I also had most of my characters to work with: Kaye and her husband and two kids. And Daniel Cutter, a stonemason, a character introduced in Book Two of the series. To read Book Two (Something the Sundial Said), click here.

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As I write, I let the characters and story take me where they want to go. Sometimes this takes me in unusual directions. Unless an idea is ridiculous, I usually run with it.

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The props I encounter in the story have their own push and pull. The stone house, the postcards, a stone chimney, a set of architectural plans. When these objects are repeated in the story, they become symbols of ideas in the book.

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stone house Upper Canada Village

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The next stage in writing is the revision. This means reading the book, cover to cover, over and over. I will fix the misspellings and grammar, I add some description. I polish the dialogue. I adjust the story points. I fix the names of villages and bridges and social groups in the story. I do some research. Revision takes the bulk of the time devoted to writing the book, probably 80%. I do at least ten revision sweeps.

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I love the first revision. Although I wrote the first draft, reading it for the first time, cover to cover, is like discovering a new book.

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stone wall

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Next post, I will talk about choosing a title for the book, not as easy as it may seem.

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All my best.

Please stay safe.

Jane

Written by jane tims

June 8, 2020 at 7:00 am

next book in the Meniscus Series: the Gel-head dictionary

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From the beginning, I have included an alien language dictionary at the end of my science fiction books. Gel-speak is the common language on the planet Meniscus. Many of my Human characters speak a little Gel-speak; the genetically-altered Humans, the Slain, speak it fluently. In each book, there are lines of Gel-speak, usually translated, occasionally not.

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The Gel-speak language originates with the Gel-heads, the most maligned of the aliens on Meniscus. The intelligent Dock-winders also have a language but it is not spoken in the presence of other species.

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By the eighth book, I have added to the dictionary until there are 170 words.

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The Gel-speak language has a grammar, or set of rules governing the words and their order. There are verbs and nouns, articles and adjectives. The Gel-speak language includes many of the same sounds as English and includes a ‘click’ at the end of certain words. Any linguists among you are now laughing.

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So, with the dictionary, you can count in Gel-speak to five:

u-hath – one

ull – two

undel – three

urth – four

v-hath – five

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Gel-speak words have ‘roots’ and build on one-another. For example, here are words associated with the female gender:

ora – light

ora-nee – home

ora-nell – female

ora-nell-elan – mother

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or, with the idea of sharing a hearth:

parelan – family

parennel – friend

pargath – hearth

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OK linguists, you can stop laughing now. This is fiction, after all.

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Want a look at the entire dictionary? Have a look at the books in the Meniscus Series, beginning here.

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`chased by a Gel-head`part two

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All my best,

staying home (ora-nee),

and staying in my two-family (ull-paralan) bubble,

Jane

Written by jane tims

May 13, 2020 at 7:00 am

next book in the Meniscus Series: the illustrations

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For the last two days, I have been in a drawing mood. Not many authors illustrate their books (not including those who work on graphic novels), but I love this part of the process.

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I have had lots of discussions with readers about the right and wrong of illustrating. Some think it takes away from the reader’s wonderful ability to imagine characters and scenes. Others think the illustrations take a reader deeper into the author’s intentions. As an author, I think drawings help get my ideas across. Since my books are told as narrative poetry, my words tend to be vary spare and I think of the drawings as extensions of the narrative.

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I include two types of drawings in my books: portraits of the characters and sketches of the action.

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The portraits are useful to me as a writer. They help fix the character’s face so the image does not migrate from book to book. I am really proud of the portraits and looking at them inspires my writing.

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I am also proud of some of my drawings of scenes from my books. When the drawing is close to the idea I want to portray, sometimes it suggests new details in the text. Some drawings are not so good but I rarely re-draw. Instead, I think of these as representative of the weirdness of planet Meniscus. It reminds me of a line from my favorite TV show Lost. Daniel Faraday, on his first visit to the island says,

The light… it’s strange out here, isn’t it? It’s kind of like, it doesn’t, it doesn’t scatter quite right.”

On Meniscus, the pencil doesn’t behave quite right.

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In every book, there are 23 +/- 4 drawings. Some are portraits or repeats of earlier scenes. Today, I did two drawings, both unique to Meniscus: The Knife.

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All my best,

staying home

and staying in my two-family bubble,

Jane

Written by jane tims

May 11, 2020 at 7:00 am

a glimpse of sickle moon

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I am so happy to announce my poetry manuscript, ‘a glimpse of sickle moon,’ has won Third Place in the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick (WFNB) Competition for the Alfred G. Bailey Prize for a poetry manuscript.

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I’d like to extend huge congratulations to First Place winner of the Bailey Prize, Kathy Mac, and Second Place winner, Roger Moore. I cannot be jealous of these winners because they are, respectively, members of my two writing groups: Wolf Tree Writers and Fictional Friends.

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Roger Moore has also won Third Place in the WFNB Narrative Non-fiction Prize and First Place in the WFNB Competition for the David Adams Richards Prize for a fiction manuscript. I am also proud of another of my Fictional Friends, Neil Sampson, who won Third Place in the David Adams Richards Prize for a fiction manuscript.

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And to all the other winners, some of whom are good friends, congratulations!

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My manuscript, ‘a glimpse of sickle moon,’ includes 56 poems about nature, arranged according to the seasons: winter, spring, summer, fall. For every four poems, a year rolls by, so the manuscript covers 14 years of seasons!

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Here is the title poem, about the andirons in front of our fireplace.

andiron cropped

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andiron

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wrought owl with amber eyes

perches on the hearth

hears a call in the forest

three hoots and silence

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great-horned owl, light gathered

at the back of its eyes

the oscillating branch

after wings expand and beat

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iron owl longs for a glimpse

of sickle moon

shadow of a mouse

sorting through dry leaves

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in this cramped space

night woods decanted

fibre and bark, fire and sparks

luminous eyes

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The next step will be to complete some drawings for the poems and add the manuscript  to the poetry manuscripts I intend to publish.

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All my best, especially to the winners of the WFNB Competition.

I am staying at home,

and in my two family bubble.

Jane

 

 

Written by jane tims

May 1, 2020 at 7:00 am

illustrating poetry

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I am in the process of creating several books of poetry from the many poems I have written over the years. I am now working on the third book, poems about life on my grandfather’s farm. The title will be ‘blueberries and mink’ since these were the main products of the farm.

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There are about forty poems in this collection. I have decided how I will order the poems and done much of the formatting. Since I illustrate the books I write, the next task is to pair the poems with drawings I have done.

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For some poems, as I wrote, I had an image in my head that my hands could draw. A good example is the poem ‘patience.’ One of the lines describes ‘staring down a cow.’ The drawing was fun to do.

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outstaring a cow paperback

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In some cases, a drawing I did for another purpose will find a home in my ‘blueberries and mink’ manuscript. An example is the drawing of old pop bottles I did for a blog post a few years ago. These bottles look much like the ones that used to sit on a window ledge in a shed at my grandfather’s farm.

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old pop bottles cropped

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Once I have inserted the formatted drawings into the book, I have to make sure they are distributed evenly through the book. Sometimes a poem and its drawing can be relocated. Sometimes I have to do another drawing to fill a gap.

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Next, from the drawings, I have to pick one for the cover of the book. I want the covers for these books to be similar in style with the book title and author name superimposed.

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A couple of the possible covers I am working on are shown below.

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poetry books

alt cover

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all my best,

staying home,

Jane

Written by jane tims

April 24, 2020 at 7:00 am

organizing writing files – ordering a manuscript of poems

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Last month I started a big project – to find and organize all the poems I have written during the last forty years. For a glimpse of my approach see here.

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After four weeks of effort, I now have a file of poems I would like to assemble into a book. The title will be ‘niche’ and the book will include poems about the ecological spaces plants and animals (including humans) occupy.

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niche \ ‘nich\ n (F, fr. MF, fr. nicher to nest, fr. (assumed) VL nidicare, from L nidus nest) 1 a : a recess in a wall, especially for a statue. b : something that resembles a niche. 2 a : a place, employment, or activity for which a person is best fitted. b : a habitat supplying the factors necessary for the existence of an organism or species. c : the ecological role of an organism in a community especially in regard to food consumption.

– Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1979

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I have identified 66 poems for ‘niche,’ taking up about 110 pages. Although I could just toss the poems into the book in random order, I like to think about how I want the reader to encounter the poems. I organize the poems in the book following these steps.

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1. List the ideas in the poems:

After I find all the poems to fit the ‘niche’ category, I arrange them roughly into a manuscript. Then I print the Table of Contents and write a list of ideas associated with each poem.  Examples for ‘niche’ include: needs, predation, reproduction, invasion of other spaces, seasons, nutrition, competition, and so on. I also start to get a feel for poems that do not fit.

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Scan_20200402 (4)

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2. Develop a progression of ideas:

Once I have identified these ideas, I decide how I want to group them and how I want them to progress for the reader. In the case of ‘niche,’  I want the poems to first define niche, then consider the strategies plants and animals use to stay in their niche, then explore the discomfort or danger created when a niche is occupied, consider the spaces I have occupied in my own life, consider the problems you have to overcome to occupy your own niche, and conclude with an idea of the ideal space. Then, I reorder the poems so they fit the progression of ideas.

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3. Sort the poems roughly into groups:

Once I have decided on a progression of ideas, I put poems into sections to portray those ideas.  I choose the title for the section from a poem in the section. It is at this point that I decide which poems do not belong in the collection and remove them.  For ‘niche’ the following are the sections (for now):

occupation of space – needs of an organism for food, water, air, physical space, and so on.

strategy – ways plants and animals protect their niche and solidify their position

praying for rain – dangers and discomforts of occupying a niche

mapping the labyrinth – places I have occupied, a bit of memoir

not touching the land – ways a niche is changed when it is occupied

forgetting to move – getting comfortable in your own niche

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4. Order and fine tune:

Now the fine-tuning. To create a readable book of poetry, I think poems should not only be consistent in theme, but also segue from one to the other. This may be as simple as grouping poems of one season together, or grouping poems about plant species. It also means allowing the language and rhythm to flow from one poem to another.

The intensive way to do this is to print all the poems and lay them out on a surface, ordering and reordering until they feel ‘right.’

I hate to waste the paper, and I like to have all materials within one view, so I use an abbreviated method.  I prepare pages showing just the section titles, the poem titles and a line about the poem. I cut these out so they can easily be moved around on a table. If I want to check detailed poem content structure, I have my i-pad near at hand.

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img_5961img_5966

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The process is sometimes tedious. Taking a break helps since after a while the poems you know so well begin to blur in meaning and the relationships between poems become nebulous. However, like many editorial-type tasks, the end product is worth the effort.

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All my best,

staying at home,

Jane

 

 

 

Written by jane tims

April 3, 2020 at 2:25 pm

Posted in writing

Tagged with , , , ,

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