While at last month’s San Francisco Writers Conference, I sat in on a workshop given by Michelle Richmond (one of my favorite authors, if you haven’t read her, DO) on writing a novel by the “Paperclip Method.”
Okay, so at first I was star-struck. I am in the process of buying every book Michelle Richmond has ever written (along with Laura Kasischke and T. Greenwood – my bookshelves are bursting). These three women are, in my honest opinion, the greatest writers of these modern times. Their books are lyric, complicated, literary, sometimes gritty and real – basically they touch my heart in ways that can’t be explained with mere words. I find myself thinking about the characters long after I’ve read to the end.
Back to the workshop – I finally came out of my hero fog and began to listen. I had no idea what the “Paperclip Method” was; I would have listened to Michelle Richmond reading from the phone book. I would have listened to her critique my first page to shreds. But after a few minutes of her talk, I realized that Michelle Richmond writes like I do. Talk about a hit-by-lightning moment!
Unlike most writers, Michelle Richmond does not write in a linear fashion (start on Page 1, end with “The End.”) She also doesn’t use outlines. Boom, and boom! Neither do I! And here I thought I was ADD, unable to start at the beginning, unable to know what I’m going to say in advance. *duh*
You might know what your next novel is. I kinda-sorta do. I’ve been working (lackadaisically) on a story about three women since last summer when I took some online classes with The WriterMama. Her 21 Moments class gives you a prompt each day to write about a “moment” in time. After six months, I had a notebook (hand written) filled with moments, most of which had to do with these three characters.
Do the math. If I was writing between 500 and 1000 words each day for 21 days each month for six months, I had a reserve of at least 63K words worth of story. All I had to do was to weave it together. Yeah, right. I tried to explain my story to my Editor for Life, but he was busy editing VY4ever. So the notebook has been fermenting since last July.
But listening to Michelle Richmond explain the Paperclip Method renewed my interest in the story. Her method involves writing in scenes or short pieces. (It helps to have a vague idea of the story line.) Once you have enough small pieces, you arrange them into stacks and use paperclips to keep the stacks separate. Scenes with specific characters might have their own stacks. Writing that might have to do with the theme of your novel. Maybe a parallel storyline that seems inconsequential but presents a hidden meaning for the main story in the end. Eventually, you study your stacks and piece your story together.
Like a quilt! Like one of my twisted pieces of jewelry! These start out with small pieces that are seemingly unrelated, but eventually make up a work of art.
After the dust settled from my trip, I went online and purchased Michelle Richmond’s workbooks, which are pictured above. They arrived this week. And now, I will retrieve my handwritten notebook and start paperclipping.
After all, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, or write a novel.