It has been quiet here for a few weeks due to my being on holiday here:

My ideal writing desk – Tarup Strand, Denmark.

That’s not the only reason I have had little time for blogging though. I have, after all been back for over a week now, and the schools reopened last week, giving me my writing mornings back. So why haven’t I been posting? Because I have been using my writing mornings for just that, writing. Or more precisely, editing.

Anticipating the impact starting my MA might have on my short fiction writing, I wrote a whole clutch of stories at full pelt in the summer and autumn of 2011, the plan being to give them time to sit in a draw before editing them whenever I might have a sliver of time to devote to one. This last week or so I’ve been doing just that. Editing. Though, right now, in the midst of the Nth draft of a story that continues to bedevil me, it feels more like wrestling.

My story starts back in early August when, lucky enough to have some writing time, I nipped off to my wife’s classroom for some piece and quiet. I finished a first draft of a story in the morning. In the afternoon I pulled up a story on my laptop whose first draft I wrote back in October 2011 and whose structure has yet to feel quite right, despite much of the writing within the sections feeling mostly complete. The words themselves seemed in the right order, they seemed the best words, but the organising structure for the sections just wasn’t clicking. I tried shoving the stuff around on Scrivener’s cork board (more on this later) but had little joy. Sitting alone in the classroom I looked around in desperation, certain that I would never get it right, and my eye caught on a pile of coloured paper. And a tray of scissors. And a tub of Pritt Sticks. And pot of marker pens.

Pretty soon I had this:

Each scene from Demand Feeding in an easy to maneuver slips.

Then this:

Some time later: all the scenes stuck in place.

Having used the analogue method for shifting scenes I went back and moved them round on the cork board of my Scrivener file for the story, compiled it and (back at home) printed out the new story structure in full to see how it read. I then left the story and the structure sheet in a folder, to be dealt with once back from holiday.

Problem is, once I got back and had chance to read the story through, look at the structure again and read through the detailed comments made by Jodi in her insightful beta read of the old draft, I realised this new structure wasn’t working either. So it was back to the drawing board. Or rather, back to the carpet.

Yesterday, inspired by Adam Marek’s post showing how he always lays out a short story on the floor to see the structure at a glance, I thought I would give that a go. Here’s what mine looked like:

Demand Feeding laid out on the floor. You might make out the labels Past and Present in highlighter for each section.

Truth be told this is not a million miles away from one of the ways I use Garageband when I record my stories to listen back for errors or clunky bits. I record each section of a story separately so that you can see how long each section is in relation to all the others in a glance at the voice track I am using. One advantage of laying the pages of the story out like this though is the fact you can zoom in on, by which I really mean lean over and peer at, the text to take in the transitions. You can of course easily zoom out, or lean back, to take in the text as a whole again.

Happy that I had it pretty much sorted I put it away again until this morning. At this point I had a new scene to write in draft so cracked on with that. Once it was done I read the whole thing out and recorded it to hear each section in isolation. What I heard while recording didn’t sound too bad, but the proof will be in the listening back tomorrow. I also tweaked the odd scene around (merging three scenes into one long one at one point) to keep things moving at a lick.

So as of now, the story looks like this in Garageband:

Each scene of Demand Feeding as an audio recording.  A glance at the top track line tells you where the longer scenes come in the story.

Before finishing today I went back and tweaked my Scrivener file’s cork board to ensure the correct order:

In Scrivener each scene becomes an index card on a cork board. Click on a card and you zip into the text of the scene. It’s like magic.

So that’s where I’ve been and that’s where I am with this story. I have been working on this one for almost twelve months now, on and off. I hope to have it finished soon. I thought a year sounded like a long time, but Tania Hershman’s recent post about the writing of her story Under The Tree put my toil on this story into perspective. She worked on Under The Tree for three years before it was right (and it is now very, very right – read it here). Here’s hoping I haven’t got another two years to go. I’ll have some idea of what else needs work after I give it a listen and read through the compiled manuscript from Scrivener.

So, that was my much longer than intended post about wrestling with my current WIP’s structure. What works for you when you’re trying to whip a story into shape?