Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wallpapering With Words

This was my work on Friday afternoon: Taping the best of my columns to the walls of the hallway outside my upstairs office.
Three years' worth of bi-weekly columns makes for interesting wallpaper. My mother keeps wandering down, looking at a different piece of paper each time. I rush out of my office to do something and leave the pages flapping in the breeze of my haste.
This wallpapering was not the procrastination exercise it might appear to be -- although those aren't unheard of when there is an essay to be written or a chapter to be edited. This is the necessary work of figuring out what to do with this collection of columns.
I even taped up 17 of my favourite conversations, the ones that can easily be turned into an essay, because these stories mean so much to me. Capturing other people's lives and experiences in 1,000 words and a simple photo has been one of the most rewarding writing projects I've ever undertaken. Two a month for three years means I've met an awful lot of interesting people.
That I've been trusted by an awful lot of people to treat their personal story with care and respect.
I'm hoping a few of them can make it into the book.
Yes, this wallpaper job is the process of creating the idea for a book. When the columns were piled in a box, the idea seemed unwieldy and without an obvious start. But like any big project, such as eating an elephant, you take one bite at a time. You find the obvious starting point -- organization of materials is usually that point -- and you work forward from there. The first bite in the Field Notes book project was to cull the collection. As I culled, I taped the keepers to the wall. As I taped them, I grouped them into themes.
By the time I was done, an idea that seemed huge and overwhelming had become not merely manageable but motivational as well. Seeing the columns grouped together by themes (requiring more eye-catching titles than "Holidays", "Death" and "Animals"), I wanted to get started right away on recreating the essays.
But there is another, more demanding book project underway for the next six months, so Field Notes (which too requires a more eye-catching title) will simply hang on the wall, a passing reminder every time I enter and exit my office, fluttering notes that won't blow away in the whatever whirlwind I create.

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