Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Behind the Books: Cut and Paste

When I’m doing research, I enter all my notes into a single computer file. By the time I’m ready to start writing, that file might be 20, 30, 40 pages long. That’s when it’s time to cut and paste.

I save my original file exactly as it is—with all my references and citations. Then I create a copy of the file and go to work. First, I use cut and paste to create clumps of related information.

Let’s say I’m writing a book about giraffes. I’ll create one clump of information about how giraffes raise their young. Another clump will include all the information I’ve gathered about what giraffes eat. A third could focus on where they live, and a fourth might contain details about how they escape from enemies.

Once I’ve placed all the notes into clumps, I read each clump and delete redundant information. This is also a good time to do a bit of fact checking. If one source says giraffes eat snails, but all the others say they eat leaves from acacia trees. Well, I have to wonder about those snails. I can go back to my original file, and decide how reliable it is. Maybe it’s wrong, or maybe it is more up-to-date than all the other sources.

Next, it’s time to move those clumps around—more cutting and pasting—to decide how the piece will be organized.

Finally, it’s time to write the text and cobble all those clumps together with transitions. It’s like putting together a big puzzle. I love puzzles, so for me, this final step of creating the first draft is a whole lot of fun.

1 comment:

  1. So cool to read about your research and writing methods! When I was in school (in the time before computers) I used to take notes on index cards, one idea per card, coded by source. I would "clump" the information by sorting the actual cards into piles. Then I'd shuffle the cards in a pile until the order made sense. I loved that feeling of having those pieces of information in my hands!