I’d been looking forward to the project all afternoon. Once my work was finished for the day, I closed my laptop and pulled out my manuscript. Splayed out on the living room floor, I was delighted to finally have the time and mental space to take all the poems and put them in order. In short, I wanted to see what this book looked like as a whole.
Up to this point, the book has been a collection of individual poems. Though I knew the point I wanted to drive home in the end, I had little sense of the story arc as a whole. I didn’t know the beginning or the middle or how one section would progress into another. The poems were not written with any kind of order in mind and it would have to be created based upon what I’d already written. The experience of putting a poetry book together is rather like being handed a box of colored tiles and being told to make a coherent picture. I can still add and subtract from the book to strengthen the flow, but with 106 poems ready to go in, it was time to put them all in the hopper and see what came out.
Taking what I learned from my first editor when it comes to putting a book together, I took a sheet of paper and drew out a story curve with notes describing what parts of the story I was looking for along the way. I then split the diagram into five sections: the beginning, going up the curve, the middle, going down the curve, and the end.
Taking the stack of poems in hand one by one, I then divided them into the five parts of the story based on what the poems were about and the lessons I learned within them. Sometimes I wasn’t sure where they fit so I set those aside to use later. If I had two possibilities for different parts of the story, I made that note on the bottom of the page.
I then took a section at a time and found the links between the poems to put them in order. Sometimes I felt inspired as I found larger stories between the poems, themes and questions that came up at the beginning were fulfilled in the end. A great deal of the time, though, I struggled through, trying to find how they fit together and coming up short. It was gratifying and frustrating at the same time. The first section, especially, came together easily but the later ones were much harder. One section I reshuffled entirely and did over.
What I did find as I worked through the sections was the conversation between God and I that ran throughout the book. I also discovered some of the poems were even better when placed alongside another than they were by themselves. They brought out deeper truths in each other. Seeing the words come together as a cohesive whole, I feel like I now have the ultrasound for my baby. It’s no longer an abstract concept, but an identifiable thing. I’ve seen the picture and it’s beautiful. Even though the order of the poems is very much a rough draft and I still have some more to write, I love seeing it come together into a book.