04 February 2013

“pulling strings”: organizing your work by common "threads" & themes

The Our Lost Jungle CB Challenge: Pull-Thread-Weave
I spent the weekend cleaning and reorganizing my apartment. It wasn’t something that particularly needed to be done (outside of a few wayward clothes, I could have just picked things up and spot cleaned) … but it’s something I get a weird kick out of. It helps that I always make it a game. As a kid, I hated cleaning my room, so I’d pretend I was on a competitive cleaning show; in the next room, some other person was trying to clean faster and make the room prettier than me, and so I’d rush to finish and decorate faster. And yes, there was commentary.

It’s a habit that I’ve let spill into adulthood (competitive bed making … competitive dish washing … competitive grocery shopping…), and into different areas than household chores ... including organizing my writing! Today's Chapbook Challenge task involves looking at how getting organized can be fun, and begin the process of organizing our work into chapbook-workable stacks (or folders, if you’re working electronically)!

I call this organizational “technique” the “Pull-Thread-Weave” Method. I like it because it essentially does half the work of putting a chapbook together for you! While it’s the method I’m sharing, it’s not necessarily one you have to use … But give it a shot, and see how it works for you!


The first thing you want to do is “Pull” your work. All of it. (Some of you have already done this, through the mini-task last Friday or in anticipation of the start of this challenge!) Whether it’s shiny and (nearly) perfected or in need of work and revision, gather all your work together into one big pile. If you’re working with printed materials, don’t worry about it being a neat pile, either! You’ll be playing with and sorting it, so let it be messy for now.

If your work is saved on your computer, you can “Pull” in one of two ways. When I first started working with pieces on my computer, I opened a blank Word document and copied all my poems into it, giving the document a title that included the date when I was finished (i.e. “Collected Poems 2-4-13”); that way, if I wrote any new poems after that date, I knew I had to add them, and update the name of the file. The easier way to do this, though, is probably to print the work. I say “easier” for two reasons: 1. You can actually hold the work in your hands and skim it more easily, and 2. It makes the next step (“Threading”) a little easier.

“Pulling” all your work, whether it’s stories, narratives, poems, or pictures, helps you get a better sense of what you have to work with. A lot of times, writers feel they “don’t have enough” to put together a chapbook. Pulling is the first proof of exactly how much you actually have, and it’s usually a lot more than you think!


Next, we’re going to “Thread” the work. This is where getting organized, and playing, begins! Grab a pen or pencil and start reading through your work. As you read, start to identify EITHER the narrative thread OR the theme of the piece: If you had to summarize the piece in one word, what would it be? Write that word at the top or bottom of the page. (If you’re working on a computer, type the word into the page’s Header.)

“Threading” your work helps you start to develop a handle on not only the collections you could create, but also on the themes and topics that are important to you as a writer. For example, when I do this the “thread words” are: WOMEN/SEXUALITY, MYTHOS, FLIGHT/BIRDS, and WATER/AIR. It can be playful, or fun, in that you are challenging yourself to summarize an entire work in one or two words. (In fact, to make it a game: Consider your threads/themes “teams” and award teams points for the number of works they “win”!) It also helps give you a sense of how some themes interact, especially if some pieces fit more than one “Thread” (or theme); i.e. a poem titled “A History of Black Birds” fits both the FLIGHT/BIRDS and MYTHOS categories.


The final step is “Weaving,” or separating the big pile into the smaller “threaded” stacks. This shouldn’t take much time, since you’ve already labeled all the work (in fact, you could technically “Thread” and “Weave” at the same time) … which makes it the perfect spot to really turn your work into play!

If working with printed materials, use notecards to write out the different “thread” titles you came up with, and place the notecards around the room; set the pile of work in a central location. Start a stopwatch, grab a pile of work, and see how quickly you can get the work to the properly labeled notecards! For more of a “competitive edge,” imagine that someone in the next room is doing the same thing … and trying to do it faster than you! Or, instead of a stopwatch, use a timer and give yourself a competitive sense of urgency!

If working with a computer, create separate Word documents with each “thread” title (save it as that thread’s name). Set a timer and start sorting! See how fast you can get it done. (Don’t forget: If a poem fit more than one category, copy and paste it into both.)

“Weaving” basically develops several potential chapbooks for you. If a pile is particularly small, you might try to sort them into a bigger category, or set them aside for later use. If a pile is particularly huge, you just know you have multiple chapbooks with the same theme! In either case, you’ve started to develop the themes for your chapbooks and get the poems, stories, etc. organized! We’ll talk about how to use your theme stacks (or “Threads”) to develop chapbook collections on Wednesday!

Your Turn

Guess what your task for today is? Pull-Thread-Weave! Go ahead … start getting organized! Remember, this step is just about getting the work sorted, not about putting together a collection! Just focus on developing your threads for now!

How do you get your work organized? Share your organizational tips and techniques in the comments! If you play any of the games suggested above, don’t forget to share your winning Theme Teams and/or your Weaving record in the comments as well! Have fun, and good luck!


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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. These are great organizing ideas. Thank you Khara. Now we know why you are so driven. It’s that other stranger in the next room. Question: what happens if you lose? That could be a plot for a thriller.
    My poems are in individual files and Friday I “pulled” and “threaded” a quarter of them into folders that began to suggest themselves as I pulled. So far, I have folders marked: postcards/ekphrasis, meta (poems about poetry), walking, soul-life, wilderness, mushing. Poems in vitro go in a folder titled “WIP.”
    I like combining pulling and threading into folders simultaneously because each of my poems are in individual files that can be easily moved into folder threads. When the time comes I can print out a folder's contents.
    I know I should have done this years ago but it’s easier to do the Emily Dickinson thing and throw them in a drawer.

    1. That's a great point about the benefits of computerized pull-and-thread, Kris! It's so nice to have a clutter free method to get organized, and then print things out when necessary!

      As for your question: My competition usually is the victim of several "freak accidents" and "fouls" during the competition ... I think I have yet to lose. The trouble will come when I actually let myself bring this competition to life and face off against a real person!

  3. I guess what I did the otehr day could also be considered organizing and threading.

    I made folders for each subject of my poems/song parodies, then made word docs, and sorted into the right folder.

    Air poetry, Bicycling, Cats, Faith, Genealogy, Limericks, Nature,Politics,Tributes, Uncategorized (9 pieces that don't fit in any of the categories), Xmas, Xmas cats. I also made a folder for my 100 word Musings, and 100 word cat stories.

    1. That's a lot of organization you've got going on, Kiril! Way to go!

  4. I gues what I did the other day would be threading, as well as organizing, too.

    I created Folders then sorted my poems into the appropriate category:

    Air poetry (9, Bicycling
    Xmas cats

  5. Man - I am not in the race part of this - with close to 900 poems and only about 50 in one pile, 20 in another and a further 20-30 in a third ... this is going to take some time ... I keep telling myself it will be worth it to get this done, it will be worth it, it will be worth it, it will

    1. Sharon, if it makes you feel better, I haven't even started; I've got a labeled piled but it probably won't get "weave"-ed until tomorrow night when I'll definitely be able to sit still! One thing you might try is just picking a pile to play with for the sake of the challenge. When I do this regularly I usually wind up with 4-8 unique thread piles; I'll settle on two or three that contain a poem I really like, and work with those, leaving the rest for another time!

  6. Just testing if comments are working.

  7. I'm going to try to work this in Scrivener. It doesn't have a template for a chapbook, but putting my poems on notecards on the corkboard works well for a visual thinker like me. If anyone has Scrivener tips, I'm all ears.

    1. I'm really curious to see how that works, Jeannine! I've heard a lot of great things about Scrivener, though I haven't gotten around to using it personally. Please let us know how it goes! (By "us" I mean "us," but I also mean "me") :)

  8. Done... it all boils down to two
    The Warrior Within and Entre Nous :)

    1. Congrats on finishing the task, Meena! :)


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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