pile of blank puzzle pieces

Puzzling the Paper

Right now, I’m working on one of the longest papers I’ve ever written.  I remember when it was just a wee thing—a handful of written pages with some notes.  Back then, it felt manageable to scroll through looking for places to reorganize my thoughts.  However, as the page count grows, I’ll sometimes read over a section and think: “Don’t I talk about this idea somewhere else in my paper?”
When I feel particularly stumped by how to organize my paper’s different ideas, I go back to an exercise that feels reminiscent of my days as a child putting puzzles together.  I’ll print out the section of the paper I’m struggling with and, with a pair of scissors, I’ll cut out each individual paragraph.  Then, taking my paragraph snippets to the floor, I’ll shuffle and scramble them together.
Taking one paragraph snippet at a time, I’ll read it through, think about the main idea it shares, and write that idea on the snippet.  I’ll then organize the snippets into piles that share similar ideas or themes—similar to a mind map!  If I find that I can’t place a snippet in just one pile, it tells me that I might need to revise that paragraph so that it contains just one main idea.
Lastly, I’ll then reconstruct my paper (without looking at the original layout!) by placing, removing, and replacing the snippets.  As a new layout takes form, I’ll note places where I might revise topic sentences to help connect new neighboring paragraphs or places where I might edit for concision.  Overall, I find that this exercise encourages me to see revising and reorganizing as processes that can be fun, creative, and fluid.  Just as there are different ways to solve a puzzle, there are many different ways to write!