structuring a book

I‘ve been writing lately, which incidentally had nothing to do with any type of New Year’s resolve. Okay, fine, less writing and more editing. But it’s felt delicious to circle back to old pages with fresh eyes because I’m able to see exactly what doesn’t work. You know immediately what reads false, where it reads, “trying too hard,” or forced. I think of simpler ways to say it, more direct routes (oh, the map analogy!), and I edit. Clip, Snip. Simplify.

You know what else happens? You know exactly why you put the thing down in the first place. Because you got stuck and wrote yourself into a corner. And you didn’t know where to go next. So you know what you did? You put the writing down and thought some fresh eyes would do you some good. Added some procrastination and a good helping of universe talk. Even some journal writing. A big of “let me ask for guidance before I fall asleep, and I’ll awake, and write ‘morning pages'” wisdom. Sheesh.

When the universal guidance didn’t come, and the morning pages were filled with to-do lists, you skipped those tough sections. Said, “you know what, for now, I won’t let those parts trip me up. I’ll soldier on and get back to that stuff later. Onward ho, no excuses.” You write because you’re a writer. You don’t talk about how you’re a writer. You actually do it. Only now, you’re all over the map (the material is unfocused) because you’re driving around a tornado, ’cause it’s a helluva lot safer than finding a way through it. The structure is rocky, there are timelines that don’t track, and hello topics! Wait, what is this story about? In a logline* please?

Pardon the WEATHER and MAP analogy, but this is always my advice to others. Sometimes the side streets and tangents are just as interesting, if not more so, than the highways. So, you do need to go through, to keep going and “throat clear,” get it all out, on and on, around the tornado, even if it means doubling back your efforts and cutting pages upon pages to reveal only one gem of a true paragraph.

I’m not going to lie, structure is not my strength. If I could be paired with a phenomenal writing mentor, partner, or editor dear universe, if you’re listening, please allow that said partner be gifted in structure and plot. I already have the sauce. Knowing how best to spread it is where I spend most of my time. I’d prefer to spend so much less of it making dreaded outlines. I hate sewing. I constantly feel, with all my books, as if I’m sewing existing self-contained stories together, into an elaborate quilt. Stories that have their own arcs–beginning, middle, and end–and are then joined together into a larger beast–with its own narrative arc. And I suppose that’s how it is with screenplays, too, each scene it’s own little story, building upon one another, like battles in a larger war. All sewing lessons.

You should see the hundreds of pages I have written. All these pages, printed on my living room floor, marked with different color inks, to indicate the topic (marriage, friendship, parenting), lessons learned/ wisdom, the timeline by year, the state (NY, TX, FL). It will come to me. You know how you best figure this out? By sitting down with a tape recorder and telling a close friend, so here’s what this book is about…

Then the structure is born. Kind of. I’ve tried. I’m going to try again today. If it doesn’t work. I’m going to paint a flower with watercolors.

*A logline is a one-sentence blurb of a script. But it can help to have one for a book, too, to keep you focused. It’s that one sentence that says, here’s what the book is about…. in a sentence only.



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