Most writers know that you need a good structure to contain your story, your wisdom, your moments of insight.
A good structure helps you move through time and space on the page.
It provides an anchor for the mind.
But thinking you need to find the right structure before you begin can be a trap, another obstacle to reaching your writing goals.
You don’t need to find the perfect structure to begin your book.
You can begin with the basics of reading and writing. while waiting for that flash of recognition when you hit upon a form that works.
Here’s what I recommend:
1) When you read a book or an essay with an interesting structure, re-read it.
Take notes on how it’s built. Make an index for every chapter or section. As you’re writing, you’ll be digesting the work, getting its structure into your belly.
But don’t worry about finding the right form. Get familiar with a lot of ways writers put their books together.
You might steal a structure outright or you might put a few different methods together to create something that works for you.
2) Start writing now.
Don’t wait until you have the right framework.
Begin with moments of awakening, strong memories, or even what’s happening in your life today.
Take it in bite-size pieces and see what emerges.
Recently, I’ve had students and clients sort out structures based on different addresses where they’ve lived and personal lessons built on public moments of teaching.
The structure is growing out of the experiences they are writing about.
As a teacher, it is a miracle to see that unfold without (or despite) my prodding.
3) If structure is still dogging you and keeping you from the page, borrow one to get going.
Maybe it will work. Maybe you’ll have to discard it later.
It gives you a place to begin, however, a way to direct your writing.
Here’s what editor, Susan Bell, advises:
If you have trouble with structure, it may be helpful to choose one straight off and use it as a guardrail as you write. You may need to replace it later, as your writing spills out of your plan, but you will have learned a lot about the meaning of structure by forcing yourself to conceive of one at the start. It can be easier to find the right one by butting up again a wrong one than against nothing at all.
4) Last and not least, sort out your chronology.
Most writers I work with resist a chronological narrative, because it’s boring or their minds won’t tolerate it.
That’s fine. You don’t have to organize your book on a timeline.
It’s still good to know what happened when, for yourself, as a roadmap for where you want to end up, and for your readers, so you don’t confuse them.
These are my suggestions. Take what works for you and discard the rest.