The Mark Blog

SEARCHING FOR STRUCTURE

 

I am happy and relieved to say that yesterday at noon, I emailed my final manuscript to the PEN Center USA offices. Of course, this isn’t the final version. Much has changed since the beginning, even since the Mid-Project Review. I’ll continue to work on it after the Final Review, which will be at the end of June. However, for now, this is the manuscript. Up until yesterday, I was still debating about the order and placement of the stories. This has been an ongoing process. At the Mid-Project Review, we all agreed that the chronological structure I was trying to implement simply wasn’t working for this book. Yesterday at about one in the morning, exhausted and convinced that the structure was as good as it was going to get at this moment in time, I retired for the night. Which gets me thinking about the structure…

Strangely enough, deciding on a structure for your book is sort of like choosing a school for your child. School selection has been something I’ve spent a considerable amount of time pondering this spring. When you stop to think about it, a school is the structure you drop your child into. Unfortunately, I chose incorrectly for both my child and my book. The error in thinking was similar in both situations. I made decisions based on my preferences, as opposed to what is compatible. I thought a progressive school would offer an out-of-the-box approach to learning. Turns out that this wasn’t the best fit. My child needed a different structure. A similar thing happened with the collection of linked stories. I looked at some of my favorite books, such as Little Altars Everywhere, and noticed that they were structured chronologically. This intuitively made sense to me. I tried to make it work—I really, really hoped it could work--but the collection was too stilted and lop-sided in many respects using this organization. This obviously wasn’t the best fit, either.

Back to the drawing board. The second time around, I strove to make a more conscious choice for my child and the book. I asked for advice from people I trusted and listened to different opinions. I’m grateful for all of the wise people I met along this journey, especially at The Mark. I tried to read between the lines. I asked myself questions: does this structure make sense? Why or why not? What are the pros? What are the cons? I allowed myself plenty of time to ponder the decisions. I wrote about it a lot. I wrote in my journal about the school situation and wrote a handful of outlines and played around with notecards while thinking about the book. Most importantly, I followed my gut. If something didn’t seem to be right, even if looked fine on paper, I discarded the notion.

Nothing is perfect. In one way or another, I’ll probably have to tinker with it again. This is all right. The objective is to find a good overall fit. As one of my writing teachers once told me, “Anything (in writing) is OK--if it works.” It’s just about finding out what works.