I was talking with a friend yesterday about a biography she’s been invited to write for publication.
“What is it that holds you back from starting the biography?” I asked her, knowing how passionate she is about the subject. An award-winning editor, she has the capacity to both hone in on the micro details required to be an excellent copy and proofreader and also completely restructure academic texts on complex technical subjects.
“I just don’t know how to structure it,” she said, which completely surprised me.
We then went on to chat about our mutual moves to the country and how quickly we unpacked. I’d unpacked and put together my entire house within days of moving (which resulted in an injury to my arm!), and she shouted that she was exactly the same (getting a different injury), unpacking and embarking on major fixes to her new place in the first week because she can’t stand having things ‘not work’ around her.
Then it tweaked. Her issues with the biography structure are just like unpacking the house.
As someone like me who can’t handle living in chaos or mess, she needs things to be organised well the first time.
Maybe you can relate?
It’s not a bad thing, per se, to dislike chaos, but when you carry this attitude over to a creative project like a book manuscript, it means that when you don’t know how to do something REALLY WELL and ORGANISE IT PROPERLY the first time, that feeling is more than slight discomfort, it’s counter to your entire self-identity.
Which means you put it off.
STORY STRUCTURE IS ABOUT PRIORITIES
MANUSCRIPT STRUCTURE is something you can look at from the outside (as my friend has done in her work as an academic editor) and know how to fix, but starting the story or outlining it when it’s your own? This takes a very different headspace. It’s almost like the difference between unpacking someone else’s house VS your own. It’s much easier to sort and tidy someone else’s mess because you don’t have any stories attached to it or feelings about the objects at every turn.
When you’re the one starting a book from scratch, sitting in the mess of not knowing the most basic foundational pieces of how to structure your story feels a bit like most people would feel if they’d never packed or unpacked a house before.
What to unpack first? Which box is more important than the others? Where is this record, or that? Does it even matter?
I’m very intentional when i move house to ALWAYS make sure the bedroom is set up for sleep before anything else, then kitchen second, then everything else, because these two things (sleep and food) are essential for comfort and survival. But I only learnt this through moving house multiple times, having moves go terribly wrong (a piece of the bed went missing or i forgot to put the sheets aside), and learning from experience and mistakes.
And this is ALSO why I’m really quick to outline a book manuscript now. I’ve written multiple manuscripts (and rewritten them) from start-to-finish.
And I can have the full chapter-by-chapter outline done in the better part of an hour, now, because i know what to prioritise.
Would you like to know how to structure your memoir or nonfiction like this, too?
When you KNOW the foundational pieces to prioritise, it means you’re starting in the right spot, validating your story concept, seeing how to follow it through to finished draft and ensuring it’s going to WORK. For a book, that means being compelling, and highly readable, and clear what it’s about from start-to-finish.
As a literary agent once shared with me:
If i’m confused about the draft and where it’s going, I won’t ask to see more.
I can teach you these structural components, too, so you know that if you’re
unpacking a house writing a memoir or nonfiction manuscript, you’re starting in the right place, clear on the direction, and have a clear pathway to the finished draft.
And will get there MUCH quicker, and with MUCH Less mess and confusion than if you hadn’t labelled your boxes, sticky-taped the nails to the bedhead (so you don’t lose it in the move), and more.
There’s so many nuances and tips and hacks that a published author can share to save you time. Much like you’d get a professional to help you move house and they’d have the van – or the house – packed and stacked in hours.
And most importantly, you won’t need to sit in that mess of confusion for months to years.
You will still need to draft and re-draft it, of course, because writing gets better with time away to reflect and reconsider, but it’s going to save you so much ‘mess’ and overwhelm from not knowing where to unpack the mess in the process.
Even if you have a written memoir draft right now but you’re not quite sure where it’s going wrong or right, the free class will help you identify some areas for consideration.
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