Writer’s Diary #32 – Creating Structure/Finding Structure

Block. It puts some writers down for months. It puts some writers down for life. A not always brief or minor form of it mutes all writers from the outset of every day.

—Draft No. 4, Replacing the words in boxes, John McPhee, April 29, 2013.

John McPhee has an article in The New Yorker about his writing process that became part of his book [Draft No. 4] (https://www.amazon.com/Draft-No-4-Writing-Process/dp/0374142742). McPhee tells a story of lying on a picnic table with all his notes, research, interviews, and everything else in manila envelopes, but he’s distraught because he doesn’t know the structure. He says this is no way to write. I agree with him, and yet structure is the hard part.

Good structure is easy to describe, after the fact. But, how to find it is much harder. I am working on a chapter. I have all the material. The question is how to put it together in a way that makes sense, that is compelling, that draws the reader in. In short, the challenge now is to find a structure.

I can think of two approaches.

One is where the order emerges by fiat. Through a decision I make to structure it in a certain way, in the form of a draft, a sketch, a story arc, or something else.

The second, a second in which the order emerges as a sculptor might find the shape of a piece of stone or wood. There is a vague idea, but the actual structure emerges through the iterative application of the art of sculpture.

My process is a matter of both, with an emphasis on the latter. I find form, by sculpting into that form. However, over the weekend, I did a lot of thinking, trying to work out the structure, which was a mistake.

Instead, I’ve prepared the material, and now the task is iterate, make decisions and let the structure emerge.

This week’s task: do the work, carve the text, find its structure, organically. I wish it were easier, but whenever I try to shortcut it by thinking too hard, I get blocked.