Motherhood & Words

structure, structure, structure

Okay, so I’ve been avoiding posting about the memoir and the deadline because, well, the deadline passed and the memoir still isn’t finished.

There were some distractions in August, some of them lovely (my 20th high school reunion, which brought a few of my closest friends into town) and some of them not as enjoyable (proposals, house projects, etc.) But even without these, I wouldn’t have made my September 1st deadline. I realized, as I was muddling through my manuscript, that I had some structural problems later in the book. I had dropped a narrative thread. I was too tangential. I needed to condense and compress in order to maintain narrative urgency.

And I was feeling panicky because I was trying to rush through the writing, not letting the solutions emerge in the process of writing. So I slowed down a little. I fretted. I woke up thinking about The Manuscript.

Then last week with everyone back in school, I gave myself the space I needed to let the book happen. I wrote and I wrote. And yesterday as I was pulling together the new chapters to send to my wonderful writing group, I realized that I’m actually writing faster than I thought I was. I have written 64 pages in the last month. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. I’m on 296 and still going. Another two weeks to go? Maybe. I hope.

Structure is such a tricky animal, but it’s critical to a book’s success. Sometimes the necessary structure emerges in the process of writing and sometimes an author really needs to plan out a book. My friend Francine Marie Tolf has an interesting article in A View from the Loft about this very thing. Francine interviewed me and three other memoirists about how we approached structuring our memoirs. Check it out and see what Marge Barrett, Nicole Johns and Vicki Forman, who just won the PEN USA award for creative nonfiction for her wonderful memoir, This Lovely Life, have to say about structure and memoir.

And now I’m back to The Manuscript.

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Cecilia on September 7, 2010 at 11:04 am

    296 pages – not bad, Kate! I really admire you for tackling something as huge as a memoir/book. Thanks for the links to the interviews on structure. This topic in particular feels overwhelming to me…;-)

    Good luck with your writing!

  2. Andrea on September 7, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Yea for peace and quiet and slowing down! 64 pages in a month sounds pretty amazing to me. Good luck with the rest of it!

  3. unfinishedportraitofsam on September 7, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    looking forward to reading this article, Kate. i work so much in short forms–essay and flash–that i find it hard to comprehend tackling a memoir, especially structurally. how do you see it all, as one whole, and still manage to get yourself lost enough in the nitty-gritty, individual pieces to write them well?
    good luck! i do not envy the work ahead of you, but like i've said before, i sure will be thrilled to read that memoir when it's finished!

  4. cath c on September 8, 2010 at 5:29 am

    impressive amount of work.

    i agree that writing cannot be rushed, especially the part of writing when you are 'fixing' problems in the writing.

    structural problems can be easy to see or sense that something's not quite right, but very hard to find a solution, without some space to work it out in your head.

  5. Ines on September 8, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    I am glad you are pacing yourself…really, Kate. I am cheering for you!

  6. Emma on September 9, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    I just found your blog via the MN Bloggers Conference site, and the timing is perfect. I, too, am writing a memoir. I'm about 40,000 words in and have all sorts of new ideas about structure now. I will definitely read the Loft piece you mentioned!