On the top of my desk sits this beautiful pile of white paper (if you ignore the remnants of the baked apples I had for breakfast that are perched on a plate there now.) 171 pages. The draft of my manuscript so far.
171 pages of words.
Given, most of these words will not be there – at least not in that order – when I’m done. And many, many, many of them will have to be discarded. But they are there.
Now, I’m reading to work on structure. This is the part of writing I like – the conceptual element where I get to experiment and move things around. Where I get to lay pages against one another and see how they work. I love revision. Love it.
I’m even more excited about this process after reading this interview with Rebecca Skloot where she discusses two elements of her amazing book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – the structure and Skloot’s choice to include herself in the narrative.
When my friend Laraine sent me the article, I got a little giddy. Skloot’s book is the one that I’ve been thinking of every time I think about a model for what I want my book to be. Honest, complex, personal and structurally complicated. So this interview really reinforced this idea for me.
I know You Will Not Be Forgotten will involve two strands – the individual narratives of the people enslaved here and the process of me coming to tell these stories – but I’d like to weave in a third, and I think I may have it – the history of this place itself. I’ve always loved braided narratives, ever since Brenda Miller taught me about them in grad school, and the fact that Skloot’s book is a braid makes me feel fairly certain that’s the way for me to go.
So now to take all the pieces I have and split them into three strands. Maybe I’ll use notecards like Skloot did. Maybe I’ll just spread out pieces of paper on the floor. Maybe I’ll write lists in notebooks. Maybe I’ll do all of the above. I can’t wait to get started.
Did I mention I love this part?
How do you work on structure in your own writing? Do you start there? Find it as you write? Do you use notecards or outlines or piles of paper? Do you like revision and conceptualizing? Do you hate it?