I am four months pregnant with my first child, and lately I’ve been thinking about keeping some kind of written record of this strange experience of being pregnant—a place to catalogue all the physical and mental challenges and joys I face each day. In thinking through this project, I’ve been particularly concerned about the shape this kind of writing would/could/should take. Should it follow an epistolary structure, and be addressed to my child? Should I address it to myself? To my husband?
I’ve thought, too, about following in the structural footsteps of Anne Lamott in her acerbic and wickedly honest memoir: Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. Lamott structures this memoir chronologically and sections are divided by date. Would this approach fit the type of writing I want to do? Perhaps dividing by month or trimester?
Or perhaps I might take my cue from a novel I’m currently immersed in: The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit, who divides her tale by topic (Husbands, Winter, Letters, etc.).
All of these approaches are feasible and seem appropriate for my topic, but how to bite the bullet and choose just one?
Aside from content, tone, point of view, figurative language, and everything else writers have to make decisions about, structure/shape is perhaps one of the trickiest and, for me anyway, the most nerve-wracking. Whether writing fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, there are so many options available!
As writers, we are bound by no real rules anymore—punctuation, grammar, spelling, structure and more are all up for grabs. Creative license allows us the freedom to break rules, dabble in new modalities, ignore quotation marks around dialogue, and so on. This is liberating, as much as it is potentially unnerving. We are faced with a wide, open, beckoning field of options, and all of them are calling to us.
So, I’m curious: When do you make structural decisions about your work? At the beginning, middle, or end of the writing process? Throughout? Are there certain writers whose attention to and awareness of structure inspire you?
Or perhaps there are those of you for whom a shape emerges for your work organically, without thought or coaxing, as if no other shape would even make sense.
Does your structure emerge after long hours and laborious consideration, or appear in one easy push? (Bring on the pregnancy metaphors!)
And how do you know when the shape is the right one?