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?
First, congratulations on the pregnancy. Such an exciting time!
When my wife was pregnant, I tried journalling the experience as well. The problem was, she had so many difficulties with morning sickness, the diary became basically a puke-log… so, I abandoned it. I wish I hadn’t, but it had become a tedious exercise in trying to find new and different ways to put a positive glow on, well, some un-glamorous things.
As to your question, I basically let the shape and form define itself as I go along. Usually that’s not a problem at all… I write, it forms, we all get along. Sometimes, though, I am writing a story that really needs to be a script (for example) and I slog through it, fighting with every single word to get it on paper only to eventually find myself hating the entire thing. If I recognize the problem early enough I’ll switch forms and it will usually flow nice and easy from that point on. In some cases, where I actually need it to be prose but it wants to be a script, I end up then taking that script and re-writing it again as a short story, but it is generally easier to accomplish that by then because the story itself is already known and defined.
I guess the short answers is: I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer in all areas of the process. So I just kind of go with whatever happens organically and adjust it when I have to.
For me structure happens somewhere between planning and just letting happen. Generally I just let my instincts guide where the work is going. Sometimes, I’ll carefully plot it out and build from there. More often, I try two or three structures until one feels right.
Prairie, I’m so thrilled for you and hope you enjoy a worry free pregnancy and an easy labor. Mostly I wish you a healthy and beautiful baby in five months.
As for writing, what do you hope to accomplish? Do you want a record of events along the journey, or do you want to talk to your child so he/she can see everything you felt important, or do you hope to provide a practical guide for other pregnant women?
I wish I’d had your foresight. I have no record at all of my pregnancies, but did keep detailed journals of the first years of my sons’ lives. I also wrote about the deliveries (after the fact!) but both records are long lost.
My son is grown so the idea of a book about my pregnancy is caput. Howbeit, I can’t imagine writing about the experience like TaraShea Nesbit did in the book you’re enjoying. You couldn’t just jot things down as they happen with the structure. You’d have to pull out the appropriate section, then write. Pregnancy is too mind-blowing for that. Letters does sound interesting. Who you write the letters to will determine what’s important in each letter.
Personally, I let the story I’m writing decide what structure to use, including whether it be 1st or 3rd person.