Sunday, July 30, 2017

Writing to a Structure

In this video I talk about a strategy I'm learning from Priscilla Long's book The Writer's Portable Mentor. The idea is to use an exemplar piece, analyse its structure at the section and paragraph level, and then draft your own piece using the same structure. After a first draft is produced, you can start to work with your piece on its own terms... but it's much easier to get there if you borrow a structure.

In the video, I talk a little bit about why I think it's useful and important to write to a structure. While some may think that writing to a structure eliminates creativity, I disagree, and I talk a little bit about why.

I'll be trying out this strategy over the next few weeks and hope to keep you updated about how it goes.


Indigo said...

As promised, I'm trying out 'Writing to a Structure' over the next few weeks. First up, I've been trying to find a good structure for a creative non-fiction piece I want to try to submit to an academic journal. Unfortunately, I'm having trouble finding a good exemplar to analyse...
I need to start working on a grant so I think I will set aside the creative non-fiction piece and try out Writing to a Structure with the grant. I'll update on that in a couple of days.

Indigo said...

1. The first step for the grant was to get an exemplar. A friend of mine was awarded the grant a few years ago, and was kind enough to share the successful proposal with me.
2. I analysed this exemplar. I looked at each paragraph and made notes about what that paragraph contributed to the overall argument.
3. I did some free/generative writing about my own project, expertise, etc, so that I had some material to begin with. I took out some index cards and wrote down each of the main points I took out of my generative writing. I arranged these index cards according to which paragraph they belonged to.
4. I tried to start drafting paragraphs but realized that these were lengthy paragraphs with complex argumentation. I then analyzed the paragraphs down into sentences: I made notes about what each sentence accomplished and contributed to the whole. This helped me to organize my ideas a little bit better; I was struggling, because the grant exemplar is building a different kind of argument than the one I am building.
5. I started drafting sentences - often 2-3 different possibilities, based on the structure of the exemplar I was working with. This took a much longer time than I am used to. I usually take a free-writing approach: generate ideas first, organize them much later. The initial drafts go very quickly. I think I like this hybrid approach - free-write to get initial ideas down, then write to a structure - because I have a better sense of how the different parts of my proposal fit together (or not).
6. This morning I am going to pull together the first full draft from the sentences I wrote yesterday. I have some edits to do, based on ideas that came to me last night while I was out and about. Then I plan to break with the structure I started with, and start to figure out the structure that my proposal needs.

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