Friday, February 13, 2015

Gathering Phase and Structuring Phase--Two Stages of Building a Book

Writers who have published books know that there are two phases in the book-writing journey. They cycle back and forth during the time you’re planning, writing, and developing (editing) your book. They apply to all genres: fiction, memoir, and nonfiction.  

It’s good to know what phase you are currently in, so you approach your book-writing journey with the appropriate tools. Knowing your phase will also keep you from getting discouraged or overwhelmed.

Gathering Phase
How do you know if you are in the gathering phase?
  1. You are just playing with an idea for your book and it feels unsure right now.
  2. You are enjoying freewriting but don’t feel ready to edit or structure the freewrites yet.
  3. You have lots more research or interviews to do (maybe you haven’t even started this).
  4. The idea of starting to structure your book idea makes you mad, sad, or anxious.
The gathering phase happens over and over throughout the book journey. We cycle in and out of it, but we always start with it: an idea, a nudge to write, a character that won’t leave us alone, a compelling body of information we want to share, an experience that changed our lives.

In the very early stages of book writing, we begin to gather ideas, build on them, brainstorm new ones. It’s a fun, exciting, scary, and fertile time.

In my online classes and storyboarding workshops, we work with three gathering-phase tools:

1.  We study the inner and outer story of our idea to learn about the two areas for gathering ideas.   Inner story is the meaning, the why.  Outer story is the event or what's happening, where, with whom, when.   Most writers naturally excel in one of these.  

You may have a great plot for a novel. Or you may have brilliant research or methods to write about. This “outer story” information is crucial, but it’s only half the picture. Inner story counts equally-the meaning of the plot (what changes because of what happens) and the meaning of the research (what does it mean to your reader).

2.  We study the concept of "islands."  Islands are single scenes, or snippets of information, or a setting description, or a character sketch. They do not necessarily have a beginning, middle, and end. Writing teachers have discovered that writers who work in islands rather than via an outline often include the inner story more readily. This is because islands are not gathered in a linear fashion. They appear in random bits.

3.  We also look at another primary “gathering phase” tool: the Brainstorming List. Keeping a brainstorming list is the a very effective way to counteract writer’s block-you always have something to write about. And if you can free yourself from having to write your book in sequence, or chronology, islands can be tackled in any order.

These three tools are the main components of the gathering phase. They are very important in your toolbox now, and will be even more important later, as you begin to structure and edit your book.
  1. Inner and outer story
  2. Writing in islands (instead of by outline or chronology)
  3. Brainstorming list
These three tools may be plenty for you to work with right now. Especially if you are still early on in your book-writing journey. So stay there for a while and practice developing the inner or outer story that you haven’t thought about yet.

When you are ready, at your own pace, you can take a step into structuring phase, which I will talk about next week in this blog post.