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Michael Steinberg's Blog--Fourth Genre: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction

Discovering Structure in Memoir

Blog Entry No. 9

Prefatory Note:

Recently, I got an e-request from a writing teacher who’d heard me talk about what a long-drawn-out struggle it was to find the structure for my memoir, Still Pitching. He was introducing his students to the personal essay and he wanted me to summarize a few things I’d said. When I began my reply, I could tell right away that a short email wouldn’t be the best way to go about this. So in a roundabout way, these next two blog postings ( #9, 1 and 2) offer an expanded discussion of what I believe is the single most challenging aspect of getting a manuscript to coalesce.

Part 1

The majority of manuscripts-in-progress I’ve read, both from MFA students and from the many submissions to the journal, Fourth Genre, seem to have one of two problems, each bearing on structure. Either the manuscript doesn't have an essential shape or form, or, it's just the opposite; the work has been shaped too soon-- that is, before the writer has discovered the narrative’s organizing principle (and, I’d also add, its emotional heart). More about that in Part 2.

In writing the early drafts of what eventually became Still Pitching, I encountered both problems. The memoir began as a collection of personal essay/memoirs loosely connected by my having had grown up with baseball in New York City in the 50’s. I was an inexperienced writer at the time; and apart from time, place, and baseball, I couldn’t find a common thread that would (organically) link those stand-alone pieces together. Read More 

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