The Hardest Thing About Writing Is . . .

. . . finding the time.

. . . saying it in a way no one has said it before.

. . . believing that your words are good enough.

. . . knowing when your words aren’t good enough and you need to revise.

. . . coming up with a title.

. . . organizing your manuscript.

While ALL of the above plague me, the last one in particular has been nagging at me since October. Back then I had a week of fall break and made a lot of headway in terms of word count. But I was not happy with the way my draft was organized. Though it’s a memoir, I didn’t want to just write everything out in chronological order because I thought it would be too boring, too this-is-how-everyone-does-it. Instead I wanted to find similar themes within my content and lump together all the content about each theme into a section or chapter. When I tried that, I was able to mesh together ONE chapter that made sense. My approach wasn’t working. But I was determined not to be like everyone else. I just didn’t know what other approach to take. So I abandoned trying to organize and just kept writing.

Since then, I’ve read several spiritual memoirs to see how they were laid out and I’ve found two that have given me a lot of inspiration and ideas. One is Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner, and the other is Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans. And surprise, surprise! Both are more or less organized chronologically. I found that both authors did weave back and forth in time a bit throughout their books, but the overall arc of both books is chronological.

(This shows you how much creative non-fiction, particularly memoir, echoes fiction writing. There’s some discussion about this in the writing world right now and I would love to talk about it more but I should probably save that for a different post.)

Now it’s spring break and I am supposed to be “finishing my book.” I have 53,000 words, which is enough to make a book, but I am still not done writing. I have more to say. (If you know me personally, you are not surprised by that. 🙂 ) Well, both my kids are sick this week, so it does not look like I am going to completely finish it, but I FINALLY have an outline!!! And guess what? I went back to chronological organization. Yep. I caved. I got off my high horse and did it the way it seemed to work best. One day an editor may tell me how to organize it better, but for now there is an immense load off my shoulders and a greater clarity as to the direction the book is going. (I still need a title, though!)

Here are my sections (chapters, maybe?):

1. Believing

2. Questioning

3. Learning Liturgy

4. Conversion

5. Backward-Looking (or possibly Looking Backward, not sure)

6. An Imperfect Church

It feels really weird for me to be talking about this on the blog in such detail. It seems  . . . real. I have no agent, no publisher, no contract, no guarantee whatsoever that this book will EVER be published. But gosh darn it I am determined to finish writing it even if it never gets published! It is real for me, and it is my story, and I am going to finish the work of telling it. Ahem, writing it.


  1. This is an excellent post, Karissa. So helpful for other writers on the journey. Having written four book-length manuscripts in the past six years, I have discovered something that is really helpful for me, but I think it works better for memoir than fiction (especially if you’re writing in chronological order): Write a SYNOPSIS and CHAPTER OUTLINE before beginning the book. But don’t allow yourself to be locked into it. You’ll have to re-write both of these when the book is finished – as part of your nonfiction book proposal for querying agents. But doing it first really helps shape the book. Good luck! And hey, have you considered coming to the 2013 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference in May? The pre-conference workshop, Publishing Bootcamp, might be a great opportunity for you. Read more about it here:

  2. kksorrell says:

    Susan, you are right. I should have done that first!

    I am still considering it . . . I hate that it’s Holy Week but I also really want to go!

  3. Karla says:

    So excited you are getting so close! I think the idea of wanting to be different and yet the terror of being so different that no one really gets it is real in all kinds of writing! Keep writing! It will all come together…can’t wait!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *