Structure and a note from the editor
The important second step you need to take in your writing if you want a "yes"
Yesterday, I was commissioned a piece with a two day deadline. Eek! I wasn’t 100% sure I could deliver.
I churned out a 1000 word personal essay, sent it off last night (a day early) and this just popped into my inbox from the editor:
“Wow, this is excellent! The switching back and forth of timelines really works to illustrate this story and tell it in a very compelling way. And because of that the ending was even more powerful. Great storytelling here of an experience which I know many women will be able to relate to. Also it's concise but gives you all the info you need about your relationship. And you turned around it with such speed!”
This is the kind of email we live for, right!
Just to give some balance, I also received not one but two rejections yesterday. Ah, writing life.
The reason I could turn out a piece so quickly was structure.
Structure is your crucial second step
As I’ve talked about before, structure is the framework which allows your art or content to flourish.
First, you get your ideas down
Then you structure them.
I’m not going to tell you that there’s one perfect structure for your content or your art and that if you do it that way you’ll get viral stories. Every time I hear a writer claiming that I cringe. It’s just not true. We have so much flexibility. But we do need to think about it.
I never thought about structure at all until I started writing for magazines.
That’s when I learned how much it matters. Often it’s the difference between a yes and a no from an editor. (Although, rejections are just part of the package with writing.)
When I finally clicked that structure was important I started to pull apart articles of publications I wanted to write for.
I broke down each section and analyzed it line by line.
How many subheadings did they have?
Were there quotes? How did they use them?
How did they start? With a story? A one-line hook?
Once I saw articles by their structure, the acceptances started to come in. And even better, the commissioned pieces. That’s the stage you really want to get to as a writer, knowing you’re guaranteed payment before you even write a single word!
Here’s a structure that often brings me success—feel free to give it a go:
Personal story—a true narrative with dialogue, vivid scenes, characters and action that illustrates the point of the article.
A short paragraph linking the story to the research. This is the transition for the reader. It’s directly speaking to them and about them. Because, no stories are ever really about us! (Even if we use our personal story)
A series of points that back up your article and explain the research or expert opinions on your topic. I usually keep these to around 6-8 sentences each.
A short summary.
If you want an example, this story was written using the structure above.
But what about personal essays? That’s just telling your story in chronological order isn’t it?
Sometimes, but not really.
Personal Essay Structures
Personal essays have a surprising amount of structure. Just like fiction novels often have a story arc with a hook, build to a climax, and resolution, personal essays have their own forms that work well.
If you’re keen to learn, my new personal essay course still has positions available for this first cohort of students. It’s $79 and includes a feedback on up to 2000 words (usually $50). That means the Memory Mining and Structure Workbook and Introduction to the Personal Essay course are only $29.
I looked around and found most personal essay courses are over $400USD. I believe in accessible education (I’m a teacher by training) and I also want as many people as possible to be telling their stories. It matters! So that’s why I’ve priced it at $79USD.
Here’s the link if you’d like to read more about it.
Here’s what some of the students are saying so far:
“Wow, I’m so impressed with Kelly Eden’s writing course. She provides you with what you need to get started on writing personal essays. From learning about structure, breaking down examples, and an incredibly useful workbook I’ll return to again and again.”
“As a writer, I know and appreciate that my skill always has room to grow. Although I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in English, I continue to love learning. For this reason, I’ve been delighted to find Kelly Eden who has come to be a mentor of mine…The course is jam-packed with content…her course videos are warm and inviting”
Support Your Fellow Writers: Story of the Week
I’ve asked the Creative Nonfiction Academy students to share with us a story they’re proud of. This week, I’d like to share Anthony Beckman’s story that was accepted into Fatherly—a parenting publication for Dads.
Here’s what he sent me:
“I am attaching the link to a story you gave me the courage to send to a parenting website. I was floored when they accepted it with only minor edits.”
Congrats, Anthony. I’m not surprised they accepted it! It’s a great read.
Anthony is also on Medium if you want to go say hi.
See you next week!