finding your inspired structure

If you’re inspired by the structure of your own writing project, you’ll share better and more easily, and your readers will benefit.

Because there are so many ways to structure a writing project, it can be overwhelming to think about how to do it. Which option do you choose? What’s the right structure for you and your project?

The good news is that the right way to structure a particular writing project is the way that works for and inspires you. As luck would have it, you’re exactly the right person to figure that out.

Finding your inspired writing structure isn’t about following rules for how things should be structured, but using yourself as a tuning fork to discover a structure that resonates with you.

When you’re inspired by the structure you use, which may be a structure you invent, your information will ring more true to readers and be more accessible than if you stuffed your material into a standard but inappropriate structure.

Even if you’re working with an advisor, right-for-you choices about inspired structure can be accessed by tuning in to yourself. An advisor’s suggestions will feel a certain way to you when you check in with yourself. You can use that as a guide.

How do you tune in to inspired structure on a more practical level?

By trying out – in your mind at first, then in actuality – various ways of structuring your material, and paying attention to your reaction, to the way you ring in response, you gather valuable clues and direction signals

Through a process of approach, elimination, and leaning toward what’s attractive, a structure emerges that can support the unique combination of variables being juggled, variables like your personality, your topic, your writing style, your desired connection with your intended audience, and your enthusiasm for what you’re creating and the effect you want it to have.

Here is a process I use (when I’m writing and when I’m helping clients) for playing around to discover inspired structure for a writing project:

1. Gather possibilities. What ways do you know of to structure a writing project? List them out. I created a starter list of structure options that you can download as a PDF here and then add to it over time as you find other structures that work for you, so that you have a more personalized list to draw from.

2. Notice your reactions. As you look through the starter list, tune in and notice which options attract you and which ones repel you. You don’t have to know why you’re drawn to an option. Some options may interest you in wanting to find out more about them.

3. Imagine it further. For the options that attract you, imagine putting the information you’re writing about or want to write about into that format. How far can you take your imagining? Is there a point at which you feel weary or burdened by the thought of using that structure? Could you imagine a tweak or a spin-off of that option that would feel better or might suit you and your material better? This process of finding your inspired structure involves sharing with yourself and putting more trust in your own reactions about structural directions than in any shoulds about structure.

4. Experiment with combinations. If only certain aspects of some of the structuring options attract you, how they could be combined with each other?

5. Fill in the gaps. If you assemble a rough structure that feels like it could work and it feels good to you, but it’s got gaps, ask yourself what’s missing. What structural elements could bridge the gaps?

6. Copy from your life. How do you structure other things in your life that work comfortably, like your schedule or meal planning? If you’re accomplishing things in any realm, you’re likely successfully using a structure of some kind, even if you haven’t specified it. You may be getting things done in certain areas of your life through a structure of doing what’s right in front of you, or by letting someone else decide on the structure. Those are both valid structures. How could structure that works for you in other areas of your life be adapted to work for your writing project? For example, if you have a ongoing current grocery list always up on the fridge, how about a structure for your writing project that’s based on lists? The connection doesn’t need to be super logical, but structures that work elsewhere can spark a sideways leap into inspiring writing project structures that are more likely to work for you.

7. Venture off the known map. If none of the structures you’re playing with ring your bell, then what might? What’s a wacky, out-there option, one that makes you giggle or grin? Try inventing a structure from bits taken from here and there, like from another writing genre or by pulling in ideas from really unrelated areas. What would a circus performer have to say about structuring your book on healthy eating? Which brings us to …

8. Ask for suggestions. Ask your writing friends or people who are close to you, or even strangers at a cafe for suggestions about how to organize your particular project. People who know you and have familiarity with your topic may be able see possibilities you haven’t thought of yet. But so might people who know absolutely nothing about your or your project until you tell them about it, even briefly, and then ask for suggestions.

9. Get feedback. Even as early on as the steps when you’re only imagining using a certain structure, you can ask for feedback. This is almost the same as asking for suggestions, but not quite. Asking for suggestions is asking others to generate ideas based on your material, whereas asking for feedback is asking for a reaction to a structure you’re trying out. I often find that asking for feedback opens up avenues that surprise me with their appropriateness and end up pointing me toward myself.

Sometimes, what we write is for a publisher or group that requires a specific structure. In that case, it helps to get clear about exactly what structure they require so that you know what wiggle room there is for deciding on structural elements of your own choosing within their requirements. 

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The following questions (along with a starter list of structure options) can be used to home in on an inspired structure for your writing project:

  • What is your topic?
  • What excites you about writing this project?
  • Who will be helped by it?
  • What has happened so far regarding structure?
  • What structures from the starter list feel attractive to you? Can you say why? Can you state the attraction?
  • What happens when you imagine your material in that structure? Does it fit? Is it a reject? Do most parts of your project fit in, but some bits are left out?
  • What’s another structure from the starter list that could be added to get the bits included?
  • What ideas do other people have about your structure? What do people who know you suggest? What do strangers suggest? How do you feel about their suggestions?

As you connect authentically with a structure and make it your own, see if you can remember the feeling of it so you’ll recognize it again.

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There’s no magic pill for figuring out structure except that you are your own magic pill. By shying away from unnatural structural fits you think you should use, you open up to using structure as another way to express your unique self.

You may discover that a basic outline structure is exactly what you need. The fact that it’s used by lots of other people as a structure method doesn’t matter. You make that structure your inspired structure by choosing it consciously and by knowing that it really works for you.

When you connect authentically with your structure, your readers will connect more easily with your content. They’ll notice your beautiful information. The structure that rings your bell (whatever structure that is) will ring your material, too, and your wisdom will inspire others in a deeper, more accessible way.

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