Posted by: jeannineatkins | February 25, 2014

Finding Structure in the Shambles

When I brought a draft of my verse novel to my writing group, I knew it had problems. I was unsure about the narrative, and had thrown in too many plot turns, all of them with fuzzy edges. I hoped one would prove of use. Of course my friends said, “What’s the main arc? You’ve got a few here.” They could make out some blurry signs of a way through, but these were half-hidden behind other signs pointing every which way.

Even a few unnecessary wrong in narrative poems can easily trip readers into the wrong direction. Now I’m clipping stray elements so the main path stands out, but I feel a bit bruised as I cross out stanzas and entire poems. I’m reporting, not complaining, much. Knowing I faced plot problems was exactly why I gave the manuscript to my group.  If we want help fixing a problem, we have to show the imperfect draft or a badly bruised knee, and we’re embarrassed, apologetic, and a little stunned.

My writer’s group helped me see the faint lines between what’s subtle and what’s plain obscure, which means more revising. When writing poetry, one of my main rules is to pare everything I can. Less is more, but it hurts when you made the More. As I hunker over the project presently titled the Great Untangling, I put myself a bit under quarantine. It’s no time to make big decisions, or even, say, critique a friend’s manuscript. I’m managing what needs to be managed in life and reminding myself that just as I want an arc in this book, there’s an arc to this aching. It rises, and it will find a way out with time and tea and toast. It hurts to cut, but it feels good to start to see the clearer shapes of what is left.


Going back and around again, in the new wreckage I’ve created, lets me see the whole shape more clearly than I could than when I’d been moving never exactly straight ahead, but intent on forward motion. Going back to trim and shuffle helps me see every battered wall. It’s by looking back we may recognize a structure, and often build meaning, too, which we missed in our first glances at objects.  We have to kick around the details we put in, or lift them up to smell or chew them. We go a long way until we know all that one coffee cup, weed, bicycle, or bent helmet might be, or why it stuck around.

Sure, I’m a little jealous when I hear of Super Supportive writing groups, who can’t find a flaw in the work, besides maybe an errant comma. All that cheering must feel good. But I wouldn’t trade my group in a million years. They urge me to kick holes, then pile up the dust,which  leaves spaces to find surprises. These may be the same holes where a good reader’s view and mine collapse into one. Where my stories can become another’s.  I’m again writing into the unknown, page by page, then sometimes line by line and word by word, which lets me see something prettier than the photo I shot above. Am I getting closer? I don’t yet know. But I’ll trust my writing group for the truth.



  1. The song says that “the waiting is the hardest part”, and when waiting, it feels true, but the space you are in now really is a tough one. Keep going!

    • Thanks for the cheer, Kelly. I’m already seeing a few glimmers of light, so will keep on.

  2. The group you described as your IS the Super Supportive one! But you know that. Good luck finding that path. You will. 🙂

    • Of course you are absolutely right. I am lucky. But thank you for the wave and smile along the path!

  3. Here’s to the writers group astute enough to find the flaws and loving enough to point them out!

  4. Oh, those loving, perceptive critics who ask the best of us! What would we do without them? But yes, sometimes the advice is painful. Sending hugs and all good thoughts.

    • Yes, so grateful for good advice as I walk the tightrope between giving too much information and too little. Crossing out or changing what seems spelled out, while trying to make what was too opaque gleam a bit. Thank you for he hugs, always appreciated!

  5. Just going through the open tabs on my screen and realized I never commented on this post of yours. It sounds like you have a wonderfully supportive group behind you, Jeannine. I have no doubt you’ll get there.

    • Thanks for the good wishes, Michelle. I hope you have similarly caring people in your writing corner.

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