Creating the Outline for Memoir

Supporting book structure with scaffolding

            The opinion is divided about whether or not to create an outline for a creative writing project.  Which side are you on and why?

The mentors of my “Write Your Memoir in 6 Months” course, Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., President of National Association of Memoir Writers, and Brooke Warner of Warner Coaching call the outline “scaffolding.” This makes sense to me, for just as scaffolding supports the workers as they construct a building, scaffolding can support writers as they complete a writing project. Especially with chapters and book-length material, an outline—or scaffold—can assist with organizing your thoughts and thereby your writing. It can also show a writer what material was covered already and where to go from there.

The trouble I had, prior to this memoir course, was organizing my material. Which memories to keep in, which to leave out. What to write first, what to write next. And, of course, what does it all mean. Outlining first gave me a chance to think about my memoir in its entirety.
There are many ways to write outlines.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  Some writers want lots of notes and guidance [like me]; some writers are more skeletal in their needs.  Outlining allows some writers to write out whole scenes if the scenes come to the writer during the outlining process while other chapters can be simply memory prompts or ideas to be fleshed out later.  Outlines keep writers moving forward in their work.  But they are merely suggestions for the final product. 

Outlines or scaffolds do not need to be followed to the letter.  They are only starting points or “Dag-namit, where do I go from here?” type documents.  Outlines can be changed in part or completely as the story develops in the writer’s mind.

Yes, outlines take time to write.  It takes time for you to consider your memoir or novel as a whole, why you are writing it, and what you are trying to say through it.  After all, Family—The Ties that Bind…And Gag!probably wasn’t written in a day.  I wonder if Erma Bombeck used scaffolds to build her memoirs.      



6 thoughts on “Creating the Outline for Memoir”

  1. Victoria, outlines fascinate me. I guess I'd find it easier to outline a memoir since I'd know my own story. When I write fiction, I often don't know where there story is going or who all the character will be. I write in fog, and over time the fog lifts as if the sun breaks through the clouds.

    Good luck with your memoir.

  2. I think it probably depends upon the genre in which you write whether to outline or not. Like mysteries, you hope the writer knows at the outset who dunnit.

    Interesting that you "write in a fog." I thought perhaps in fantasy, the writer needed to understand the worlds or at least the parameters in that world to be able to write what can, and usually does, happen in the story.

    The interesting thing about outlines is that the author can choose what goes in them just as she decides what goes into her stories, and of course it can change like the wind.

    Thank you so much, Theresa, for reading my blog post and telling me how you create your marvelous stories. Love your image in the comment. Thanks again.

  3. Great post. And I loved Theresa's take as well. Outlines as you say are good, for a writer to know in which direction they want the story to proceed. But if they do have to take a detour, it doesn't really matter. Outlining would help them get back on line.

    And I would say that outlines would also help a writer maybe defeat the writer's block?

  4. Welcome, Nas, to my writing blog.

    I think you are correct. Outlines could definitely help with writer's block. With this memoir I am writing about going to college as a mother of five, I check the outline all the time to be sure I'm not repeating myself in these beginning chapters. It also helps me with organizing my material and pacing.

    Thank you so much, Nas, for visiting my writing blog. Please stop by again.

  5. Outlines are important. I use them when creating unit plans. They help me organize my thoughts and see what I want my students to learn in the long run. That way, I can have a skeleton of what I need to research.

    Good luck with your memoir!

  6. Ah, Michelle, you must be a teacher. Yes, outlines are very important to teachers. Teachers must always be organized and at least one step ahead of their students for they are outnumbered in the classroom. Actually, I can't see any down side to outlines, for they can always be changed as they are mere suggestions to keep a person focused.

    Thanks for the good wishes with my memoir. I could use all the luck I can receive.

    Thank you so much, Michelle, for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog. Please stop by again.


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