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I am struggling to organize small to medium size chunks of writing into coherent trains of thought. I will first describe my problem and then describe what kind of solution I'm looking for.

MY PROBLEM:

Suppose I want to express an idea. If I can express my idea in a short paragraph or string of paragraphs (say 3000-4000 words), my writing is fine.

But suppose I have many ideas to express. Let's say I have 15 to 20 pages single-spaced worth and they are on related but separate topics. Now my organization starts to deteriorate. I lose the confidence and creativity that I have when I work with smaller quantities of writing.

(1) I have trouble limiting what I am talking about. I never know where to draw the line between what I have to teach and what I should assume the reader knows.

(2) I rely on logic to give my ideas organization and, if there aren't definite logical relations between ideas, I don't know how to structure my writing. Just simply writing without thinking usually creates mess. I'll still have sentences that flow and structure within paragraphs, but overall between paragraphs becomes a mess

WHAT I AM LOOKING FOR:

(1) A resource that can help me learn to take many ideas (ie sequences of paragraphs) and organize them in a clear way so that the work as a whole feels organized

(2) a resource that can help me within chapters create fluid transitions between explanations and arguments on different subtopics.

  • If you want to structure your writing, you need the basic five-act outline: Intro, Thought 1, Thought 2, Thought 3, Conclusion. The number of Thoughts will vary according to your content. As far as "what your reader knows," I had an English professor once tell me, "Assume your audience is a slightly stupider classmate who has read the same book." – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Jan 2 '15 at 1:42
  • How does that work if you are writing a ~150 page book. I know that format. But I haven't found a 5 point simplistic structure works for anything long or complex. That works if you are making a single overall argument with many subclaims but not for discussion of a variety of topics as a book might do. – Stan Shunpike Jan 2 '15 at 5:00
  • Fiction or nonfiction? – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Jan 2 '15 at 17:43
  • Nonfiction. One is music theory, the other neuroscience. – Stan Shunpike Jan 2 '15 at 17:52
  • I was able to write a bunch on different topics. I had a folder for each topic and aggregated my thoughts and arguments over months. But I couldn't take those individual arguments and link them together into smooth chapters. So I put the project on hold until I got an idea for what to do. Then I discovered SE a few weeks ago. This is my first writers post. – Stan Shunpike Jan 2 '15 at 17:56
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I started writing various bits of fiction and non-fiction a while ago and really struggled to stick to some kind of planned structure. After doing some research on plotting etc, I couldn't find anything suitable for me so I decided to build a Word Add-In (in VBA) to provide background notes on the key structural sections such as chapters, zones and scenes. These sections are nested on the popup form so one can instantly see where you are in the plot; read and update the background notes on the arc; list who is mentioned in each scene and quickly navigate to all the places they appear (in colour). It does lots of other clever things that would otherwise seriously slow down my train of thought. All the data is hidden from view in the document's internal storage space.

The idea of finding where any particular index card or sticky note fits into the working document would give me nightmares. I have just started using the Add-In in earnest and I cannot envisage ever needing a manual system. Above all, in trying to answer your question, I can now create all the scaffolding without having to type anything into the blank document. I play around with Zones and insert and shuffle the Scenes, adding status flags and notes as I go. Then I simply navigate to a scene and start writing; much easier but less fun than programming the Add-In!

  • What you're describing sounds nice, and as someone who is fond of and dependent on the VBA macros I've created in Word over the years, I understand the satisfaction of building an Add-in. However, a program like Scrivener has most if not all of what you're describing "built in" out of the box. It lacks many features that Word has, and is not as powerful a word processor as Word, which I continue to use for many things. But for organizing, re-organizing, re-re-organizing, shuffling, creating secondary "storage" areas, etc., Scrivener could hardly be more flexible. I hope this isn't OT. – Nicole Apr 5 '15 at 1:58
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(I am answering my question in the hopes of sparking more answers.)

Often times people write books for particular audiences. So one way to improve your writing might be to look at the books written by existing authors in your area and mimic their style.

For example, a historian may be interested in a certain collection of history topics. So his or her book would focus primarily on those topics and be designed to teach them effectively. If it is a book respected by the field at large, you can assume then that most people prefer his way of organizing the material in the book. That is, they like it. It works. So this may give you a starting point for seeing how to organize your own book.

However, this principle won't work all the time. For example, if you are presenting a large amount of new research, there may be no example book for you to mimic since your is the first of its kind. Another example where this principle won't apply is when you are expanding to a more general audience or explaining ideas to people without knowledge of your discipline. In such cases, a writing structure suitable for one audience may not apply to a different one or more general one.

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