A Book's Skeleton
Creativity, Integration, Intentions, Origins, Writing Textures


I’ve grown familiar with the human skeleton over the last 10 years; this book, however, has been a completely unknown animal.  Until Sunday night.

A week and a half ago, I began outlining the basic structure across the floor, but I had not held or transcribed over half of the interviews.  Last weekend, I finished listening and taking notes on what turned out to be almost 30 hours of interviews.

Yeah.  That’s interviews with 11 women, plus recordings of group treehouse time and Solstice gatherings.  My ears have headphone dents in them.

I’ve been using colors to flag a participant quote versus my own insights versus companion offerings, etc.  And I got on such a tear that when I ran out of a particular Post-It note color, I used a different one, then ran out of that and had to double-up on a color.  I even didn’t care.

So now, even though my color theory is a little effed, I can still make out what color it ought to be, sensing the context by where in the flow the interview fell, or by the color of ink I was using.  Sticky notes forever.

And so on Sunday, I laid all the sticky notes end-to-end . . . and they were as tall as the Statue of Liberty!  No, just kidding.  But it sure felt that way.  Doug rolled out his Prince of Persia skills to cross from one end of the room to the other.  (OK, so that looked like fancy tiptoeing with karate-style hands whilst singing the game’s “danger” music, but I found it highly entertaining.)

With all the interviews (and stickies) complete, I found a few shifts to the pattern, slightly different topic groupings that the book will absolutely be better for.  (My top five areas I discuss below are still the same, but some of the supporting sections have been restructured.)  It took me all damn day on Sunday, but my mom always used to tell me when sewing, “Measure twice; cut one.”  Guess  I’ve discovered that advice is portable to other projects.

A Book's Skeleton
Mom always said “Measure twice; cut once”

All this to say, I have a burgeoning awareness that I will not be able to finish this book during the month of November.  And I’m okay with that.  I will probably not be writing a holiday letter for the first time since 1999. I am also okay with that.  Instead, I am going to enjoy writing flesh on top of this skeleton.

2 thoughts on “Skeletons”

  1. I’m curious about your post-it skeleton structure technique. Did you adopt someone else’s method or come up with it yourself?

    1. It sort of grew up out of the notecards I would huck to the library when working on research papers. They were all white and would eventually get organized into an outline, written on a crisp white sheet of notebook paper.

      The big difference is that I usually had a thesis in mind to start with. This time, I didn’t. I started with a bunch of research, and had to start moving bits of information around until I began to see patterns, and it was easier to visually see them all in front of me, to touch them and move them around.

      Interestingly, I went to an Agile training today, and the speaker talked about creating product roadmaps using sticky notes all over the wall, so, obviously, it’s not a unique approach.

      Since I laid everything out without bothering to sweep, the cat hair has de-stickified the sticky, making them colored pieces of paper. So I’ve taped them in order into a blank book to carry around with me.

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