|Not your mother's water cycle.|
So there I was, trying to get a handle on The Water Cycle and its many graphic renditions when The Book Structure suddenly appeared. I had been standing in front of my laptop for a while now, messing with chapter files, cutting and pasting things, dragging files into folders, rearranging folders, and never feeling quite certain that all my notes on clouds would ever flow into a unified whole.
Over the weekend, I left the laptop behind, took up pencil and paper, and worked my many chapter headings into a new order. After three days, I had circled a lot of words and drawn a lot of arrows to move them up and down on the paper.
Because my book on clouds is not plot driven, I needed an overall structure that would allow me to get from A to Z gracefully. My book is a funny hybrid--that personal narrative non-fiction genre--that is not exactly a collection of essays, a thriller-paced adventure in the clouds story, or a look-what-I-saw-today-whilst-wandering-and-musing natural history. Organizing my book by the ten cloud types seemed forced as there are some cloud types (altostratus for example) that didn't beg for their own chapter. I thought about a four-season approach, but the clouds don't want to cooperate. I studied the tables of content of some of my favorite books on clouds and natural history to see what I could steal. Nothing made my fingers itch so I switched gears and ended up on the floor with all the books I could find that contained an illustration of the water cycle (below).
|But probably your mother's shag carpet.|
I sat in the middle of all of these books, ignoring my cup of coffee (upper right), the clock without batteries and my laptop which decided to hibernate, and my prize-winning terrain model of western Washington (all top). Because there were so many books, I had to lunge onto my knees to reach each one from my spot in the middle of the floor. It was sure easier on my back than sitting at a big table or standing at my laptop and, after a few hours of lunging and squatting and reaching and stretching, I realized I was kind of doing yoga.
The physical part of yoga (the postures) I am told, is intended to prepare your body for the mental part of yoga (the meditation). Move your body for an hour and you can more easily sit still for another hour. During the second hour you will more easily experience inner calm, an insight, or an epiphany. Here is what my epiphany looked like:
|Writing a book is child's play!|
Maybe "epiphany" is too strong here. "Idea" is probably more suitable. What I had to say about clouds, it seemed, fell naturally into a pattern or structure that resembled a water cycle. I got out my scissors and tape and colored paper and chopped up my chapter titles, my list of themes, meteorological principles,cloud types, and geographic locations and then grouped them into the water cycle functions: Evaporation, Transport, Condensation, Evapo-transpriation, Precipitation, and Run-off. I shuffled things around a bit and then taped all my pesky little pieces of color-coded paper onto large yellow cards. By the end of the day I had arranged these cards into a funky but functional water cycle.
I was feeling really good about my work until my 17-year-old son appeared in the doorway to my paper-strewn office and said without the least bit of curiosity, "What the hell, Mom?"
I looked up, smiled proudly, and said, "It's my book."