Saturday, February 26, 2011

Does Structure Thwart Inspiration? Part 1

Sometimes, I admit, I use structure as an excuse to delay my writing of the actual story. I look up any number of rules and paradigms and try to apply them all—which I don’t recommend. Sometimes my brain refuses to let go of the notion that more is better. I beat the poor story to death before it even has a chance to take its first breath. Control issues, I guess.

It’s fear that holds us back really, makes us look for excuses to do anything other than actually write the darn thing. In my defense, however, this fear does have some sound reasoning behind it. When I wrote my first and only complete novel, I read a book that made me want to plunge right in, whether I knew what I was doing or not. It was called “No Plot? No Problem”, written by the NaNoWriMo dude. I was excited and encouraged by its message: It doesn’t matter if you suck, just start writing.

So I paid no attention to form. I didn’t care if I wrote the word “banana” seven times before I could think of something else to write, in an effort to not let the pen stop (yes I was writing longhand back then), but it was freeing. It was wonderful. It took me three months instead of only one, but I did have near 100,000 words by the end and a really good idea of what my story was. Indeed, I was convinced it was already at least as good as many stories already published… until I read it.

To be brief, I’ve spent the last several years with that story, trying to make form out of chaos. A very hard job, especially when you’re an inflexible person like me. Let’s just say I’ve learned to be much more flexible in the last few years than I have ever been in my life.

In my fear to never have a nightmare like that again, I was determined this time around to structure and know the story well, ahead of time, to have form already in place and perhaps only have to polish it up when I am done. Easy, right? I have anywhere from ten to twenty paradigms I’ve tried to apply to the structure of this one story, somewhat simultaneously. And as I said, I am rigid and demanding. Trying to force compliance out of a story is a lot like having a baby but insisting that it has to look exactly like the picture you drew of it before it can be born.

Obviously, I have to find a balance somewhere between these two extremes.

Ok. This, I just realized, is a really long blog, so I’m going to save the second half for next week—yes, the second half. But it will be the half that tells you what I learned—what would be termed the resolution of my story, according to many a writing paradigm. But for now, a quote:

“To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams.” —Giorgio De Chirico


  1. Hmmm, interesting post. I find that I write in two different 'modes'. There's the quickly just get the ideas on paper and the word-count up 'mode' and then the editing 'mode'. I often find that when I'm completely lacking inspiration I don't mind looking over some of the wackier writings that I've written and giving them a good once over with my red teacher's pen!

  2. The whole NANO WRIMO thing was a defeating experience for me. I wrote and wrote and some of it isn't half bad, but none of it is much good and I think it was wrong for me to push in that way. I'll stick with shorter pieces where I can find the structure and mesh out the important bits.
    Like Akseli, (I say "like" because I'm sure my process is a mere microcosm of his), I will write free form and then begin the edit. Sometimes the edit is an outline and a new start, but the free writing has done it's job, it freed me.
    I suppose those two paragraphs were contradictory? Well, welcome to the world of writing.
    Looking forward to part 2!

  3. Great post, Karyn. You know me, critique buddy. I tend to research and think my whole story through before ever writing it down, and then I write out that first draft. When I revise, I apply further structure and clean everything up. Thanks for the food for thought. Looking forward to blog part deux.

  4. I really do think the separation of the two is key. I love freewriting and just not caring about being bad, just having fun, but I also love getting out that red pen. I just have to try not to do both at the same time.