Saturday, June 18, 2011

An Unstructured Mind

I think I have an unstructured mind. Sometimes the greatest challenge in my writing has to do with the fact that it’s really hard for me to organize my thoughts. I’m hoping it’s one of those weaknesses that becomes a strength.

When I first moved out on my own, I really struggled with the feeling of chaos and disorganization, even before I had children. If I did things when I felt like they needed to be done, I didn’t do them at all. Finally, I worked hard at organizing my life, and came up with a system in which everything had its place. I became so organized that many people now see it as a natural strength, something that is just a part of my character. They don’t realize what I had to go through to acquire it.

Right now I feel like I am doing the same thing all over again in my writing. I am learning how much a story benefits from organization, before it is ever written. For example, if you have places for everything before the mess comes in, it will be easier to see what needs to stay and what needs to go.

And yet, it’s hard to find a place for everything before it comes in, isn’t it? I mean, how do you know what you will need to make room for before it gets here? Some things you can anticipate, but others…

For me it is a process of going back and forth a little. I “freewrite”, allowing my self periods of creative mess-making in the confines of one “room” (folder, whatever). Then I pick out the parts that are the gems, things that I need to make room for somewhere. It opens up creative channels; and for me, since it is not “real” writing, takes the pressure off and makes it so I don’t have to worry about organizing that mess. I just pick what I want out of it, and close the door. For the sake of creativity, in other words, I allow myself one messy room in the house.

I used to think I needed a certain word count every day. Now I have a much more relaxed approach to writing, focusing more on the time spent with it rather than forcing something that the story is not ready for. I simply do what needs to be done. Freewriting. Plotting. Structuring. Writing a scene. Editing a scene. It may seem like a slower process up front, because I am not getting a certain number of words written, but I don’t know if it is slower in the end. It might mean far less work later on. It might just make for a better end product. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." — W. Somerset Maugham