The Value of (Groan) Structure
So, it was a weekend spent mostly away from the computer. Two days spent celebrating my birthday with family and friends.
And suddenly it is Monday morning again. Besides numerous manuscripts to read for people and a bunch of unfinished assignments, there's the novel rewrite to get back to once again. And despite the fact that I'm feeling just the tiniest bit unfocused this morning, I am on it. No really, I am. On it.
Or at least I will be once I finish meandering about the internet writing this post. But here's the deal–when I do get back to the rewrite it is going to be simple to ease right back into it.
I'll tell you why: structure.
Because I have a structure for rewriting in place. Because when I finished up on Friday, I reviewed what I had already done (five chapters!) and looked ahead to where I would start after the weekend. This was easy to do because of the structure I've created for myself.
Here's the deal: as writers and creative types, we resist structure. I know I do. I want to be wafty and spontaneous and free. And yet this resistance has led me astray on several occasions. Jumping into writing a novel without having the vaguest idea where I was going, for instance (I'm not talking about my current novel here, but an earlier one I wrote). Or starting a knitting project without figuring out a pattern. And don't even get me started on how many times I've headed off for an appointment without finding the address ahead of time.
Even though we resist structure, it is inherent in writing. For instance, just by choosing a genre, you're imposing a certain amount of structure on yourself. Say you decide to write fiction over non-fiction, you've already narrowed things down. And then you can choose even further, if you want to write romance, mysteries, thrillers or literary fiction. Each of these has a certain structure that you'll need to follow in order to get published, or even have a novel that makes sense.
It is easy to embrace the romantic notion that all you have to do is start writing, and voila, after a few hundred pages you'll have a novel. Go ahead and try that and see what you come up with. I've done it myself and gotten only pages of writing on yellow legal pads to show for it.
So, don't resist structure, it is your friend. That being said, it can be a wobbly friend, or a rigid friend, or a fair-weather friend. You can create a loose outline of events in your novel that is more like a list (what I did for this current novel), or you can create a very rigid, OCD-type outline, complete with roman numerals and all that. But come up with something.
And after you've created a structure for the actual novel, come up with a structure for how you will approach it. Will you start at the beginning of one draft and go all the way to the end of it? (My preferred method; actually I think it is the only way to write a decent novel for a variety of reasons I don't have room to go into here.) Or will you be one of those writers who has to polish every word and every sentence before moving onto the next? (The mere thought of working this way makes me cringe.) Again, it is your choice. But choose something. Because once you have a plan, a structure, in place, it is so much easier to proceed.
And then when you come back from a weekend away and say to yourself, now where was I on that rewrite? you'll know the answer. And you can get right back to work.
What are your favorite structures for planning and for doing the actual work? Do tell.