Unlearning Structure

Recently I’ve been working on un-learning. As we make our way through life we come across these little patches of wild nonsense that have grown from words other people have sown in our heads and hearts. So, every now and then I take the time to have a good clear-out, to look at the seedlings, decide whether they’re flowers, something tasty, or just pesky weeds, and then I either pull them up or nurture them. These are the weeds I’ve pulled up recently.

Last month I started working on my novel again. But before I even started I saw there was a lot of nonsense to clear.  I was worried that, if I worked on my novel again, it would take over my life. After all, last time that was what happened; all I thought about was the characters and what was happening in the tale. It was pretty intense. Plus I didn’t know what I was doing and the novel was wild, it grew and grew and grew, until I didn’t know what was the beginning, middle or end. I didn’t understand how to make it into one concise piece of writing. Since then I’ve learnt a lot about writing a novel (the best advice coming from Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics (1985), so this time I have a much better idea of what I’m actually doing, but still here I am wrestling with the wee beasty.

Every single book you read says planning is important for a novel. And that makes sense. After all writing a novel is a big task. It’s 75, 000 words, more or less, so it can’t be whipped up in a week or two (although of course non-writer-friends will ask you every week if you’ve finished it yet!). So I made a plan and outlined the story, but as I started working on it I remembered two things;

  1. Plans develop the more you get to know your characters and how they interact.
  2. I don’t do linear structure.

Obviously these two things make working from a plan hard. But recently in my day job I’ve been working alongside someone who loves plans. She’s so detailed and does everything step by step. I look at her working methods and shudder. She looks at mine and is equally perturbed, but we both get the job done to our mutually perfectionist standards. The outcome is the same, the methods different. Working with her has helped me understand the way I am. She knows that asking me to make a plan and telling me what steps to take just doesn’t work, but she trusts that if I know the overall expected outcome, I’ll delve into the task with a flurry of activity and get the job done. My writing is the same. I don’t plan, well I exaggerate, I do plan. In fact, I’m highly organised, but I work intuitively, in my own way. I write sections. I do pieces of the overall and then thread it all together. It may look like I’m skipping around, but I’m doing it. Then my uber-logical inner critic comes out to play and edits. Magically it all comes together just right.

So I’m going to forget the idea of working to a work count, writing a draft from start to finish, or planning each step. I know what I want. I have to skills to create what I want, and I’m really lucky and tenacious, so it’ll happen. So I’m going to take the pressure off, enjoy the process and create. Sweet.

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